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Branzino—Mediterranean sea bass.

Circle of Life

by Mark Stuertz | Photography by Kelsey Foster | Modern Luxury Dallas magazine | October 21, 2013

Think of Kitchen LTO as Buddhism on a plate. In Buddhism, a desire for permanence and resistance to the inevitability of change are at the root of all suffering. We crave stability and permanence, even though they cause pain. Hence, we miss the plus side of change: Because of impermanence, everything is possible. Life itself is possible.

Such is the work of Norman Grimm. Grimm, of ACME Food & Beverage and refugee from such celebrated venues as Rubicon, Jardiniere (both in San Francisco) and Tra Vigne (Napa Valley), as well as York Street in Dallas, is working his culinary chops at Kitchen LTO. For now.

Kitchen LTO stands for Limited Time Only. It’s the inaugural concept in Phil Romano’s Trinity Groves restaurant incubator experiment in West Dallas. Every four months, the restaurant reinvents itself: a new chef takes the reins in the kitchen, and a new designer works their craft on the restaurant’s transformable elements. The hope is that each new vibe will somehow mesh with each new chef and menu—knock on wood.

And wood is the centerpiece of the inaugural version of this ode to the pro tem. Designed by Coeval Studio, a tree composed of wooden staves forms the centerpiece of a space trimmed with simple chandeliers cloaked in white shades over the bar, wooden tables and chairs, and tiny cacti in white pots as table centerpieces. The back wall is a sheet of orange punctuated with symmetrically spaced rectangles of green, blue, red, yellow and beige. The menu and wine list are fastened to wooden planks. The cocktail list is fastened to a smaller wooden plank. Keep knocking. Your luck will come.

It’s modern and intentionally minimalist, one conducive to impermanence and frequent improvisation.

The Grimm responses to this vibe are simple, meticulously composed and nearly always tasty French-American fare. His menu, mercilessly brief, is divided into four quadrants: Nibble, Crunch, Savor and Treat. We’ll start with Treat, since at least one example is a potent illustration of the limits of minimalism and unsparing clarity. It’s called LTOMG! Chocolate Dome, and it’s pure culinary treachery. With seasonal filling.

A scoop of ice cream, insulated in a sheet of chocolate, is slowly smothered in warm caramel before your eyes. It partially melts that insulator away, exposing the scoop and the hidden seasonal stuff—an apple crisp with homemade pralines and Texas pecans. There is no minimalism here, though the impermanence is emphasized.

From Nibble, sample the sake-glazed pork belly with pureed apple and salsify. A crown of frisee and herb salad is exquisitely dressed to wrestle with hog belly intensity.

House-pulled mozzarella and heirloom tomato salad is oddly placed in the Crunch quadrant (though it does have a single basil leaf). From Nibble comes classic arancini: three balls stuffed with risotto and mozzarella, coated with breadcrumbs, in a pool of arrabbiata sauce. It’s a cogent merging of textures.

From the Savor quadrant, there’s Branzino (Mediterranean sea bass) on a bed of tangy heirloom green tomato salad and pickled shallots, and lapped by bacon malt foam. It’s flaky sweet and lively—a harmonious merging of potentially unstable flavors.

The wine list is a terse list of eclectic global bottlings that are as impermanent as the restaurant. Selections enter and exit much like the chefs. But beware of stingy pours. Our glass of Troublemaker Red Blend (Hope Family Wines, Paso Robles) barely held enough fluid to rise above the bowl base.

Kitchen LTO is the brain toddler of Casie Caldwell, founder of Dallas-based Greenz Salads. She says she designed it for those ever-thirsting for new trends and shifting culinary adventures. It is perhaps the world’s first perpetual pop-up restaurant—permanent impermanence. How Zen is that?

Wok the Vote
Fans can vote for the next chef and designer online after a selection committee releases a slate of finalists.

Palate Quake
There’s no better taste sensation than the Claret Sour: Knob Creek Rye with Bordeaux and lemon juice, plus egg white to give it a seafoam froth.

Impermanence
Norman Grimm’s term expires Dec. 31, 2013, but new contestants are introduced at an unveiling party with tastings.

Kitchen LTO
3011 Gulden Lane, #108, Trinity Groves, 214.377.0757, kitchenlto.com

Mon.-Thu., 11:00am-2:30pm & 5-10pm; Fri., 11am-2:30pm & 5-11pm; Sat., 5-11pm