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Some of Dallas’ most remarkable restaurants are hybrids. They serve one food by day and another by night, get dressier on the weekends or have secret back rooms. Carte Blanche, which opens on June 15 and 16 on Greenville Avenue, is a new example with big ambitions and an unusual backstory.
By day, Carte Blanche will be a bakery and coffee shop, open from 7 a.m. until noon. A cafe called Mudsmith used to serve coffee in the same space, so neighborhood residents will still be able to lounge over breakfast at the same address. The bakery will sell a wide range of goods: French pastries, brioche donuts, crullers, seasonal danishes.
In the afternoon, the business will close and conduct a quick-change act, putting away the coffee and croissants, instead setting out wine glasses and silverware. Dinner service will come in the form of multi-course tasting menus, again influenced by France but with local Texas produce and global touches.
This split-personality restaurant reflects the talents of its creators, married couple Amy and Casey La Rue, she the baker and he the chef. The La Rues met in Arizona and most recently worked at a country inn in New Hampshire, but they’ve always dreamed of opening a place like this, showcasing both of their talents in the same space.
Why Dallas? Casey offered me two reasons. First, he sees an opportunity to serve formal, proudly high-end cooking in this city, as some other cities get more casual in their dining taste.
“Dallas is a little more formal, which suits us and our concept. When you go out to eat in other cities in Texas, people will come in jeans and T-shirts, and when you go out to eat in Dallas, people will be in suits and dresses. Hopefully, we are unpretentious enough that people will feel comfortable not coming in a suit as well.”
Second, the La Rues genuinely like Dallas. They especially like Greenville Avenue, where Carte Blanche sits.
“It reminded us more of New England and kind of an old town feel, versus other parts of Dallas that were more commercial-looking,” Casey says. “I think it’s more relaxing to come into. We wanted to be as relaxing as possible when you come in.”
The La Rues moved to Dallas with enthusiasm, having already lived just about everywhere else. In addition to stints cooking in Arizona, Connecticut and New Hampshire, Casey worked for Joel Robuchon at his three-Michelin-starred Las Vegas restaurant and spent his early years in New York City, at prestigious spots like Daniel and Per Se.
“Very bottom, pitting olives all day and fine-dicing vegetables,” he says of his job at Daniel. “You kind of got pushed into walls, quite a bit of physical abuse associated with that place as well. I don’t know if it is like that now.”
Tired of New York’s high rents, tiny apartments and casually cruel workplace environments, La Rue decided to circumvent the usual pathway to fine-dining success, moving away and forging his own path. At one point, he went through a phase working at a taco shop, making corn tortillas to order. For his first Dallas pop-ups, he rented Airbnbs and rearranged the furniture to make space for larger dinner tables.
Outside Carte Blanche, on Greenville.
With Carte Blanche, he has something to prove about the road he’s taken and the style he’s developed.
Carte Blanche will offer a four-course tasting for $75 or a lavish 12 courses for $150. For that price, diners can expect a sampling of all the different techniques La Rue has learned over the years, from French classics and modernist techniques to handmade pastas and Asian spices. A wood-fired grill will take center stage in the open kitchen, too.
“I think it’s a very reasonable price for four courses of food anywhere,” Casey says. “Especially considering you can go to many places and spend twice that on a steak. We really try to offer good value in that.”
Dinners aren’t scheduled at a specific time each night, like the tasting menus at Petra and the Beast or La Resistencia. You might sit down to dinner as the next table over is enjoying pasta.
The other big headline at Carte Blanche: There will be no beef.
“It’s an environmental thing,” Casey says. “Local wild game is what we’ll focus more on. The only thing outside of Texas that we’ll serve is duck.”
Instead of beef, La Rue plans to offer up Texas venison, elk and wild boar. State authorities, and chefs like Jesse Griffiths in Austin, have long championed boar because it’s a destructive species that wreaks havoc on local ranches.
“We went looking at farmland because we were also looking at trying to get a farm up and running at some point,” Casey relates. “When you get outside of the city, you’re like, oh, boar were here. Do we want to put the time and effort and resources into a farm to have a boar tear through it in an afternoon?”
Dinners will also skip over hard liquor, favoring beer, wine and a tea tasting for non-drinkers. (Amy talked to D Magazine about the tea program.) Half of the dinner menu will change every two weeks, followed by the other half, so that a diner can visit every month and never try the same dish twice.
The La Rues came to Dallas with an investor ready to back Carte Blanche, but the investor backed out during the pandemic, so they’ve been doing the work of remodeling their space themselves. They installed a new kitchen and expanded the bathrooms. Amy has started making a massive piece of wall art from moss, and she’s sewn leather holsters for silverware. When I visited to check the space out, Casey was getting ready to install shelving and touch up some paint.
The dining space is still coffee-shop big and airy with a patio that will soon be covered in vines, but Carte Blanche will only seat 30 at dinnertime. That limited seating will keep social distancing alive, and it also enabled the La Rues to order extra-large tables, so that customers don’t feel crowded out by plates of food and glasses of wine. The chairs are bigger than usual, too: cushy and soft for multi-hour dinners, but made of a material that’s easy to wipe off spills.
Dinners at Carte Blanche start on June 15, and the breakfast and coffee shop opens the next day. Then we’ll see what the newcomers have to offer, and how their nation-hopping resumes translate into a dual vision of great breakfasts and dinners.
Carte Blanche, 2114 Greenville Ave.
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