Fearing's Not Loathing In Dallas

As you may have noticed on Twitter, I was a little blown away by dinner at Fearing's last night. "Haute Texan" may seem like a contradiction in terms but Dean Fearing will make you eat those words. Much like he made me (ahem) eat six courses of brilliant, thrilling, clever food last night while a cheery, annoyingly young sommelier matched each creative dish with an eccentric wine choice.

I came close to blowing the whole meal by getting a little overzealous on the cornbread. I say cornbread but what I really mean is bacon and jalapeno cornbread. You know those little Brazilian cheese rolls and how addictive they are? Pah. These things are like crack: soft, fluffy, light, meaty and packing the sort of heat that make you do that little archy thing with your eyebrows about 12 seconds after popping one in your mouth.

Somehow I stopped at three which is just as well as we'd opted for a tasting menu. I'm not always a fan of such things - some of them should be subtitled "How to feel hungry and ripped off in seven courses" - but the enthusiasm from the staff - and what a great bunch they are - suggested that we wouldn't be disappointed.

Actually, before we get to the food porn, another word on the staff. You know how some places are slick and brutally efficient and cold? These fellows weren't. Indeed, they were occasionally shambolic with a senior waiter having to bark "no!" every time the (I assume) trainee tried to remove the bread plate. There was also some diced tomato spillage. And you know what? It just made it all the more charming.

Right. The food. As mentioned above, "Haute Texan" is the catch-all description: a modern take on classic southern dishes lifted with the quality of the ingredients, a hint of fusion and, on occasion, a full blown meander into world cuisine. After a delicate spoon of salmon tartare to amuse - and amuse it certainly did - we moved onto the meal proper with Grade A Big Eye Tuna Duo: tartare with sesame sushi rice with a shiso and mint puree, and sashimi with crushed mango, ginger and ponzu. I know I shouldn't be eating tuna and I've probably done enough with one fork to double my carbon footprint and exterminate a species but what a way to do it. The sesame was intense, a fine backnote to the melting texture of the tuna, while the mango and ginger refreshed and lifted the palate, providing a great frame for the tender and oh so pretty sashimi. A crisp Cour-Cheverny kept it all ticking along in considerable style.

That was rapidly followed by perhaps my stand out dish of not just this meal but the trip so far. The tortilla soup. I know that sounds daft - soup is soup is soup - but Dean's take on this southern classic was astonishing, with layer after layer of heat and flavour. Best of all? The deeply unpretentious Mr F has put the recipe for the soup (and the cornbread and many other items) on his website.

That bowl disappeared to be replaced with a final appetiser of apricot barbecue glazed Bob White quail, with cider-braised bacon, a wedge of iceberg and a dressing made of Point Reyes blue cheese. The cider braised bacon was a misnomer for a soft, caramelised, glazed single rib. The sweetness of that and the quail, the softness of the meat, the rich tang of the cheese and the bite of the iceberg combined to one of those moments where all you can do is bite and nod.

With those plates whisked away - but not the side plates, "No!" - one of Fearing's signature dishes appeared: Elephant trunk scallops with shredded short ribs, foie gras and sweet potato puree, mushroom ragout and fennel chips. The scallops were fat and meaty, the meat smoky, the other ingredients insanely rich. It was, frankly, a bit special and matched, very smartly, with Colleluce Azienda Agricola Vernaccia di Serrapetrona, a dry, sparkling Italian red.

With belts needing loosening, we were relieved to learn that the next course was the last. Then they explained that it was the last before dessert. Then they cheated completely by slipping samples of two of their entrees onto one plate. On the left, a fennel and thyme crusted Australian lamb chop, with parsleyed veal sweetbreads, with celeriac and caramelised shallots. On the right, NilGai Antelope, wild game banger and mash, bubble and squeak, Shiner Bock (a local, excellent bitter) mustard sauce and Yorkshire pudding.As a whole, the sort of meaty plate that you want to dive into face first. A lot of animals were harmed in the production of this meal - the sausage alone featured pheasant and buffalo - and they were all appreciated. And then up pops the sommelier with a glass of Clos De Gat which is, undoubtedly, the best Israeli Cabernet Sauvignon I've ever drunk. Yes, it's the only Israeli Cabernet Sauvignon I've ever drunk but that shouldn't detract from the flavours and depth. If like me your experience of Israeli wine is Kosher stuff at Passover dinners, you'd have been equally surprised.

The wine chap wasn't finished though: up next was a Black Monukka Dessert Wine from California's Rotta Winery. The man behind this bottle does everything wrong, apparently, leaving the wines to mature in oak barrels in the sunshine. This means a huge percentage evaporates but what's left is remarkable with hints of pecan, rhubarb, caramel, vanilla amongst many other flavours. It certainly worked well alongside the dessert selection that arrived. Butterscotch custard with caramelised apple fritters and pecan ice cream. Warm chocolate caramel cake with chocolate fried pie and "Payday" ice cream (and a little homemade marshmallow). Lemon sorbet with orange creme filled crepes. The SLAB - their block capitals - a slice of different cheesecakes with chocolate malted milk balls and, in a gloriously nostalgic touch, a vanilla malt Coke float. All were good but for me, the simplicity of the crepes and the buterscotch beat out the more crowd-pleasing chocolate puddings. Saying that, I'd eat any of them right now if you put it in front of me.

We left patting stomachs and vowing to eat nothing but lettuce the following day but it was worth it. Best meal of the trip? Undoubtedly - and it's got some stiff competition. But Fearing's was more than that. It's right up there in my Top Ten of all time (and I'm not alone either).

Dallas as a whole has impressed me greatly - who knew that they had the biggest arts district in the US? - and Fearing's is one of the reasons why. I sincerely hope we'll be back.


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