Is KitchenLTO The Best Restaurant In Dallas?
Kitchen LTO (limited time only) is a perma-popup for chefs and artists. For six months, one chef and one artist get to cook in and decorate the space. Then a new set come in. I don’t know the details of the artist’s career but the aspiration of the chef is that an investor will ‘discover’ them and stake them in their first permanent owned venture. Since Casie Caldwell founded it in 2013, there have been six KitchenLTO chefs. Five have gone on to be executive chefs and one has gone on to own their own restaurant.
The latest chef-in-residence is Josh Harmon, someone who had slipped my mind until he (re)introduced himself at the media event that I attended. He was the man behind the short lived ‘Milk and Honey Co.’ in Keller. When I went, I was impressed with the food and recall that he was too shy to come out of the kitchen. Wind forward almost five years and those days are over. He has since served time at Grace (under the shamefully underrated Blaine Staniford), Savor, ft33, and even at the Grapevine branch of Main Street Bakery and Bistro (in charge of their evening reconcepting as a French Bistro). The added experience, on top of his prior time at Townhouse, Buddhakan, Le Cirque, Spotted Pig, The Dutch, and Stephan Pyles shows on the plate. His polished technique, forensic understanding of Asian (especially Korean) cookery, and confidence combining apparently incongruous ingredients (a deftness on a par with that of André Natera or Bruno Davaillon) have all flourished. It adds up to a food experience that is more experimental, more audacious, and more bound breaking than maybe anywhere else in Dallas at the present time. Even compared with an October trip to London (where the place is on fire - more restaurants opened in the last year than ever before), Harmon’s panache is distinctive. The items below all take days to make! And this is all for me (and you). And I complain when I have to wait 30 seconds for the microwave to heat my ready meal.
Small plates (large appetizers) take center stage. Our first course, Banchan ($2 each), showed more invention than some restaurants have on their entire menu. Moving round the plate in the image clockwise, at 12 o’clock we have house made drop biscuit with praline bacon bits. On the righthand side of the bowl is a shishito jam with a honey and hot chicken seasoning. At 2 o’clock is miso caramel apple. They make the miso caramel, dress the apple with it, toss it with crunchy oats and pecan dust. At 4 o’clock there is nukazuke. The type differs weekly and each one takes at least two days to make. At 7 o’clock is a house made vinegar. This one was made last year (he and his sous chef transported it from restaurant to restaurant). It is made from Fresno chili, apricot, citrus, ‘really good hooch’ (he dodges telling me which one), and some wine. Tomatoes and cucumbers are tossed in some yuzukoshō (made with persimmon peels) and tōgarashi. At 9 o’clock is persimmon fermented with kombu. The kombu is removed, torn into small sheets, and hydrated in house made vinegar for two and a half months.The fruit ferments and assumes a soft texture. On the bottom of the plate is house made miso. This example is black bean miso with a 2% koji solution. It was made with roasted milk solids, house koji, and the fermented black bean itself.
When I remark that this is a lot of work, Harmon notes that “For me and the guys back there it is like, either go big or go home. This is all we do.” Jason Wong of The Dutch is singled out for credit for his Asian training. “A phenomenal chef. He pushed me really, really hard.”
Also part of the first set is Duck Fat Fried Pecans ($4). Pecans are tossed in Steen cane syrup with rosemary sugar and Nashville hot chicken spice on top . The whole goes splendidly with Windblown Red Blend, a Texas High Plains wine that is the second label of Lost Draw Vineyards.
I recommend Beef Tartare ($15). Just classic tartare (meat, Worcestershire sauce, capers, shallots), then pickled escargot, and dill. However, it is served topping a brioche bun containing an egg. At the side is a mustard smear made from house made mustard. It is made from green olives, some roasted and some raw, then puréed with a tiny amount of turmeric. The olive ‘marc’ is dehydrated and burned to produce an ash that is sprinkled on the mustard. Edible flowers are sprinkled over the top - a practise we discover is a Harmon signature.
One reason there is so much fermenting and pickling going on is that the restaurant has no walk in. Harmon loves that - it forces him to run rapid cycle produce purchasing.
Our next course is the current customer favorite. Brussels Sprouts ($10). They are deep fried and then tossed in a fish sauce caramel. They are then tossed with pecans that have been pickled for a few weeks and chopped fine. On top are bonito flakes so thin that they move about as a result of the ambient heat. The eery effect makes one suspect that they are alive (the opposite of some people. Whose atrophy while you talk makes you suspect that they are dead).
Cauliflower ($10) is one of Harmon’s favorites. Blanched and roasted orange cauliflower is placed on a bagna cauda sauce (like an anchovy butter but with koji in lieu of cream). There is Fresno chile and local honey. This is accompanied by a mole verde made from multiple examples of the green produce they use in the restaurant. A couple of weeks before our visit Harmon and one of his sous chefs went out and foraged about 10 bags of wild dandelions. The green part went into the mole verde (and at least one of the flowers went in my mouth on one of these courses).
Korean sticky duck leg ($19) is a delicious main course. It is cooked sous vide 6-8 hrs. Then kept ‘confit’. Then roasted while being basted with Peking sauce and chilies. The result is a drop-off-the-bone meat covered in juicy, sweet skin. Served with wild radish, rabe, mint and a smear of yogurt around the rim of the serving bowl.
Gnocchi ($20), maybe the finest gnocchi in town, are filled with house made ricotta, egg yolk and flour, all atop a goat cheese cream sauce (Harmon calls it ‘our version of a trashy Alfredo’). I loved the stark flavor contrast from the pickled beets. There are also dabs of Salmon gremolata and the obligatory edible flower.
Under desserts, Pistacchio Crumb Cake ($12) shines. It is their take on a frangipane. Sour milk jam, topped with crushed pistachio, roasted white chocolate, sous vide blueberries, with port and local honey. In the center is a secret pocket of raspberry jam.
I also recommend the Coco Texas Sheet Crunch ($11). It is topped with duck fat fried pecans and Gee-Gee’s (Harmon’s mum) Chantilly cream. All in all, not too sweet.
Congratulations are also in order for Casie Caldwell for finding such a high quality group of chefs for KitchenLTO. When I first heard of the idea I was skeptical, but it is providing facilities and exposure to people with the potential to make a big difference.
If you have not been to this iteration of KitchenLTO, head down there before Josh Harmon’s stint ends in May. If you are a restaurant investor, take your checkbook. This guy is going to go far.