It’s not often that a restaurant’s maintenance manual goes viral. But a photo of the employee handbook of Carte Blanche, which serves French tasting menus on Greenville Avenue, was texted across Dallas by chatty servers, sommeliers and cooks. For good reason.
“When people and world travelers talk about the great meals of the world, we want to be mentioned the same way, with people like Alaine Ducasse,” it read, misspelling the French chef’s name. “If we were all recognized as the “Best Restaurant in Texas” we would be a failure.”
Carte Blanche opened in June 2021, in a space that was once a cafe. Its kitchen is well equipped, but small. Its chef, Casey La Rue, is an early restaurant owner who recently cooked at a bed and breakfast in rural New Hampshire. (La Rue declined an interview request for this column.) It would be kinder, for now, not to compare La Rue’s tasting menus to those of Alain Ducasse.
If we instead compare the Carte Blanche to the Dallas Concours, we find a well-executed, luxury-focused tasting menu experience. We see that the restaurant is improving steadily. But one thing is still missing: a sense of unique personality and place.
The 12-course tasting dinner is Carte Blanche’s star attraction, but diners can choose a five-course option or come in the morning, when Casey’s wife, Amy La Rue, oversees a casual patisserie. Amy sometimes fills the danishes with moist ingredients that soften the dough, but her croissants are very good, her wild boar in a blanket is terrific, and her fluffy cheesy pretzels are worth planning a day for.
She also helps with many of the best things on her husband’s dinner menu. One of the 12 dishes is always a portion of foie gras served with one of its croissants – an over-the-top fat-over-fat combo. Of the 24 plates I ate at dinner, my favorite was Teamwork: a fabulous miniature elk pie with a flaky crust and a deeply flavored filling. The dish combines Carte Blanche’s two truly individual touches: Amy’s baking and Casey’s dedication to wild game rather than beef.
That evening we had five elk preparations, ranging from classic tartare topped with garlic crisps to a truly nasty bone broth, its bitter, abrasive flavors based on a misunderstanding of pho. The bowl was huge; no one at my table could finish.
On a second visit, the best elk dishes remained and the broth was banned, replaced by a delicious little cup of borscht. (Our server mentioned that the borscht “may contain” beets.) The wild boar was also elaborately prepared: grilled, smoked, and pressed into a crispy, meaty cube, with mustard and sauerkraut. The seafood on the second night was also more interesting, such as a piece of grilled swordfish which I loved slipping into a makrut lime, lemongrass and butter sauce.
Casey has spent many years in the restaurant business in Arizona, which helps him prepare sophisticated dishes without requiring all guests to arrive at the same time. But even some of the best plates look well prepared.
Many bites at the Carte Blanche make you feel like you’re attending a particularly lavish wedding reception: crispy phyllo cookies topped with monkfish liver; fabulous bowls of bright green gazpacho; deliciously dressed oysters; sorbet cups garnished with sake sabayon; delicate cubes of rich chocolate pie; caramel apple-shaped mousse. Once I was served a single tempura broccoli floret.
With mashed potatoes, mousses, braises and other preparations in advance, only about half of the dishes require putting a pan on a burner. It’s a sign of ingenuity, not a problem.
Here’s a problem: For $250 per person, including taxes and service charges, with extra drinks and no cancellations allowed, we should be enjoying all, not most, of this indoor picnic.
What’s wrong, for example, with a sickly gray cheddar fondue containing four small cubes of squash? Is passion fruit French toast supposed to taste like funnel cake? How is a French aubergine mash so much more bitter than a Middle Eastern mash? Has there ever been an uglier dish than brown oatmeal topped with shredded brown mushrooms and brown truffles? Are the sickly chocolates at the end from Russell Stover?
The good news is that Carte Blanche is sensitive to criticism. Seafood crudos are now more generous with fish than they were at first. Clumsy leather silverware pouches were tested, then rejected. Like a shy child learning to speak, La Rue is finally using acidity in his dishes. A sauce at my second meal was even a bit spicy.
The service is also improving and Erica Lee, the restaurant’s sommelier and MVP, offers a creative range of rare and fantastic wines that create a pairing that is the most exciting part of the whole experience.
All of this bodes well for La Rue’s attempt to revive fine dining as it existed in Manhattan in 2005. But what’s individual, personal, or Dallas-specific about all of this? ? The dining room is placeless, with huge paintings ready for a hotel lobby. The music is like Sam’s Club sells techno. The only design element that reflects Texas roots is the address.
Many Carte Blanche dishes focus on delivering luxuries rather than new ideas: the foie gras dish, those truffled grits, a great complement to caviar. Our servers amplified the effect by bragging about how various ingredients were “heavily allocated” or “also used by Michelin-starred restaurants,” as if to reassure us that our meals were exclusive.
Compare all that with the tasting menus served up by local chefs like Misti Norris and Regino Rojas. They also study traditions, but they brag about ingredients like radishes and corn, not truffles. Their food reveals stronger personalities, deeper local roots and bigger imaginations – at lower prices.
There’s something romantic and admirable about La Rue’s defense of the old-fashioned tasting menu. I can’t help but root him for a steady climb to the greatness he seeks. But there’s also something heartbreaking about his desire to become world famous while playing such safe things. That could change. The ambition and the bluster are there. Seasonal changes are well judged. The plating is gorgeous. In 12 courses given, most will be enjoyable, two or three delicious.
To achieve worldwide fame, however, the journey has only just begun.
Price: $115 per person for a five-course dinner; $195 per person for a 12-course dinner, plus mandatory 20% service charge and taxes, collected at time of reservation. Reserve wine pairing, $255; rare tea pairing, $65. Breakfast pastries cost between $3 and $8
Service: Enthusiastic and enthusiastic service, including excellent sommeliers, completes the experience. If the dining atmosphere sometimes makes you feel like you’re studying for an exam, it’s not the service’s fault.
Atmosphere: During the day, Carte Blanche is a pastry shop, and at night, it feels like a pop-up in a pastry shop. The giant paintings are from a Ukrainian artist.
Noise: Very quiet, with discreet music.
Drinks: Although the reserve wine pairing is expensive, it is the best part of a meal. The wine list is strongly French.
Recommended: savory pastries like wild boar in a blanket and pretzels; elk tartare; Oysters; grilled fish and eel.
Address: 2114 Greenville Avenue, Dallas. 214-434-1538.
Opening hours: Bakery: Thursday to Sunday from 7 a.m. to 12 p.m. Dinner: Tuesday to Saturday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Reservations: Via the Tock online platform. No cancellation or refund allowed.
Payment: All major credit cards
Access: wide and accessible main entrance on Greenville Avenue and easily accessible dining room.
Public Transportation: Located on Lowest Greenville, Carte Blanche is easily accessible for pedestrians, bus passengers and drivers. The restaurant shares a small parking lot behind the building with other businesses.