Chef Tiffany Derry has enjoyed the quintessential meteoric rise, from small-town Beaumont to national stardom on Top Chef. Now she's ruling the roost at Private Social, a chic new restaurant in Uptown Dallas.
The chef who was voted "Fan Favorite" on Season 7 has partnered up with a pair of entrepreneurs -- Andy Austin and Patrick Halbert -- with an eye toward building a restaurant empire. Austin, who has a hospitality background, takes a hands-on role in overseeing the day-to-day action. Service was excellent, and it's a beautiful, sleek, modern space, with quirky touches such as the "wall" made of stainless steel beads that divides the bar space -- "Social" -- from the "Private" restaurant side.
Derry made her name locally as a seafood specialist at Go Fish in north Dallas. Here, she mixes in her Southern roots in dishes such as fried chicken and braised kale, while retaining Top Chef influences such as Asian and Thai, and gourmand ingredients such as arugula and pea shoots. Overall, it's an exciting menu with enough intrigue to pull in the food-centric set but enough familiarity to comfort the rest.
Fans of the TV show will have to get her Top Chef pork buns ($10) with crisp pork and pickled slaw, similar to the ones served at the famed Momofuku in New York. Attractively served in a bamboo basket, the buns were small, mildly chewy and extra soft -- made that way by steaming them rather than baking. Stuffed into each bun was a crisp-edged slice of pork belly and a slaw of carrot, daikon radish and thinly sliced red onion. The chewiness of the buns made for an irresistible contrast to the crunchy slaw.
Pastrami cured hiramasa ($14) was a revelation because of the way the pastrami curing gave such meaty flavor and texture to the thin slices of hiramasa -- a firm-flesh fish that is part of the amberjack family. Drizzled with a coriander vinaigrette, it was so firm that one person at my table mistook it for pork.
Derry offers quite a few seafood items, a reminder of her tenure at Go Fish, which closed in 2010. Her white sturgeon "chowder" ($28) was one of the best things that we tried. Chunks of white, mild sturgeon sat at the bottom of a bowl accompanied by thin slices of potato, green onion and bits of bacon. A server poured a creamy rich broth from a fine white pitcher, adding just enough for a layer of liquid at the bottom, but not submerging the ingredients. Each ingredient brought its own personality: the firm yet yielding fish; the well-peppered potato slices, their skins still on; bacon injecting little bursts of flavor.
Duck-fat fried chicken ($24) was an excellent representation of Derry's Southern cooking skills, with a heavily crunchy, corn-flaky crust enclosing the most, tender meat. The chicken was a full half, broken into four pieces, admirably still on the bone: wing, thigh, drumstick and breast. On the side came a bowl of the best braised kale in the world, soft and flavorful, with shreds of bacon and some chile heat to make it toasty.
Farm salad ($10) had a thrilling touch of decadence. A mix of Tom Spicer's greens was topped with a whole egg that had been poached, then battered and fried with a handsome, shaggy crust. It was perfectly cooked so that when we cut it in half, the yolk still oozed a bit to give the greens some richness. Pancetta lardons were like little bits of bacon, giving the salad a witty bacon-and-egg theme.
Officially, there are two menus, but you can order items from either side. We dined on the Private side but had a lamb flatbread ($10) from the Social menu that we probably wouldn't order again. The flavors of the crumbled lamb and yogurt sauce were good, but we didn't care for the little crackers that served as the crust.
Desserts weren't a strong suit. Creme brulee ($6) felt ordinary, and the chocolate cake ($7), served with chai ice cream, was too dry. But the wine list composed by gallivanting sommelier D'Lynn Proctor was creative, with nifty by-the-glass options that included rosé and a sparkling red shiraz -- equally effervescent whether consumed on the Private or Social side.