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Restaurant Review: CBD Provisions

Tristan Simon’s restaurant empire is back in a big way.

T ristan Simon blew into Dallas in late 1995 armed with honors degrees in English and economics from Duke University, a forceful determination to succeed, and a persuasive sales vocabulary. Within a year, Simon corralled Steve Hartnett and Gene Street, two of the area’s most influential and wealthy restaurateurs, and the trio developed Cool River Cafe in Las Colinas. Simon spearheaded the project, then the most expensive restaurant and bar ever opened in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Cool River grossed more than $10 million in its first year. Simon was 24.

His “allergy to authority” led to a confrontation with Hartnett. In September 1998, eight months after the opening of Cool River, the partners paid Simon something south of $1 million, and he left.

In the fast-paced world of the restaurant business, however, that seems like ancient history. After chef Nick Badovinus left Consilient in early 2008 to start his own successful restaurants, people began wondering if Simon was still a business wizard or a stingy CEO with a massive ego who disappoints his investors. Empires don’t last forever.

But Simon has, once again, fallen up instead of down. Now named Consilient Hospitality, his revamped company has only one partner: multifaceted “invisible billionaire” Tim Headington.

“It was time to recapitalize the business and create liquidity for all of those longtime partners,” Simon says. “I was looking for a new strategic investor to offer my old partners monetization while setting up a wave of new growth.”

When you dine at CBD Provisions, you certainly taste the best money can buy. Every bite resonates with layers of flavor.

CBD Provisions, the ambitious, modern Texas brasserie located in the expanded Joule, is their impressive debut. (It’s not in the space formerly occupied by Charlie Palmer; Simon is opening a new farm-to-table restaurant there in the fall.) CBD’s kitchen is dedicated to making everything from scratch and sourcing ingredients from regional farmers and ranchers who produce small quantities, an impressive goal for a hotel restaurant that must offer three meals a day, seven days a week, to guests while also functioning as a destination for Dallas diners.

Two formidable Charlie Palmer alumni run the show at CBD: Michael Sindoni is the executive chef, and Richard Blankenship is the chef de cuisine. To secure their provisions, Consilient Hospitality has entered into exclusive partnerships with Comeback Creek Farm (two hours east of Dallas in Pittsburg) and Celina’s Cartermere Farms to provide the majority of produce at all of their restaurants.

“Tim is putting us in a position to do more sophisticated work from every perspective,” Simon says. “He is passionate about food and hospitality, and he is willing to provide the resources for us to cut no corners.”

And like Simon’s other restaurants, it’s a versatile space. A four-sided bar sits in the center of the large room. You can sit there and chow down on a burger with grass-fed beef from Local Yocal and wash it down with a beer from one of our local breweries. If you have a large party, reserve a table in front of the exhibition kitchen and take advantage of the family-style offerings. Most reservations are seated in the rear behind woven-leather room dividers, a warm, inviting space reminiscent of stately establishments in New York.

The menus are short and user-friendly. The “Toasts” section includes a standout combination of pimento cheese made with a moderately sharp Texas gold cheddar from Veldhuizen Family Farm outside of Dublin, Texas, mixed with a fermented spreadable salami (’nduja) and smeared across a slice of toasted, house-baked sourdough bread.

Small plates include a wicked good roasted carrot hummus served on a small wooden platter. Sindoni’s Texas version of the traditional Middle Eastern dip combines carrots roasted in coriander, cumin, and caraway, mashed with chickpeas, and topped with a spicy harissa-style paste made with chipotle peppers. The creamy orange dip is topped with candied peanuts and a swirl of Texas olive oil. The distinctive carrot flavor is spiked with swift kicks of sweet, spice, salt, and nut.

Top honor among the sandwiches goes to the Whole Hog Cuban, made with slices of Benton’s country ham and smoked ham from Tennessee, pork shoulder, or any other cured pork product Sindoni has in the kitchen. Each month, he receives a whole pig from Legend Meats in Gorman, Texas, and he or a sous chef breaks down the whole carcass, and then the kitchen staff breaks it down further and uses the whole animal. They even make their own pork rinds.

Have guests in from Peoria? Order the Berkshire Pig Head Carnitas ($43), and watch them pale as the server places half of a pig head in the center of the table. Like porchetta in Italy, the pig is prepared to present the perfect ratio of crispy skin, fat, and tender meat with a Tex-Mex twist. The split heads are delivered to the kitchen where Sindoni and staff begin the tedious task of plucking any remaining hair and removing glands. The heads are brined for five days and braised for 18 hours. Just before serving, Sindoni takes a sausage pricker with 50 needle-sharp pins, and pierces the surface of the skin to release the fat, which slowly self-bastes the meat. The head goes back in the oven for an hour where it is basted every 10 minutes. It is pulled out, scored, and served with roasted tomatillo salsa and some of the freshest corn tortillas in Dallas. Add a couple of small plates and you can easily satisfy four hungry diners.

I cannot imagine what it is like to work at CBD Provisions. On one visit, the young server carried a little booklet filled with notes. It took her a while to answer questions, but eventually, she found a semblance of an explanation. The list of preparations and ingredients is complex and ever-changing.

I doubt Simon has much sympathy. He has a busy year ahead: besides opening AF&B in Fort Worth and another restaurant in The Joule, there are plans for a craft-cocktail lounge under CBD and several other projects on the back burner. Not bad for a kid from Duke who just turned 40.

Tristan Simon’s restaurant empire is back in a big way.