I Ate One of the Best Meals of My Life This Weekend...and It Was in Dallas

Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg
The charcuterie board at FT33 is one of the best things on the menu.
Some people call it sibling rivalry. Others say that Houstonians are jealous that Dallas is thought of as wealthy and sophisticated, while we have more of a gritty, urban reputation. Maybe it's because Dallas always seems to get national attention for good things, while we end up on lists for crime and such. Whatever the reason, we Houstonians love to hate Dallas.

So when I told my local friends I was taking a weekend trip to Dallas to see what the city had to offer, food-wise, they scoffed. Why would anyone leave the dining mecca that is the Bayou City for the cultural wasteland of the Big D? I wondered this too on the drive up there, Iggy Azalea playing too loud on the radio and the sun tanning only my right arm as I sat in the passenger seat. What could Dallas have to offer that's better than Oxheart or Chinatown or Killen's BBQ?

Along with Fluff Bake Bar chef Rebecca Masson, I'd been invited to dine at FT33, the restaurant helmed by recent James Beard Award semifinalist Matt McCallister, known for his foraging tendencies and modern, seasonal dishes. He was also recently named a Food & Wine best new chef, and FT33--an abbreviation of "fire table 33," the chef's table--is consistently at the top of lists of best restaurants in Dallas.

But enough about the restaurant's and McCallister's local and national accolades. I'm a Houstonian. I ate at a restaurant in Dallas. And in spite of any nebulous urban rivalries, I loved it more than I've loved any food in quite some time. Here's why.

It was a birthday dinner of sorts for Masson, and as such, we were presented with a 10-course tasting menu featuring some of FT33's current greatest hits, as well as a few new inventions. In fact, our favorite dish of the evening was something McCallister "whipped up this morning." That's freaking talent.

Chilled potato noodles.
The amuse bouche featured chilled potato noodles marinated in vinegar and thyme. The one-bite dish tasted like a salt and vinegar chip, only much, much classier.

The ever-changing, but ever-wonderful charcuterie board.
The charcuterie came next, and featured most notably chicken liver mousse (left), pickled lamb tongue (lower center) and blood sausage (upper center). The pickled lamb tongue was tender and not at all gamey as lamb usually is. McCallister said he doesn't actually care for lamb, but the pickled lamb tongue is something he really enjoys. The morcilla, made with goat's blood, was also mystifyingly good, with earthy notes that played off the strawberry jam garnish.

There's flaky black bass buried under that squash.
Even fresh oregano leaves atop the thin ribbons of squash couldn't overwhelm the flavor of the black bass, which was slightly briny but rich with the flavor of roasted onions. Earlier in the day, I'd witness line cooks prepping the roasted onions by delicately removing each layer with tweezers.

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Jim Rassinier
Jim Rassinier

This is why you don't hire help from out of town.


LOL... Was on board until the last paragraph... "I still much prefer Houston's dining scene in general to the LESS COSMOPOLITAN offerings in Dallas" - Only a Houstonian can be so blind... Hahaha.... I've had the unfortunate opportunity to visit Houston for work & personal reasons more than 600 times over the past decade.  It's amazing how bitter the people there are towards Dallas.  I'm just not so sure the fact Houston has a strip club on every corner makes it MORE COSMOPOLITAN than Dallas.  Dear Houstonian... one word... ZONING.  Start using it and maybe one day your awful city can become "too snobish' like Dallas (the city you covet).   

Mai Pham
Mai Pham topcommenter

So glad you guys made it out there! Was super impressed with McCallister's ham and peas dish at the Lucky Dog event. On the strength of that dish alone, I already figured it would be worth the four hour drive, but this is proof that it's worth the foodie pilgrimage.

erichenao topcommenter

Now THIS is food porn! Great review and well done.

Morels are HARD to come by in the wild. They tend to come up in the same place over and over again, so people who find them, revisit the location year after year, and jealously guard the secret location. The size of those, while decent, have nothing on some of the wild grown i have seen, one which was 8 inches!


Now that looks and sounds amazing, glad you got outta town--Houston can be a little too proud of its dining scene at times.

Lambs tongue? That's something you don't see much of outside halal meat markets. I remember Marco Wiles used to slice thinly, flash fry and serve with mostarda....wonderfully delicious!

KaitlinS topcommenter

@johnnomb  By more cosmopolitan, I'm simply referring to the fact that we have a more diverse restaurant scene. In 2012, we surpassed New York and Los Angeles as the most ethnically diverse city in the country, and our restaurants are a great indicator of that. Not meant to be a dig at Dallas at all. Just a fact.

KaitlinS topcommenter

@Mai Pham  Um, I'd go back this weekend if I could. And if I wouldn't feel like a traitor doing so.

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