This past Sunday I had the honor of being a judge for the Chefs For Farmers‘ sold-out Mix-Off/Yes Chef! event at Design District’s event space, DEC on Dragon. What did that entail, you ask? Well, I got a wear a big ol’ fancy sash that read, “CFF JUDGE” as I walked from table to table, sampling food bites and cocktails from some of the city’s best restaurants and bars.
Small Brewpub, FT33, The Joule, The Grape Restaurant, Patina Green Home and Market, Independent Bar & Kitchen, Uchi Dallas, and The Blind Butcher all had sous chefs in attendance to battle it out for best food. As for the cocktails, bartenders from Top Knot, Armoury, D.E., Parliament, The Theodore, Filament, Henry’s Majestic, Midnight Rambler, and Rapscallion came armed and ready with tins, spirits, syrups, and garnishes to wow the crowds and the judges … even this one who got caught picking pepper out of her teeth by an event photographer. Why am I so awkward?
My life sounds hard sometimes … I know. Especially when I showed up at 5PM really hungry. I think I sampled offerings from half of the the competing chefs before the event’s moderator, Jimmy Contreras, came up to me smiling and said, “You know you have to try all of the dishes at the Judges’ Table upstairs at 6pm, right?” *Blink blink* “Well, I do now!”
Luckily, I made sure to attend the event in a flowy dress that allowed for over-consumption. With my newly gained knowledge I set aside my dishes in-hand and went to the rooftop to focus on more important things–the cocktails. The temperature was in the high 80s, so I was really looking forward to some icy concoctions featuring sponsored spirits, Patrón and Makers 46. I managed to sample half of the cocktails before being sitting down for the official judging portion of the event. (This is one situation where “slow and steady wins the race” isn’t a thing.)
(At this point, I am thinking that maybe I shouldn’t have had so many samples before sitting down. Oops.) When all of the samples of food and cocktails were assembled on the table in front of me, it all looked a bit daunting, but obviously I kept my cool.
I attacked the cocktails first as it was a hot day and all iced drinks were diluting at a rapid pace, and any drinks that did not feature ice was warming up just as quickly. You know my priority: SALVAGE THE DRINKS. Once I marked down my cocktail vote, I forged onward with the food bites and hoped that none of the many photographers crowded around the table would catch an unsavory photo of my chipmunk cheeks stuffed with food.
Winners were announced at the end of the event. (You didn’t think I was going to say who I voted for, did you?)
Returning champion, Brian Bell from The Blind Butcher, took People’s Choice Sous Chef again with his sausage and bone marrow BBQ dish
Sarah Green from the Joule took home Judge’s Choice for her Frito Hand Pie
Ryan Frederick from Henry’s Majestic won for Best Makers 46 cocktail
Jesse Powell from Parliament won both Best Patrón cocktail and overall People’s Choice Bartender
All winners’ dishes and cocktails will be featured at the three-day Chefs For Farmers 2016 festival, September 23-25. Tickets for the main event go on sale soon. Check the CFF Facebook page or website for more information as it is released.
We all know how much Dallasites love drinking their booze on patios on a beautiful day, and 2016 is shaping up to be a good year for dining and drinking al fresco. (Hold the rain and hail, please.) And wouldn’t you know it … there’s a new spot for just that; Matchbox American Kitchen + Spirit opened up its first Texas location in Preston Hollow, just in time for all of us to eat, drink, and get a nice base tan, all at the same time on its roomy outdoor seating area.
When I arrived, I had my eyes on the prize–the cocktails (obviously). I ordered the Southern Charmer (bourbon, peach nectar, and black pepper-ginger syrup), which is shaken and poured over ice then garnished with a lemon slice. (And so continues my lemon obsession. 🍋) From what I could tell (and taste), there are also a few dashes of Angostura bitters on top, but it’s not listed on the menu. Try it out and let me know if I’m off the mark. Ahhh … it was the perfect patio cocktail–refreshing, boozy, with the sweetness of the peach nectar balanced out by the bite of the pepper and ginger. I could/did drink many of these bad boys–charming or not.
NOTE FROM SUSIE: Make sure to peruse their entire cocktail menu along with their wine list. Matchbox has private label wine that isn’t half bad! Their Jalapeño Cucumber Margarita packs a bit of spice to keep things interesting and their Patio Pounder Lemonade made with house infused watermelon vodka is everything summer is made of.
Of course, if I’m going to commit to drinking all of Matchbox’s cocktails, I needed some food to do so. (It’s a marathon, not a sprint, guys; remember that.) Fortunately for me, there was no shortage of delicious appetizers from which to choose. Given my penchant for a well-stocked charcuterie board, that’s where I daintily voraciously started my culinary adventure.
Heaping mounds of prosciutto, wedges of creamy brie, quince cubes, overflowing plates of gherkin pickles, grain mustard, and briny olives … oh my. The portions were more than satisfying, and it’s not typical to find the sweet quince offering on the boards I’ve seen in Dallas thus far, so that was a tasty addition to the usual charcuterie spread. I overdid it on the prosciutto and cheese (as one does), so the rest of the appetizers are nibbled, but nonetheless thoroughly enjoyed.
The spread consisted of standard (albeit, high-quality and well-executed) crowd-pleasers. The Mini Meatballs are a combination of angus beef, veal, and pork, and were wonderfully tender and are served in pepperoni sauce and topped with pecorino romano cheese. I (somehow) managed to keep my intake of these to just two. (I should get a ribbon for that.)
If you look REALLY closely, you’ll see 3.6.9 Mini Burgers peeking out from a mountain of crispy fried onions. The trick is to extract a mini burger from the plate, grab a small mound of crispy onions, add it to the burger, and have at it. Let me just say, these are definitely mini burgers and not sliders. The buns aren’t made of sweet rolls; they’re toasted brioche, and the patties are substantial and individually cooked to a perfect medium.
As soon as they brought out the Spicy Tuna Tartare Tacos, I knew these were a best-seller. Their fresh, cool tuna’s delicate texture juxtaposed with the crispiness of the fried wonton taco shell … it’s a classic for a reason. And don’t skimp on the Sriracha mayo.
And who doesn’t like a good chicken strip? These bad boys, dubbed Ted’s Tenders, were huge! Did I eat one all by myself? Yes! (Shut up. I have NO regrets.) It was the way I like my chicken strips: not overly breaded and still juicy and flavorful on the inside. I don’t know who Ted is … but I like him.
My overall take away from my Matchbox experience? It’s a fun spot with a cool vibe, and the food and drinks aim to please both the masses and those of us (ahem) with a bit more of a refined palate. If I worked nearby, that’s where you’d find me after 4PM most weekdays. I wouldn’t be alone; Matchbox is already hoppin’ with the business happy hour crowd. The patio was teeming with business people in suits, all eating, drinking, and being merry when I arrived, and they were still going strong when I left. Cheers to them! They know how to marathon it, too. Matchbox American Kitchen + Spirit matchboxrestaurants.com Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
7859 Walnut Hill Lane, Suite 140
Dallas, TX 75230
“I love this place.” That’s the text I sent to Susie as soon as I finished my first dinner experience at CiboDivino Marketplace.
As this was my first event as a Susie Drinks Dallas contributor, I went into it with the belief that there was no such thing as being too prepared, so I brought along a fellow foodie friend (so I could pick his brain) as well as a brand new notebook in which I could take many a note about the dinner. (I was tempted to bring a voice recorder just in case there was a guided tour of the space (which there was), but I decided against alienating strangers with that level of intensity. Yes … I was that kid in school.) Furious writing in my composition book would just have to do. Since the evening was relaxed and enjoyable with great company and delicious food and wine, the note taking was downgraded from excessive to thorough.
The special five-course dinner was hosted by CiboDivino owners, Daniele and Christina Puleo, as well as Executive Chef, Ryan Olmos. I was enthralled by the passion and knowledge that the team has for all aspects of the meal: a fervent dedication to responsibly-sourced ingredients, simple, yet articulate preparation of the food, a thoughtful selection of Italian and Californian wines that are hand-picked by Daniele himself, and the crafting of a space that promotes breaking bread with friends and family. By the time we were done with Daniele’s tour of each unique part of the marketplace and cafe, my appetite was ready to tackle whatever delicious goodies he and Ryan had to offer.
Before food, of course, there was wine (as it should be), and Daniele and Christina were very excited to introduce their new private label Puleo wines, currently available in Pinot Grigio and Chianti varietals. The Pinot Grigio is quite surprising–not as watery as I’m used to with most Pinot Grigios. Puleo’s expression is quite flavorful on the nose with stone fruit notes that round out into flavors of green tea and chamomile. As I would find out, this white wine paired very well with the first three courses of the meal. As for the Puleo Chianti, the wine was ripe with cherry flavors and dark fruits, and had a depth of flavor indicative of a Chianti without veering into a residual bitterness. I enjoyed this red with the meat course as well as with dessert. FUN FACT: all wines at CiboDivino are available for purchase at retail prices and can be opened and enjoyed on-premises at no additional charge. Personally, the option to enjoy a high-quality wine at a restaurant without the usual restaurant markup makes the wine taste that much better.
The appetizer course included a variety of Neopolitan-style pizzas fresh from the wood-burning Stefano Ferrara oven (flown in from Italy), quite possibly the most impressive charcuterie board that I have ever seen, and a smoked Tasmanian salmon appetizer bite that I swear encapsulates everything that CiboDivino stands for, which is “divine food.” I sampled two of the flatbread pizzas, one with a classic Margherita preparation and another with fig, arugula, and Gorgonzola cheese. Neopolitan-style is my favorite kind of pizza, and the crust was perfectly crispy on the outside with just the right amount of chew on the inside. While both were delicious, I was partial to the Margherita. (Pretty sure that I could eat a whole pizza in one sitting … I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing.)
Can we just take a moment and appreciate this charcuterie board? Have you ever seen one so beautiful? It has three kinds of house cured meats, all smoked in-house: lamb pancetta, brown sugar and Serrano ham, and beef bacon (that’s right, you heard me, BEEF BACON). The lamb pancetta, which was aged for a whopping 70 days, had a soft gaminess to it that I loved, and the beef bacon was something I’ve never experienced before. To call it delicious would be a disservice, and apparently I’m not the only to think so. Ryan told us that it’s hard to keep the beef bacon in the display case because it sells out so fast. It was perfectly savory with a familiar unctuousness that I love about bacon, except it was unmistakably beefy and very satisfying.
The highlight of the appetizer course for me, however, was the smoked Tasmanian salmon bite with cucumber cream, caper berry, and a dusting of espresso. The salmon, also cured and smoked in-house, was a tender and salty punch that was balanced by the cool cucumber cream with a kick of briny freshness from the caper berry, and the espresso dust on top added an earthy note that rounded out all of the flavors. I easily ate five or six, since I clearly don’t understand the concept of an appetizer course. (Whatever.)
Pasta was the star of the second course was the Caserecci alla Norma, served with cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, and eggplant two ways on pea puree. The dish was light and flavorful, with the pea puree serving as a fresh, delicate sauce that complemented the natural flavors of the fresh vegetables beautifully.
The third course highlighted a different kind of pasta, Fettuccine al Limone. This was my favorite of the two pasta courses; the perfectly al dente ribbons were enveloped in an ethereally light and creamy marscapone cheese with fresh zucchini, leeks, fresh mint, and fragrant lemon zest. The flavors were full and satisfying without being overly filling. (I’m also a huge supporter of lemon on everything, so I loved every bite of this dish.)
Then came the fourth course, the crown jewel, which was brought out on a large wooden meat board. CiboDivino proudly serves 44 FARMS meats, and our group was lucky enough to sample the perfectly seasoned coulotte cuts served alongside caramelized onions and arugula. The marketplace is the only spot in town where you can go in and buy raw cuts of renowned 44 FARMS beef, and they will even grill it for you (free of charge) if you decide you’d like to enjoy your steak at one of the many communal tables inside or on the spacious dog-friendly patio.
Needless to say, by the end of the fourth course, I was stuffed. At this point, I was chastising myself for going HAM on the appetizers. That didn’t stop me from partaking in something sweet, though. For dessert, Daniele and Christina served bite-sized dessert offerings from their cafe. I, close to a food coma, still managed to snag a Raspberry Lavender Truffle, because no matter how full I am, a meal does not feel like it has concluded until I’ve had something sweet. This two-bite flavor bomb was a wonderful ending to an unbelievably delicious meal. The truffle was deeply chocolate with lavender lending an assertive floral note that cut through the richness beautifully.
Everything about dinner at CiboDivino was delightful. The marketplace offers so many unique goods, some of which are available exclusively there. Daniele and Christina, as well as Ryan, were all gracious hosts with evident love and passion for what they’ve created together. It’s rare to meet people who are doing exactly what they love to do, and then for them to do it well, and humbly. It was an honor to be a part of the entire experience. I personally cannot wait to visit again soon.
CiboDivino also has a wrap-around indoor/outdoor bar with 11 local beers and one Italian import beer on draft.
Paciugo gelato is also available at the cafe, along with Lavazza coffee.
Food menus are generally not published on the website, as dishes are determined by the freshest produce available at the farmer’s market on any given day.
The marketplace is open 7 days a week, from 8AM – 10PM daily.
They also host occasional wine and beer dinners and are currently prepping for their one-year anniversary party next month.