In town for a meeting, when we were looking at dinner choices, I was reminded that Kent Rathbun (brother of Atlanta restauranteur Kevin Rathbun – of Rathbun’s, Rathbun Steak, KR Steakbar and Krog Bar) was Dallas-based. In fact, we had just seen the two of them on a Chopped re-run on Sunday afternoon. I Googled him and looked at his three restaurants in the Dallas area and decided on Abacus. I made a reservation on Open Table and we arrived ahead of the bulk of the dinner crowd. But it was an hour later in my East Coast stomach, so I was ready for food.
The menu is Asian-influenced with a huge selection of sushi and sashimi, as well as small plates and large plates, including steaks from Allen Brothers. Looking at the menu choices, we saw that on Monday through Thursday they offer tasting menus and we thought that would be a great way to sample everything. With a choice between five course and eight course tasting, we discussed the choice (the phrase “go big or go home” came up at least once) and decided on eight. After asking about allergies (none at the table) and preferences (not big on onions mentioned and echoed), we were off.
About ten minutes later, after the bread basket (a muffin with a blackberry on top, whole wheat, semolina and lavash), the first plate arrived, a tuna tartare,topped with cilantro, cubed with avocado and cucumber, with dots around the edge of the plate of wasabi and hoisin. What an excellent start! The tuna and avocado combined for an excellent dish, particularly mixed with the hoisin sauce. I cleared the plate, except for the cilantro and wasabi.
This course was followed by Gulf shrimp,topped with sprouts (peanut sprouts, maybe?), in a Tabasco demi-glace, atop a bed of “Texas hopping John” (comprised of black eyed peas, smoked pork hock and cipollini onions). The shrimp was fork tender and I really enjoyed the Tabasco with the shrimp and peas.
Course three was my favorite complete dish of the evening,pan seared Scottish salmon, on a bed of bulghur (replacing the standard rice)-lentil mujadarra, (a Turkish couscous-like dish) with sprouts, blood orange and a cucumber laban. The salmon had a crispy sear and the mujadarra was fantastic. It is blood orange season, as they appeared several times over the dinner, and they were wonderful on each occasion. The composed bite, with a little bit of everything on the plate was savory, tart and a little sweet.
The next course was the intermezzo,sliced apples and pears, an apple sorbet, toasted grapes and shaved fennel. The sorbet was even more apple-y than the slices, and they had plenty of flavor. I had never eaten toasted grapes before, but the flavor seemed much more concentrated – almost as strong tasting as Southern Baptist communion “wine”. The shaved fennel surprised me, as it didn’t taste as much like licorice as I expected. Maybe that’s a function of the part of the plant that was served?
With the next course, we were heading toward the entrees with seared La Belle Farms foie gras,and a rosemary crepe, sitting on parsnip purée, with a blood orange (there they are again) -cognac syrup and vanilla bean granola. What an interesting mix of flavors. I’m generally not a pate guy, but, I’ll have to say, searing it makes it much more palatable. The rosemary crepe was soft and light. I cut it into small bites and dipped every bit of marmalade off the plate with it. The parsnips tasted like parsnips – you either love them or you don’t. I’m in the latter camp.
Next was the first entree, roasted duck breast,with blistered shishitos, roasted kumquats and baby bok choy, on a cashew purée, with green chile-ginger oil (the swoosh at the top of the plate). The duck was as tasty as I’ve ever eaten and fork tender. We discussed how many handfuls of cashews you’d have to crush to get that much purée, and couldn’t derive an answer. While I’d never heard of such a thing, it was exactly what you’d expect of the dish – slightly sweet and very nutty. The shishito peppers were smoky and when dipped in the chile oil, had quite a kick. When I made a couple of forks of everything on the plate, except for the cashews, it was quite a mix: the smoke and heat, the citrus sweet and the tender duck.
After this came the final entree:a hickory grilled Cervena Venison (a grass-fed, no steroid, no-HGH raised deer from New Zealand) with porcini mushrooms, on a celery root purée, with a carrot marmalade sitting on Nutella-black garlic glacé with toasted barley. The venison was excellent, barely gamy and the only thing I would have normally ordered on the plate, based on my perceived likes and dislikes. The carrot marmalade was surprisingly sweet and (honestly) surprisingly good.
This was followed by a cheese plate, served with “Texas chutney”, candied pecans, and a quince paste.The cheeses were (left to right):
- Truffle Tremor, a pasteurized goat milk cheese from Cypress Grove Chèvre, Arcata, CA;
- Cocoa Cardona, a pasteurized goat milk cheese from Carr Valley Cheese, La Valle, WI; and
- St Pete’s Select Bleu, a raw cow milk cheese from Faribault, MN.
The Cardona was my favorite of this lot, but the quince paste was amazing. Every time I finished a bite of cheese, my knife went back into the quince to spread on more bread. We were approaching the limit of my ability to eat when the dessert course was served – a black currant scone with Earl Grey ice cream, a granita and and blood orange sauce (third time’s a charm). Not too heavy, it made for a perfect ending.
Overall, it was an excellent meal. The restaurant was quiet and contemporary looking, even after being open for 14 years. Our server told us that he was the second-most junior on the wait staff, having been there only three years (most were in the eight to ten year range.) The service was unflappable, even when we were unexpectedly joined by my dining companion’s parents, who stopped to see him for a drink as he was in town. The server pulled up a couple of chairs, asked if we wanted to continue where we were in the meal, we did, and the food continued to flow. A great dinner.