All my life – well, at least as many years as I’ve known chef Kent Rathbun, which isn’t quite as long – I’ve wanted to eat at Rathbun’s Blue Plate Kitchen, which serves the “neighborhood” in Dallas known as the Park Cities. Since these places include Highland Park, University Park and the like, they take in people who know something of the best in food and drink, who can afford the best when they want it – but who don’t want to dress up for some fancy, cheffy dinner every night of the week. By all evidence, Blue Plate and its oh-so-welcoming bar have become their home away from home.
Make no mistake: there’s no shortage of pizzazz coming out of this comfort-food open kitchen, especially since executive chef Jennifer Newbold from the Seattle area moved over from one of Rathbun’s other concepts – the very popular Jasper’s, now going great guns in Plano, Austin and the Woodlands north of Houston. This seems a natural step up for her (as she described it on the radio show we recorded last night), since Jasper’s specializes in something it calls “Gourmet Backyard Cuisine.”
We sampled several things during the taping with Chef Jennifer and Blue Plate GM Dennis Egert: a nifty mussels dish with Texas beer (perfect for sopping with grilled rustic bread), a super-good beet salad with pleasantly chewy spinach on the side, and Gramma Minnie’s Country Fried Chicken, a yummy Rathbun family favorite. But really now, whose gramma ever heard of any “coleslaw” that features shrimp, crab and lobster, all turned south-of-the-border tropical with cilantro-lime dressing?
Whenever restaurant people say, as they do often, “Get the duck,” I usually don’t. I’m not a huge duck fan, really. But whenever anyone anywhere (but especially in France) says “Get the cassoulet,” I become like putty in their hands. This Blue Plate Kitchen dish is called Hickory Grilled Maple Leaf Farms Duck Breast, to be sure, but it comes with white bean cassoulet, confit duck leg and port wine jus. I don’t suspect there’s any French countryside outside Blue Plate, but you could have fooled me.
In the old days, there was usually an unbroachable frontier between “savory chefs” working the “hot line” and “pastry chefs” working, well, in any space they could find. Chef Jennifer is one of a growing new breed who has handled both jobs (and apparently has both quite different personalities) here and there on her resume, and she makes an incredible flourless chocolate cake to prove it. The delightfully chunky-chewy orange marmalade underneath carried me back to breakfasts with my parents in my childhood. And after all, isn’t that comfort food’s job in the first place?