[Originally published in Modern Dallas]
It’s what happens when restaurateurs pay attention. To everything.
FT33 is suitably located in Dallas’s trendy design district. And it certainly belongs there. Not only does it serve up stellar cuisine with a mind-boggling array of exotic ingredients, it also sets the stage for well-heeled diners who want to enjoy their foodie fix in elegantly appointed digs. If it were music, it would be akin to perfect pitch. To employ yet another metaphor, the entire operation is “curated.” In other words, everything — everything — has been impeccably chosen to invoke the proverbial “wow” factor. The personnel, the ingredients, the food — and its astonishingly flawless presentation — are all stellar. Add to that an OCD-ish attention to design detail, and you have perfection. Or: put another way, you have landed in the white-hot center of Dallas’s premiere bauble of dining confection.
Why the name, FT33? This epicenter of luxe dining was dubbed FT33 because “FT” is shorthand in restaurant lingo; it’s an acronym for “Fire Table,” a term used by waitstaff for announcing that it’s time to for a particular table to segue from one course to another. In other words, out with the salad and in with the entrée. The numeral applied after the “FT” prefix applies to the table number. In this case, FT33 means “time to move to the next course at table 33” — here, 33 refers to the table adjacent to the kitchen that offers a primo view of the deft culinary action undertaken by Matt McCallister and his team of professionals.
In fact, the entire space is open and most seating allows for at least a partial view of the kitchen area. It’s a space that is obviously meant to showcase the place from whence things like “magic springs trout, local potatoes, charred rabe and pickled sweet pepper” emerge. The cuisine takes center stage and the kitchen is as perfectly presented as are the restaurant’s array of remarkably complex dishes. “Carrot panna cotta, mint pea cream and candied carrots” anyone? You get the idea….
The restaurant’s design was a collaboration between architect Craig Beneke and design expert Hatsumi Kuzuu. Also, Iris McCalister, who is a joint owner, added some personal touches. The interior is decidedly spare; however, the space is made inviting by wooden panels, a dropped ceiling and a color scheme that features beiges, greens and greys. Uber-cool Edison bulbs were installed over tables and serve as an ideal lighting choice; they create both a warm glow and a vintage look. Plus, they pulsate with a frenetic, sculptural filament. They make for a perfect ambiance of soft, flattering lighting while simultaneously adding an edgy design motif.
Upon entering the restaurant, diners immediately see, front and center, a rustic panel with a shelf supporting an anvil, a literal anvil once used for blacksmithing. It’s a found object that was converted to function perfectly well as an urn for a white orchid. Set against a backdrop of weathered wood, it’s a terrific choice for creating a mood reminiscent of nature and rusticity. In other words, the place is starkly innovative without becoming too sterile for imbibing cuisine from a menu that reads like a hybrid of food porn merged and the linguistic virtuosity of Vladimir Nabokov. Thus, FT33 is a feast for the palate — and for the eyes. After all, if you’re dining on “hamachi crudo, carrot miso, lime, spiced peanuts and serrano,” you don’t want to dive into it in digs that are anything less than sublime. Transcendent even. Well, no problem. FT33 has you covered. Actually, it has you surrounded. Tabletops are carefully designed dark brown surfaces that offer gleaming accents in contrast to comfortable wooden chairs crafted of chunky blonde wood.
Even the restrooms are amazing. They feature work by graffiti artist, “Ozone” and make yet another statement that FT33 is trendy, cool and on point. In fact, this Dallas restaurant, marked by a stunning meteoric rise among those who know, is so carefully thought out that it creates a kind of a visual narrative. Even its location is a tad offbeat. The space is on HiLine Drive, midst spendy showrooms — and that’s, well, kind of perfect. The whole story makes for good theatre and an even better visual thrill. Even apart from the eye-popping cuisine, everything refers back to a luscious and delicate design portfolio of carefully chosen surfaces and upbeat fashionability,
If there’s one defining adjective for the ambiance of FT33, it’s “sleek.” The place displays a pared-down brand of perfection that could easily be found in the now super-cool meatpacking district in New York. Or even the bohemian Kreuzberg neighborhood in Berlin. Not to mention: the openness of the space showcases “Chef Matt,” who was recently voted the Best New Chef in the Southwest by “Food and Wine” magazine. He stands poised, ready to leap into action in order to plate some of the more spectacular dishes you’ll find on this — or any other — continent. In fact, FT33 takes mise en place to another tier. The aforementioned chef places items destined for lucky diners in place with tweezers. (This will either impress the heck out of you or make you feel highly inadequate the next time you’re home and preparing a meal for guests.)
This is no moveable feast. It’s stationary. And thank Yahweh. The place is so gorgeous you won’t want it to move one centimeter away from its chic and calibrated perfection. If you find this verbiage dangerously close to hyperbole, you’re right. But the place truly is superlative. Go ahead. Let yourself go. Literally. Check it out. You might want to make notes about how to “curate” your own life. After all, it pays off to pay attention — to everything.