It is an idea that’s still relatively new in the Dallas dining culture; a couple restaurants on the same vein have popped up in the past year, but the concept itself is still a touch foreign; in a city where beef reigns supreme and whose most identifiable body of water is the humble Trinity River, Driftwood stood alone at its opening, and now stands among a very few. On the surface it seems evident, but look a little closer and you’ll see – this spot just outside of Oak Cliff’s Bishop Arts district may have helped to start a revolution in the Dallas culinary culture. Driftwood is a seafood restaurant.
And it focuses on seafood.
“The idea behind it was to open a seafood restaurant unlike any other seafood restaurant in Dallas,” says Omar Flores, who has been the Chef at Driftwood since it opened its doors under the ownership of Jonn Baudoin in April of 2012. “Dallas is saturated with steakhouses, and even the seafood places aren’t seafood places per se – they are pseudo steakhouses; they serve a lot of meat and have a little seafood on the side. It was important for me not to have any beef, and we just kind of rolled with it.”
But it would be foolish to say that what sets Driftwood apart is its lack of beef – if anything, that’s merely a byproduct of Flores’ focus on his restaurant’s primary fare. What truly sets Driftwood apart isn’t what it doesn’t do, but rather what it does best – provide some of the most creative, appealing, and visually stunning dishes to be found in the city. Flores, who seeks sustainable sourcing as well as local when possible, displays a fervor for freshness and quality when seeking his ingredients, and the results are often nothing short of awe-inspiring, both to the eye and on the palate.
A lot of different components; It’s really important – you definitely eat with your eyes first; if a plate looks and it tastes good, in your mind it’s automatically better. If a plate looks sloppy, it implies a lack of care. Not taking away from rustic food, which is of course great, but that’s not what we’re doing here,” he says.
Not to mention that the items he’s plating are far from everyday.
“Someone who’s never been here before might at first feel a little confused if they’re expecting your usual seafood restaurant – you’re not going to find the typical tilapia, catfish, crab cakes or that sort of thing,” he says. “We’re a little different; the things on our menu are a little more obscure. It’s definitely chef-driven; if you look at our menu, you won’t find the same ingredient twice – everything’s got different components and different
flavors. It’s definitely something out of the norm, and sometimes people feel a little uncomfortable ordering a certain dish, but our servers are trained very well and can describe the aspects and flavors of a menu item to the customer in a way that helps them to understand what it is they’re going to be ordering, even if it’s something they’ve never had or heard of before.”
Enter Flores’ Chargrilled Octopus: the only stationary item on Driftwood’s menu, the meal has become the restaurant’s signature dish. After spending hours in a braising liquid with chorizo, vegetables and pimenton until fork tender, the octopus is slightly charred on the grill and then paired with a smoked tomato vinaigrette.
“I put that dish on the menu because even though we didn’t have any meat on our menu, it’s a little meaty – almost kind of like a steak – and paired it with the smoked tomato vinaigrette so it has those grilled, steak-like aspects to it. But you’re eating octopus.”
There are some land animals that do make their way to Driftwood’s menu as well, as the current iteration lists a rabbit saddle confit and a Colorado Rack of Lamb, but there’s no question that the restaurant’s focus. Even the atmosphere attests to it – the soft, blue tones of the restaurant are welcoming, comfortable and classy, but still, as Flores puts it, “A little beach-y, and when you’re eating seafood that definitely helps.”
The wine list at Driftwood is overseen by Baudoin, and focuses less on the wines one might regularly find in lieu of the more underexposed values and options. Considering wine’s role in dining, it is an aspect of the restaurant that doesn’t go unappreciated by Flores – or Driftwood’s customers seeking a good wine at a palatable price point.
“Jonn tries to get really eclectic wine, stuff you don’t really see around town, and they’re priced very modestly – I think our wine list is one of the best-priced in the city,” says Flores.
But it is unquestionably the dishes that are the star of the show, and while the octopus is the signature option, the seasonally rotations selections promise a new adventure with return visits – an experience almost as pleasing to the eye as it is to the palate. Almost.
“It keeps things interesting,” Flores observes. “People that came here last month and then this month can have totally different things – there’s always something different on the menu. Some people don’t like that – they want to order the same thing all the time – but we’re not one of the places where you can do that.”
So yes, if you find yourself at Driftwood craving a slab of beef, you may be out of luck.
But the octopus might just hit the spot.