Abacus' New Fall Dishes AKA What I Did on 12-12-12
December 23, 2012
Let me just spit it out. On 12-12-12 I enjoyed twelve courses of Abacus. Chef Kent Rathbun was there the whole time, explaining dish after dish, as well as his pastry chef (Abbey Renegar), new chef de cuisine (Daniel J. Burr) and sommelier. It sounds like a dream, right? Until relatively recently, like many Dallassites, a lavish dinner at Abacus, for me, was pretty much that: a pipe dream. Its reputation is that it’s one of the most expensive restaurants in the city, after all. Yet on 12-12-12 – just three-and-a-half years after creating the foodbitch brand – there I sat. A lucky, lucky, bitch.
I didn’t have Twelve Days of Christmas; I had Twelve Courses of Abacus, which was much, much better.
Upon arrival we were served a bevy of fall cocktails in the bar area. It’s dimly lit and the perfect spot to clink some glasses with close friends or a date, but Chef Rathbun let us know that a lot of people (including families with youngins, interestingly enough) tend to dine in the bar, to keep things more casual. Abacus sells a lot of sushi there, he said. Most of the cocktails had a single fall-ish ingredient like a red wine reduction or pomegranate, but overall I felt a lot of them were not dissimilar to our Dallas winter: summery with a splash of fall flavor, just because it’s December. Two standouts for me were the Pretty ‘n Pink (Chambord vodka, St. Germain and lime) and the Cucumber Mint Gimlet (Bombay Sapphire, cucumber, mint, St. Germain and a Pinot Noir reduction). Confession: I’ve got a little bit of a thing for St. Germain. All these featured cocktails are $12 at Abacus.
As you know, cocktails and wine aren’t totally my thing. Not when there’s food to be had, anyway. I don’t tend to give up much valuable real estate to the liquid stuff. So let’s get to what counts.
We started with sushi, something that made me very, very happy. Pictured here are two unique offerings, the spicy pressed sushi with crab, avocado and shrimp, and the Russian roll with crab, salmon, avocado and hamachi. These made for a great start but it only got better from here.
My honest advice is to skip the sushi at Abacus and go to one of the Japanese spots in town for both a better value and simpler options and stick to the rest of Abacus’ standout menu.
Our next course was a warm salad with radicchio, field mushrooms, watercress and a quail egg. The bacon vinaigrette precluded my partaking in it, but goodness knows a quail egg makes for a beautiful plate.
Next, another round of perfectly cooked quail eggs graced our plates. This time it was part of the “Eggs Bene-duck,” a playful take on eggs benedict with duck prosciutto, watercress and a biscuit. This is the first of the new dishes I’d highly recommend you order.
This was my delicate portion, where you can see the delightful duck prosciutto peeking out.
Yes, I’m counting bread as a course. Here’s why. Some people decline bread at a meal like this one, saving room for the real dishes and such. Do not skip the bread basket at Abacus. Pastry chef Abbey Renegar does good work, and you shouldn’t stop until you’ve tried them all, along with the delicious salted butter that accompanies it. After all, you’re already dining at Abacus; you should take pains to leave perfectly full.
During our meal we also sampled the fish, in this case a meaty John Dory, which brought up the topic of seafood sustainability. Chef Rathbun explained the Bycatch program he participates in, where salmon fishermen are able to sell small quantities of the non-salmon fish they catch accidentally, rather than tossing the fish back in the ocean. Chef Rathbun gets a text when one of these small shipments become available, and he has to jump on the chance to get a little of something great. Case in point: this dish. The fish was crispy and delicious, prepared in a dredge-butter-baste-butter-baste-again method and accompanied by a truffle-cauliflower mash and crispy artichokes – all atop a Meyer lemon Johnny cake. I for one appreciated the restraint used in the truffle department. I’d trust Chef Rathbun and his team to do wonderful things with fish you never knew you loved.
Now this was a truly special dish. The maple-glazed foie gras with pistachio, apricot and a wedge of delicious waffle was an almost sexual experience (my apologies to my fellow dinner guests for that one). Another standout, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Because one ridiculously indulgent dish is never enough, next we sampled these crispy veal sweetbreads with a celery root purée and pomegranate reduction.
Now, I’m not a scallop-lover, but the acorn squash polenta and red grape mostarda in this dish were outstanding. The pepitas added a toasty fall crunch.
Speaking of things I don’t partake in, next we were served pork tenderloin with Sonoma mushroom farro and beet purée. (Pictured above is the full-size portion). I enjoyed the creamy mushroom farro and beet components immensely.
Now we arrive at the one dish I didn’t care for, which isn’t bad for an entire evening of food. This was grilled duck breast made with smoked paprika and served over a paella of ham and shrimp. It’s probable that since I couldn’t partake in the paella portion of the dish, that the combo of crispy leeks, paprika and duck just didn’t do it for me, but while I LOVE duck, there was something about this particular cut and preparation that wasn’t my bag. At all. Thus I cannot recommend this particular dish. Stick to – oh, I don’t know – everything else.
All good three-and-a-half-hour dinners must come to an end, so of course it was then time for dessert. We began this exercise with an astounding cheese plate, nay, platter. Twelve components for 12-12-12, I suppose. We sampled the Hidden Falls sheep and cow’s milk cheese, Fig & Honey goat, Bermuda Triangle goat, Queso A La Sidra cow milk-cider cheese from Spain, Marieke Gouda, Toussaint raw cow’s milk cheese, Montbossier from France, 1833 Cheddar from England and Vermilion River Blue, a raw cow milk triple cream from Illinois. Paired with honey, marcona almonds and a selection of crisps for spreading, this could have been a meal in and of itself. I only wish I had more stomachs.
While the Meyer lemon cake seen above is familiar (the Johnny cake was also the base of the John Dory dish), the use of it in the dessert was of course, very different. It was about this time that the waitstaff brought over about four incredible-looking dessert platters at once so I got flustered and just started eating. Here’s a glimpse.
This dessert involved bon bons, eggnog toffee pudding cake, bourbon toffee sauce and these delicious, sweet cookie spikes. They are delicious little weapons of dessert destruction.
This menagerie of chocolate and raspberry was delicious and would easily have satisfied the table on its own. I made off with the macaron in the end so I win.
This apple creation was fall and America and freedom and comfort on a plate. Also on a Niman Ranch lard crust. Well shit. That’s what I get for diving in with both spoons before the description is delivered.
Overall, I have to conclude with one more “PRAISE THE FOODIE LORD!” and comment that Abacus is a veritable institution for classy, elegant, gourmet cuisine and you just can’t go wrong dining there for any occassion. Other places come and go, and there’s a hot new something-or-other seemingly every day in Dallas. But Abacus is Abacus. If you haven’t been, you’re missing out.
NOTE: As you may have noticed, I am no millionaire. I cannot afford twelve courses at Abacus. So while it may be obvious that this dinner was for media to taste the new fall menu additions at Chef Rathbun’s Abacus, it’s always worth spelling out, just in case. This incredible meal was comped. And as always, free food does not guarantee glowing praise from Yours Truly. Abacus earned every word.
Foodbitch is an expert eater and published food writer who lives in Dallas, Texas with her exceptionally well-fed twin daughters, husband and their dogs. She’ll tell you what to eat and you’ll like it.