Theodore Rex is no dinosaur. No fossils here. The cooking is of-the-moment, even forward thinking.
Here I see the future of dining — gathering with friends, sharing unfussy dishes that are so good, so uplifting that no one frets over ingredients or how they’re prepared. This is post-foodie comfort fare, bolstering us as we confront 21st century challenges, not retreat from them.
Of course, at Theodore Rex all that visionary stuff, the ingredients, the flavors, have been considered, analyzed, questioned and approved for you many times over. The visionary is Chef Justin Yu, formerly of Oxheart, where he earned the James Beard Award for Best Chef, Southwest.
Yu has transformed Oxheart’s tasting menu format into an à la carte experience showcasing local and seasonal ingredients. His creativity shines in every dish. A friend and I recently sampled several and can report that Theodore Rex totally lives up to the hype.
We started, as most dinners at Theodore Rex seem to, with Tomato Toast. Now, our visit in late April wasn’t in summer, but this made us feel like it was high tomato season. Cherry tomatoes are slowly reduced to a sensual jam topping a mild, almost cakey rye bread.
Supposedly “menu items are subject to change on a daily basis due to availability, quality or boredom” but I bet the Tomato Toast is a keeper — as are the Italian Bread Dumplings with braised mustards, beans and whey sauce. These gnocchi-like pearls have been on the menu since day one, and the dish is as soul-affirming as cassoulet. Whey sauce is like a creamy ricotta, and never will you ponder why the dish is meatless. It’s just good food, which is high praise when you consider the precision that goes into the dishes here; any of them could be a house of cards but none ever tumble.
Stewed Beef Cheek warmed in pickle juice, aged cheddar and preserved summer vegetables is another stunner. This humble cut, known chiefly for its use in barbacoa, is slow braised to a remarkable tenderness. The broth is a playful fusion of flavors.
But if that broth is playful, the broth from my Gulf Snapper was exquisite. Elevate your grandmother’s best chicken soup with Meyer Lemon, and you’re slurping something so memorable that it stays in your dreams forever. The fish was crisply fresh and flawlessly cooked.
My friend couldn’t find words for his Roast Strip Loin of Texas Wagyu. A beautiful medium rare, the steak came with turnips — shaved and rolled as if they were a pasta — that deepened the dish’s umami profile.
We shared two desserts. Warm, lightly dried strawberries with salted cream were wonderful, and Paris-Brest filled with Swiss cheese cream and honey caramel was a light, sweet sandwich from Heaven.
Theodore Rex’s wine list is well chosen and well priced. As it says on the cover, “We suggest drinking sparkling wine for your entire meal.” I’m not sure they mean that, but they do want you to conquer life through food and drink as if you were a real Tyrannosaurus Rex.