A couple of colleagues in Dallas recommended Gemma as a new, hot restaurant serving great cuisine. On my recent trip, the three of us grabbed a reservation and headed to 2323 North Henderson to see if the food equaled the hype. The restaurant is located in a strip mall in a gentrifying neighborhood, but when you enter the single dining room with a long bar along the left wall, the interior is warm and light, filled with blues, whites and chandeliers dangling by nautical ropes from the ceiling, you are transported to a more relaxed environment.
The server was outstanding from our first interaction until we left over two hours later. He gave a brief overview of the philosophy with all food sourced as local as possible and if not available, California. The owners, Allison Yoder and Stephen Rogers returned to Rogers’ home town of Dallas from the Napa Valley where Rogers was the Executive Chef at PRESS. He now oversees Gemma’s kitchen, while Yoder handles the front of the house. And if our experience is any indication, both are doing a fantastic job.
As a small group of foodies, we wanted to taste as many items as possible so we decided to order three appetizers to share. The first was the ROASTED BABY ARTICHOKES, which were topped with a poached farm egg, a Provençal vinaigrette and accompanied by wild arugula. The artichoke sections were soft, sweet with just a touch of earthiness from the roast, while the poached egg brought a creaminess to the presentation. The highlight was the chef’s variation of a traditional Provençal vinaigrette…he included capers for additional tang and saltiness. The wild arugula added a peppery component.
The CRISPY VEAL SWEETBREADS were served with frisée and encircled with whole grain mustard. Three large pieces were perfectly sautéed to deliver the described crispy exterior and the dense texture of the interior. The mustard was a delightful complement to the sweetbreads and the frisée lightened the dish with a clean crispiness.
The third appetizer was a half-order of the RICOTTA CAVATELLI. The restaurant recently changed the meat from wild boar to braised lamb. The house-made cavatelli was cooked to al dente and when paired with the richness of the meat was fantastic, and included a bit of grated cheese atop the pasta that added just a bit of saltiness.
For my entrée I ordered the BRAISED VEAL CHEEKS. Accompanying the cheeks in the cast iron skillet were Tokyo turnips, baby carrots, Cipollini onions, bacon, black pepper spätzle. This dish was outstanding. The cheeks were braised until they just held together, incredibly tender and rich, while the texture was soft and succulent. The cheeks were accompanied by amazing vegetables…my favorite were the Cipollini onions, with a pungency sweetness that complemented the beef. The carrots and turnips both added more crunch and additional sweetness. All of these ingredients sat atop crispy spätzle, which was light and delicious. I was not a fan of the bacon, its saltiness and smokiness were overwhelming harsh to the other ingredients.
We ordered two sides to share. The first was the MAITAKE MUSHROOM that were seasoned with shallot, garlic, and thyme. These were not your ordinary sautéed mushrooms. Several stems of these soft and mild maitake mushrooms danced on the palate, offering just a touch of earthiness. On the other hand the KENNEBEC FRENCH FRIES were ordinary and somewhat disappointing. They were basic French fries.
The kitchen was not finished with tantalizing our palates. Desserts brought another round of brilliant dishes. My favorite was the APPLE TART with toasted pecan butter, apple cider caramel, and a little butter pecan ice cream. The tart began with an ultra-buttery dough, filled with perfectly baked apples and then the caramel and ice cream added a wonderful level of sweetness. Close behind the tart was a delicious BASQUE CAKE, which was served with Meyer lemon cream, and a frozen citrus soufflé. The citrusy combinations started with the moist and luscious cake and finished with the cream and soufflé. The last dessert was the CHOCOLATE CARAMEL PINENUT TART, served with toasted marshmallows and a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. This dish suffered from sitting next to the other impeccable desserts. There were too many components that fought with each other and did not present a harmonious combination.
Overall, Gemma is serving outstanding and creative cuisine in a warm and inviting setting. This is definitely worth a return visit.