Chef Tim Love is nothing if not resilient. Faced with adversity, he seems able to overcome it with indomitable gusto. When something is broke, he fixes it. And so it was that, when Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, his signature restaurant in the Fort Worth Stockyards, was damaged in a fire in August, he rebuilt the kitchen and added a new outdoor deck, in a breathtakingly efficient two months.
The kitchen now boasts gleaming new stainless-steel counters. Though still small, the kitchen space has been expanded to allow for a better work flow. The team of chefs wearing their trademark cowboy hats can work without knocking each other in the brim.
Love also made improvements in the dining room, including new art, sophisticated light fixtures, wood flooring and drapes. The divided space, with long bar on one side and cozy dining room on the other, hasn’t lost its sultry saloon feeling, but everything feels spiffed up.
Open since 2000, Lonesome Dove is a timeless classic with a kind of epic mystique. When you see the two bartenders, locked in conversation under a band of golden light, you feel like you might be back in the 1800s, with a stagecoach waiting outside instead of a valet. In all sorts of ways, it stands as a quintessential restaurant for its neighborhood and its city.
The magic continues with a staff that meshes harmoniously, from attentive, helpful servers to a watchful manager diligently keeping tabs. When you casually mention that you might split the salad, the waiter brings two plates and a pair of tongs so he can split it for you.
The menu still spotlights game meats such as elk loin ($40) with hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, earthy Swiss chard and candied grapes, or rabbit-and-rattlesnake sausage ($15). But there are updates and fall items such as quail with Thai vinaigrette and lamb with a smoked cauliflower that’s reminiscent of the cauliflower served at Love’s Woodshed Smokehouse.
One new starter showing Love’s restless innovation was scallop crudo ($12), a dish as intriguing on the brain as it was on the tongue. The scallop was cut into thin discs, pale and soft, with an ineffably creamy texture. On top were slices of uncooked yellow squash, cut thin to make them easy to eat, even raw.
It made for a clever pairing — raw fish plus raw vegetable — and a disarming contrast between the yielding scallop and the stiff yet collapsible squash. A disc of serrano pepper in the center of the squash created an amusing “eye” and a fiery kick. A squeeze of yuzu juice, the exotic Asian citrus, tasted like bright, sweet lime.
Blue corn lobster hush puppies ($15) were a cross between a crab cake and a meatball, with a crunchy crust and chunky center. A drizzle of watercress butter and sprigs of fresh watercress made them feel yet more luxurious.
One distinctive new entree was squid ink pasta, aka fideos negros ($27), with chorizo and Manila clams. Presentation was grand, the clams still in their shells perched on the pasta. We tugged the clams from their shells and stirred them into the pasta, depositing the shells into a bowl proffered by the server.
The pasta was chopped into small pieces, making it easy to spoon it up along with the slightly chewy clams and the rich, creamy broth. But their delicate flavor was overshadowed by a too-generous portion of chorizo. The plate was overcome by cubes of the chewy, tangy meat when just a little would have gone a long way.
One of the meal’s biggest wows was farm salad ($12), a fabulous mélange of fresh, chewy, sweet and rich. Love was an early adopter on kale, and on this salad he showed himself to be ahead of the pack again with his use of raw collard greens. He minimized their stiffness by chopping them into thin ribbons; marinated in the dressing, they were almost like pasta.
The salad had chunks of soft, sweet butternut squash and matchstick-cut carrots, just blanched so that they were al dente. On top was a sunny-side-up egg, which the server cut with a fork and knife and then tossed with the greens so that bits of cooked white mixed throughout, and the runny egg yolk gave the whole thing a rich, glossy sheen.
There was also an addictive side dish so rich and sweet, we didn’t need dessert: beet home fries ($10), similar to what Top Chef winner Paul Qui serves at his East Side King food truck in Austin. Beets were cut into bite-size chunks, roasted, then deep-fried until they were irresistible crunchy, gnarly bites. They were served in a miniature iron pan, with big dabs of goat cheese.
Yes, Lonesome Dove was down, but fortunately, not for long.