Ever in search of late-night dinner options, we recently found Stirr in Deep Ellum--a very chic and cool spot that epitomizes the best of new build-outs for a dining scene that is slowly getting better. Open for a couple months, we decided to give it a try.
We had high hopes as we walked in the door. Beautiful decor, cool, industrial vibe, huge space, open concept kitchen off to the side, and a living room feel near the back of the dining room. Great center-island bar as well. Go upstairs, and you have a full-roof bar with great seating, awesome views, and room for several hundred of your closest friends. From a space perspective, they have everything going for them! Unfortunately, while a huge leg-up, it doesn't cover for a sub-par kitchen.
With an appropriately expansive menu for dinner (not too big, not too small), we had plenty of options to choose from. We decided to go with the tuna poke tacos and the volcano rock shrimp for appetizers.
The tuna poke tacos were fantastic! Served in a crispy wonton shell topped with a seaweed salad and served with a creamy, tangy, slightly spicy sesame ponzu sauce, these were a real pleasure to eat! The tuna was extremely fresh and had that great, pure, raw tuna flavor that you only get from high-quality fish. The shell wasn't oily at all, and provided the perfect level of crunch to counter the poke. The seaweed salad was lightly dressed, and helped give the dish some Asian flair. With 4 generously-sized tacos per order, this could really be a light entree if you wanted. A really great start to the meal!
The volcano rock shrimp came out next. Served with a slightly-spicy aioli, and topped with crushed peanuts, this was good in concept, but not quite as good in execution. The shrimp really didn't have a lot of flavor on their own, and the peanut crumble on top didn't add a lot, other than a slight crunch. The aioli provided didn't actually go as well with the shrimp as the sesame ponzu sauce left over from the poke tacos. We ended up dipping all of our remaining shrimp in that sauce, which helped add flavor. While the menu said the dish was served over a bed of scallions, the shrimp were actually served over a bed of undressed coleslaw. It really had no taste, and there was no good reason for it even being there. This wasn't bad as an appetizer, but not terribly complex either. Not nearly as good as the poke tacos, that's for sure! Thank goodness we saved our ponzu sauce!
For entrees, we ordered the Poblano Berkshire Pork Chop (Natalie) and the Black Pepper Crusted Venison (Cameron). They were both disappointing.
We know that a lot of restaurants over-cook venison, so when ordering the dish, we asked how the chef generally prepared it from a doneness perspective. The waitress said that he preferred medium-rare--good news for us. We told her that was fine, but that we don't mind our meat on the rare side, so a little less than medium-rare would be fine with us. When the dish came out, clearly this request wasn't heeded. The four slices of venison on the plate ranged from medium-well to medium. There was only the slightest hint of pink in the two middle slices (picture looks more rare than it was)--a far, far, far cry from the "medium-rare" that was promised. All four slices ended up tough and stringy. And, while the dish was supposed to be accompanied by "hunter's sauce" and a rosemary potato hash, both were failures. The sauce was a poor rendition of a red-wine pan sauce that came out weak and feckless (also, there really wasn't enough of it, even if it had been good), and the potato hash was unevenly chopped, meaning some bites were under-done, while some were over-done. While this dish was a disappointment, the pork chop was worse.
As soon as the pork chop came out, it became clear we were in for trouble. There was a simply massive serving of dry mashed potatoes on the plate (probably an entire baking potato's worth), topped with a clearly over-cooked pork chop. The chef must be all about food-safety, because there's no way this pork was going to give us trichinosis. We're talking 170 degree inside temp, judging by how tough and dry the center of the meat was. To put this into perspective, we go for 145 degrees when sous-videing pork at home. While the menu advertised a poblano cream gravy, we were delivered a pool of quickly-separating poblano cream vinaigrette. As you can guess, this eventually broke into its component parts, so that we were left with orange goo swimming in a sea of warm oil. It could've been that not enough time and patience had been put into slowly adding in the oil, or that the plate was hot from being placed under a broiler - either way, the resulting baby poop orange puddle was not very enticing. We both tried it, but were unimpressed. We were left to use the chutney sprinkled on top, which, like the sauce, was really sour and not very appetizing. Thus, not wanting to use the chutney or sauce, we were left with our original dry pork chop and dry mashed potatoes. We picked at the potatoes and couldn't put our finger on a familiar funky taste profile we both seemed to be getting. A few bites in, Cameron came to an epiphany . . . They used powdered orange cheese to add body to the potatoes (think Kraft EZ-Mac powdered cheese). At that point, we were both done. Cheapskate move, and pretty amateurish. We're all for cheesy potatoes. But please, use real cheese!
After living through two disappointing entrees, we didn't have the heart to try dessert. We were hoping for a good experience here, and saw hints of what the spot could be (the poke tacos were really that good!). But we won't be back until we're sure the kitchen has gotten the rest of its act in order. Hopefully that's sooner, rather than later.