Aside from the nice dinner you’re certain to enjoy, AF+B — the new restaurant in the center of the West Seventh District — is a fun exercise in perfectionism that begins when your feet cross the tiles on the bar floor. The custom-made squares of white, black, green and pale gray line up flawlessly. The bar gleams, fabricated from walnut with a handsome polished zinc top. The dinner napkin, folded just so, is a pale-blue gray linen that feels natural and rich. The menu has cut-out notches at each corner, no doubt the bane of some printer’s existence.
Every element speaks of precision, and that attention to detail is carried out throughout the meal, be it perfect french fries or the accompanying house-made ketchup.
AF+B, which stands for American Food and Beverage, is one of the biggest openings of the year. It comes from Consilient Hospitality, the restaurant group run by Tristan Simon, whose other concepts include Hibiscus, The Porch and the pizza mini-chain Fireside Pies, whose branch in Fort Worth, a block from AF+B, remains one of the hottest restaurants in that area.
Consilient also just opened CBD Provisions in the Joule Hotel in downtown Dallas, that simultaneousness being no small feat. Aside from their alphabet-happy names, the two restaurants have similar degrees of ambition and seriousness. Both follow Consilient’s robust and artisanal approach to food, combining novelty and comfort, with nearly everything made on-site.
The chef at AF+B is Jeff Harris, whose résumé includes terms at Craft Dallas and Bolsa. Some of the menu reflects his rustic sensibility; other parts bear the Consilient stamp. That side of fries ($6), for example, served in a paper-lined cup, has a nearly identical presentation to the fries served at CBD.
The menu is practical, with a group of starters that could suffice as a light entree paired with a side or salad. Crispy little quail ($13) took a bird that can seem difficult and off-putting, and made it an irresistible snack. Cut into manageable pieces, the quail was fried until the skin got crunchy, then doused in one of the world’s best sauces: a red-tinted sorghum hot sauce with a mouth-puckering combination of sweet and smoky.
Scotch eggs ($12) made a better bar snack than a starter. Four half-eggs were wrapped in a layer of house-made chorizo and coated in a thick, crunchy batter. The yolks were perfectly centered, and at just the right degree of oozing runniness; the whites were plump and firm. On top were orange and red chiles, cut into thin slices and “cured” to dull their heat. They offered bright color and a warm sweetness.
Entrees ranged from a casual burger with Cheddar cheese ($15), to fried chicken ($21) served with a biscuit, to a $28 beef rib with fingerling potato salad. Blackened snapper ($25) had two chunky slabs of tender white fish with a discreet peppery crust, but it was the fixings that made it stand out.
The fish was laid over large white beans, cooked perfectly, so that the outer shell of the bean crumpled slightly in the mouth before sinking into its soft center. The fish was ringed by a half-dozen small clams, still in their shell. Mixed into the beans were shreds of kale, cooked until soft, flavored by the salty broth from the cooked clams.
At lunch and brunch, there was a worthy vegetarian entree combining barley with butternut squash ($12). Barley’s nubby texture and nutty flavor make it one of the most satisfying grains; its pairing with soft diced squash was a treat. Collard greens, cut into large, appealingly ragged sheets and cooked in apple cider until al dente, were folded in. Currants and a sprinkling of granola added a sweet-and-sour overlay and loads of complexity. This dish could be breakfast, lunch or dinner.
A meal could be made by combining some of the side dishes, including the unusual root vegetable rutabaga ($6). Cut into sharp-edged squares, the rutabaga was roasted until brown, then tossed with pumpernickel crumbs and whole mustard seeds that still popped when you bit down.
Desserts had a masculine stick-to-your-ribs personality. They were not that sweet. Fritters ($8), like sugar-coated doughnut holes, were made from a batter of sweet potato and coconut. They came six to an order, with ramekins holding huckleberry syrup and a winsome brown sugar-marshmallow sauce. Chocolate-black walnut pie ($8) was like a brownie in a pie crust, but with many walnuts in rather large pieces.
Well-known names were recruited to assemble the beverage list, including mixology team Chad Solomon and Christy Pope and sommelier Ryan Tedder, whose quirky list weighs toward Texas wines such as Tranquilo Cellars from Lubbock. Service was the proverbial well-tooled machine, and the atmosphere was almost hypnotic. A soundtrack of warm, rootsy music was set to just the right volume — nary a note out of place.