There are some experiences in life that a person never forgets – graduating from college, getting married, witnessing or giving birth to a child, traveling to an exotic place on your bucket list or eating a 10-course meal. Now, I’ve only had one of those previously mentioned experiences, so for me, eating a carefully-crafted 10-course meal is at the top of my unforgettable moments list. And I have the folks at Bolsa to thank for that.
Dallas Food Nerd was recently invited to a special menu tasting to sample creations from the restaurant’s latest culinary addition, Chef Joel Harrington. Bolsa has been a staple in the ever-growing Bishop Art’s area since 2008.Owners Christopher Zielke and Christopher Jeffers converted an auto garage in Oak Cliff to a grocery store/wine bar/restaurants, and it quickly became a hit with foodies and Dallasites. The Christophers were ahead of their time, providing a farm-to-table menu that had not quite became the culinary trend it is today. A bohemian, neighborhood vibe combined with delicious, fresh food was a true recipe for success.
And then life happened. Bolsa never closed its doors, but the flame and star of the Bishop Arts District became only a spark. Maybe it was the surge of other farm-to-table restaurants in Dallas or maybe it was the short attention span of local foodies. Either way, Bolsa wasn’t the same anymore.
Enter Chef Joel Harrington and my 10-course meal.
Chef Joel returned to Dallas a few months ago to join the Bolsa team as the chef de cuisine. Throughout the years, Chef Joel has led kitchens for Stephen Pyles, Charlie Palmer and Marcus Samuelsson and worked for restaurants that have won three stars from the New York Times and the prestigious James Beard Award. Now he’s back in Dallas and his love of farmers and local produce couldn’t be a more perfect match to Bolsa’s philosophy of having an ever changing, seasonal menu.
Customers can expect some of the favorite to remain on the menu, like Bolsa staples the Twig and the Branch flatbread. Chef Joel was very cautious about making too many changes to the beast known as brunch at Bolsa. Smart move, Chef. Don’t mess with Dallas brunchers, especially before they’ve had a mimosa. Beyond that, diners can expect a creative and imaginative menu that takes a modern, whimsical approach to farm-to-table cuisine. tribute to the farmers and their delicious produce.
The first couple of courses were appetizers and opened up my tastebuds to a whirlwind of textures and flavors.
Spreads, breads and chicarones started our journey. Crunchy breads were served with three savory dips – smokey pimento cheese, sunchoke pepita and caramelized onion creme. I will never eat plain ol’ chips and salsa ever again. Okay, I’m being dramatic, but these spreads make what is usually a basic, overlooked appetizer a part of the dining experience.
And then we saw beauty – the chicken liver macaroon.
Like so many things in society today, Instagram has made these simple cookies an overnight sensation. Their modern photogenic natures makes them prime content for foodies, fashion bloggers and people who “want all the likes.” I’m not even sure that people actually eat as many as they post. Knowing this phenomenon, Chef Joel made a chicken liver macaroon served with a apple puree and ham hock marmalade. This intimate appetizer was small but packed with richness from the liver and a hint of sweetness from the apple puree and marmalade. It was almost too beautiful to eat…..almost.
Courses three and four were “garden” salad and meszcal shrimp cocktail respectively. The warm embrace and love Chef Joel feels for farmers exudes from this garden salad. It is plated as if each vegetable was harvested solely for this dish. The raw cooked vegetables are crisp and perfectly cooked with just enough seasoning to brighten the earthy flavors the vegetables provide. And it’s topped with a slightest bit of honey and shallot vinegarette that truly completes the dish. This dish is spring on a plate and is the perfect tribute to farmers who spend months nurturing produce that will be served in restaurants like Bolsa.
We were only half way through the tasting, and I could already feel the buttons on my pants getting tighter. Alas, entrees were on the horizon.
Perhaps my favorite course of them all was the Yellowtail Tuna. Fresh fish was mixed with radishes, pickled green papaya and chili-pop rocks. Yes, like the candy you ate as a child – chili pop rocks. How fun it was to have a little burst of crunch with eat bite. The Yellowtail was a good, light transition to the heavy dishes that awaited us.
For the vegetarians out there, the sweet potato gnocchi, course #6, is for you! Remember those vegetables from the garden salad? Well, more roasted vegetables have returned and are tossed with pillows of sweet potato gnocchi goodness. On top of this mountain of savory food is a dusting of eagles mountain’s “lost vault,” which proves that sometimes it’s okay to forget about aging food – delicious results may incur.
Finally, it was time for the three main entrees – Fish & Grits, Tongue & Cheek and Windy Hill Goat Croquette. The fish was a favorite among the table, but the Tongue & Cheek and Croquette left us all speechless and in awe of the complexity of Chef Joel’s culinary abilities. These entrees were carefully crafted, treated with respect and should be eaten as so. Don’t let the ingredients of these dishes deter you from order them. Even if you’ve never had tongue or cheek, this is a great way to introduce your palate to the delicacy.
The journey was over. There was no more room left in my stomach, but dessert was served. Luckily, I mean sadly, all of the desserts were off limits due to my lactose intolerance, but the general consensus of the table was the triple layer carrot cake receives a gold star. I’ll take their word for it.
I have spent more than 1,000 words on this post, but Chef Joel, the Christophers and the team at Bolsa deserve every descriptor. It always brings a small tear to my eye when a restaurant, especially one that I frequent, shuts its doors. I’m disappointed that Dallasites don’t appreciate the unique culinary offerings these establishments bring to the restaurant scene. Thanks to Chef Joel, Bolsa’s flame is bellowing, and if you look into the horizon, you’ll see smoke coming from Bishop Arts District yet again.
(Disclaimer: I was provided with a complimentary (10-course) meal, and all thoughts are my own.)