The duck tongues at Macellaio represent a unique twist on a familiar protein
Bishop Arts’ Macellaio specializes in cured meats for a curated dining experience
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Executive Editor
An exercise I sometimes play with people is to ask them what the most exotic protein they’ve ever eaten is. Some say rattlesnake, or alligator, or venison, all of which are adequately diverse to merit a nod. (Me personally: Kangaroo.) One friend, though, said duck — a fairly safe and common choice that indicated to me a bit of provincialism on his part.
But after a visit to Macellaio (pronounced ma-chell-EYE-oh), the Bishop Arts-based protein palace that opened this summer, I had an epiphany.
It’s not the animal itself that gifts you the meat, but what you do with it. Duck didn’t impress me as especially outlandish when named as an off-the-beaten-path dish, but then I had a part of the bird that caught me off-guard: Duck tongue.
It sounded like it might be a gag (like chicken lips, jackalopes or progressive Republicans), or a euphemism for a weird delicacy (sweetbreads for the thymus gland, or Welsh rarebit for cheese toast). But nope, duck tongue is precisely what it sounds like: a small (4 cm), greyish-brown, curved cylinder (not unlike another anatomy part, as my inner-tween couldn’t help but notice). A bowl of perhaps 20 arrived, accompanied by an onion dip. You eat them similarly to artichoke, pulling the meat off with your teeth because of the presence of a slim bone (oops! There’s the adolescent boy in me again). And for $7, just like that, you’ve learned that even the most familiar foodstuffs can impart new discoveries or peculiar culinary experiences.
Macellaio managed to do that over and over again.
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, considering that the tiny, dinner-only restaurant comes courtesy of restaurateurs David and Jennifer Uygur, whose Lucia has been one of Dallas’ most acclaimed Italian eateries. The Uygurs are adept at spinning gold from what seems to be straw.
Lucia’s delightful salumi misti — a mixed plate of house-cured meats — was almost certainly the inspiration for Macellaio, which offers its own mouthwatering meat board (more on that in a bit). The duck tongues are a shot across the bow of expectations, and they prepare you for a slate of interesting items to come.
For newcomers, of course the cured meats are the raison-d’etre for a visit. Sausages are divided into spreadable, cured, cooked and fermented. You can come up with your own selection ($9.50), or ask the chef to choose five to create a specific lineup ($29). I tend to let the kitchen try to impress me with its flavor profiles, but either way, you’re certain to get something wonderful. We especially enjoyed the capicola (a mild, brined pork sausage) and contrasted it with the spicy-smoky power of the ’nduja, as well as a terrine. But perhaps the most unexpectedly welcome surprise were the kebabs of stewed snails ($8).
The menu also boasts several seafood dishes, though we’ve stuck with the land-based entrees so far. And make no mistake: Macellaio is a meat market. (Interestingly, the signage barely hints that it’s a restaurant at all, saying only Cured Meats, which are available for off-site consumption.)
But while I wouldn’t take a vegan within 30 yards without expecting him to suffer PTSD for years to come, there are carbs and veggies on the menu to round out your meal. A bowl of giardiniera (pickled onions, beets and cauliflower, garnished with fennel oil and parsley; $5) makes for an ideal snack while poring over the menu. Among the small plates is a white bean aligot ($12) we enjoyed, and daily house-made bread options are always worthy of exploring, though the grilled tomato-rubbed bread with sobrasada ($10) is just about unbeatable for savoriness blessed by chewy sweetness of a shmear of honeycomb on top.
Getting to try some of these dishes may seem like a daunting task. Macellaio is only open for dinner, with about 20 seats available at tables (where reservations can be hard to come by), but the 19-seat bar is all walk-up and serves everything you get at a table… plus quick access to the mixologists for quick refills. No complaints there — the cocktails are a draw as well. An entire category of spritzers (the now-omnipresent Aperol variation, of course, but also the delightful Pimm’s and one called Et Tu, Bruto), as well as one called the Bamboo that slaked my thirst, and a series of vermouth drinks that show some foresight into the rising vermouth trend.
Although not specifically a tapas restaurant (they serve several “large entrees” in the $30 range, including a whole branzino and a lamb sirloin), I have yet to try any of them to date; to pick a single dish to make the focus of my meal feels somewhat limiting to the trove available. Macellaio is the type of dining experience that benefits from a sampling of many smaller items, mixed and matched to customize a peripatetic palate — not just cured, but curated.
Macellaio, 287 N. Bishop Ave. Open for dinner Tuesdays-Sundays at 5 p.m. MacellaioDallas.com.