In 2014, the Dallas-Fort Worth dining scene was graced with a bounty of terrific new restaurant openings. Here, we salute our favorite newcomers of the year.
Clay Pigeon Food & Drink
Over the course of its yearlong existence, Clay Pigeon has made a name for itself as one of Fort Worth’s best new restaurants, quietly and unassumingly, relying primarily on word of mouth. There’s been much to say: Chef (and Arlington native) Marcus Paslay and his kitchen team create simple, exquisite food — pastas, flatbreads, steaks and seafood — with focus and care, using local and seasonal ingredients. A standout is the bone marrow — dressed down, accented with just parsley and sea salt, allowing the marrow’s rich, fatty flavor and jelly texture to speak for itself. All is made in-house, down to the bread and ice cream. Attention is paid to the drinks side of the menu, too, with a seasonal beverage program and a wine list 1,000 bottles strong. The farmhouse-rustic decor creates a warm, inviting sepia-tone glow; you want to stay forever. 2731 White Settlement Road, Fort Worth, 817-882-8065, www.claypigeonfd.com.
The colorful John Tesar — a former Top Chef contestant — may seem tailor-made for reality TV, but the he is also a talented chef. Knife, which took over the old Central 214 spot in the The Highlands Dallas hotel, is his modernization of the steakhouse — an idea that’s so smart and so very Dallas. Knife hits hot foodie trends such as charcuterie, bacon (which he humorously offers in a “tasting”) and thrill-seeking items like a pig’s head. There are more than a dozen steaks, from a prototypical 10-ounce filet mignon to an exotic $95 Akaushi rib-eye for two. Many are crusted in salt and roughly cracked pepper, and cooked with care. But there’s life beyond the steaks: Salads are outstanding, and so are the burgers. Service skips a beat or two, but the open kitchen is exciting to watch, with chefs in white lab coats tending fires against a backdrop of green tile. Like Tesar, Knife is never dull. 5680 North Central Expressway, Dallas, 214-443-9339 , www.knifedallas.com
Le Cep Restaurant
Former Alcon executive David Avila and his chef wife, Sandra, realized their dream of opening a Parisian-influenced restaurant in Fort Worth with this 60-seat spot that debuted in late October and immediately started receiving buzz. The menu, which changes monthly, breaks down into an eight-course “discovery” ($85) or a four-course tasting ($45). We enjoyed the melt-in-your-mouth venison tartare, the delicate Arctic char and desserts such as a Mont blanc — a small wonder of mixed tastes and textures. But it’s the whole experience — the minimalist black-white-and-gray decor, the champagne trolley, the cheese tray given extra flair by fromagier Michael Robert Dimsdle, the attentive but unhurried service, the post-meal macarons and truffles — that make this rookie a contender for Fort Worth’s best restaurant. 3324 W. Seventh St., Fort Worth, 817-900-2468 , leceprestaurant.com
Cane Rosso Fort Worth
Having conquered Deep Ellum and White Rock Lake, restaurateur Jay Jerrier finally brought his Neapolitan pizza empire west to — where else? — Fort Worth’s hip Magnolia district. Following the example set by Fireside Pies, Cane Rosso has an artisanal approach that elevates pizza from a throwaway food into a meal to be savored. The crust has life and personality, with a browned toasty edge that’s like buttered popcorn. Top-of-the-line ingredients transcend as well: out with pedestrian pepperoni, in with Italian meats such as spicy soppressata and prosciutto. Cheese is made in house or imported specially, like the traditional but sublime mozzarella di bufala. For Fort Worth only, Jerrier offers sandwiches, pastas and the signature Gipsy Danger pizza with mushroom, jalapenos and a soppressata jam. 815 W. Magnolia Ave., Fort Worth. 817-922-9222 , www.canerosso.com
This tavern from restaurateur Tristan Simon seems to get everything right, from the swanky decor to the attentive service to chef Jeff Harris’ well-tended food. AF+B, which stands for American Food and Beverage, does a robust kind of American with Southern touches, such as the fried chicken with black-pepper cream biscuits, or the cornmeal-crusted fish with sides like sweet potatoes and braised greens. Starters such as Scotch eggs make for good snacks at the bar, paired with signature cocktails such as the “stalkyard” with gin, basil and celery, and be sure to leave room for pastry chef Laurel Wimberg’s seasonal desserts such as pumpkin cake with poached pear and candied pecans. Service is a well-tooled machine, and the atmosphere nearly hypnotic. On our first visit in Feburary, we remember a soundtrack of warm, rootsy music set to just the right volume — nary a note out of place. 2869 Crockett St., Fort Worth, 817-916-5300 , www.afandbfortworth.com
For his latest chapter, Fort Worth chef Lanny Lancarte gets healthy, and becomes our spirit guide. His health-crazed Righteous Foods took over where Alta Cocina Mexicana used to be. With its bright decor, casual atmosphere and bike rack at the entrance, it feels more collegiate than fine dining. The menu (breakfast, lunch and early dinner) is often virtuous, with kale salad, rare grains and freshly pressed juices. One of the most radical dishes was also a favorite: the kelp noodle salad. An edible, highly nutritious seaweed tossed with pickled carrot, cucumber and olive in a dressing made with cashew cream — a technique used by vegetarian and vegan chefs to provide creamy richness without dairy. But there are also shrimp tacos and guacamole. Old habits, you know. However, this guacamole comes sprinkled with smoked pistachios — a little old Lanny meets new Lanny, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. 3405 W. Seventh St., Fort Worth, 817-850-9996 , www.eatrighteously.com
Stock and Barrel
It took a year for chef Jon Stevens to open this Bishop Arts jewel, and you can see the care and attention in every riveted nail. The menu is a gratifying combination of minimalism and richness, featuring classic ingredients delivered with imagination and culinary flair. Meatloaf, for example, is made with Wagyu beef — thick and high as a petit filet mignon, the edges charred just so — and dressed up with smoked bacon and a melted onion “hash.” While there’s meat a-plenty, Stevens also gives special attention to vegetables, observing a low-key but diligent seasonality. During the winter, you’ll find wood-grilled butternut squash with shaved Brussels and pomegranate seeds. S+B is the neighborhood restaurant you wish you had in your own neighborhood, and speaking of: Are there any apartments for rent in Bishop Arts? 316 Davis St., Dallas, 214-888-0150 , stockandbarreldallas.com
Restaurateur Shannon Wynne is always in the right spot at the right time, and in Fort Worth that means the newly revived Sundance Square, where Bird Cafe occupies a prime perch. This avian-themed restaurant, which opened at the tail end of 2013, is a near-identical twin to Wynne’s Dallas gastropub Meddlesome Moth, with rustic dishes and an unsurpassed dedication to craft beer. There are mussels in four flavors, including spicy diablo and exotic Thai, and meats on a stick, including an Indian-themed yogurt-marinated lamb. For winter, nothing seems more right than a pot pie with tender rabbit, collard greens and shiitake mushroom, crowned with a golden brown crust. 155 E. Fourth St., Fort Worth, 817-332-2473 , www.birdinthe.net
Bite City Grill
Chef Eddy Thretipthuangsin, better known as “Chef Eddy,” first established himself locally at Design District restaurant Pakpao, but he’s dug deep in Fort Worth. At the glitzy, clubby Bite City Grill in Montgomery Plaza, his menu has global flair, with flavors from around the world forming a fun fusion: Greek salad, margherita flatbread, five-spice spare ribs and a good old American burger served with truffle fries. While he folds in Asian ingredients seamlessly, he’s saving his Thai expertise for Kin Kin Urban Thai, a new restaurant that he’ll open in Fort Worth’s Arts District — a candidate for 2015’s list? Perhaps, but for now, there is Bite, where only Chef Eddy could assemble this exact combination of dishes and influences. And in that respect, it’s a treasure. 2600 W. Seventh St., Fort Worth, 817-877-3888 , www.bitecitygrill.com
Proof + Pantry
Even if Proof + Pantry weren’t a fun place to eat, we’d root for it anyway, merely for its defiance against a jinxed location; the restaurant takes on a beleaguered space in Dallas’ Arts District that has seen three previous concepts come and go. But P+P is a fun place to eat, and sophisticated, too — with fabulous cocktails, oysters on the half-shell, Ruinart champagne by the glass, warm service and whimsical touches from the kitchen. Whole chicken comes with salsify, asparagus and tiny mushrooms, tucked away, to be whimsically “foraged” with each bite. Dishes are designed to be shared, and that’s probably a good idea, because P+P’s prices can be high. In the Arts District, you will pay for your good times. 1722 Routh St., Dallas, 214-880-9940 , www.proofandpantry.com
Be sure to check out stories on the trends of 2014 and Top 10 favorite meals of 2014. Plus, RIP to those restaurants we lost this year, and a fun feature where we asked DFW chefs: Where would you take visitors if you were paying, and where would you take them if your rich uncle was footing the bill?