By June Naylor

(credit: June Naylor)

What might surprise you at Private/Social, the newest destination dining hot-spot in Dallas? That the showcase for Top Chef darling Tiffany Derry, someone beloved for her approachable warmth and utter lack of pretense, exhibits almost overwhelmingly cool sleekness. What won’t surprise you? That the food – for the most part – lives up to her immense popularity.

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Dining a few months ago at Private/Social, which anchors a shiny office complex on the bricks of McKinney Avenue at Hall Street in Dallas’ Uptown, our group arrived to find the joint in full swing. Patrons crowded the bar section – the Social area – sipping from a lengthy wine list and a cocktail menu. Favorite picks from the latter included the very autumn-ish Thin Air, a blend of the stylish-again rye whiskey (Ri I), yellow chartreuse, orange bitters, lavender bitters and Swedish herb bitters; and Skinny Bubbles, champagne mixed with jasmine liqueur and baked apple bitters.

Only by having reserved several days in advance were we able to nab a table in the dining room at prime seating time, 7 p.m. And no sooner than we sat was a team of servers ready to bring us beverages and shared plates.

Those shared items figure into the Social aspect of the restaurant, yet again. As our gang of friends enjoys sampling lots of goodies, we ordered up a raft of nibbles we could pass back and forth amongst ourselves. Of these, the group favorite was surely the Thai mussels, a bountiful bowl of bivalves piled into a bath redolent with red curry, lemongrass, kaffir lime and a hint of coconut.

(credit: June Naylor)

My personal passion was for the roasted bone marrow, decadent in a salty rub, served split open so we could scoop the meat onto crostinis with bits of tart, house-made pickled cauliflower and sweet marmalade, the condiments offering exacting foils for the earthiness of the marrow. Another choice, the steamer basket packed with pork buns, found the soft exterior providing balance to the crispy shreds of pork, cooling basil and crunchy cabbage.

Less exotic but no less elegant, shared plate options also include pommes frites, dusted with parmesan and herbed salt; and a composed cheese plate with elements of truffle, honey and radishes.

(credit: June Naylor)

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From the Private menu, choices are organized in sections including Grazing, which includes several of the Social menu items; Raw & Barely Raw, with ahi tuna pizza and a plate of striped bass among selections; Soups & Salads, including baby beets with goat cheese mousse; Water, with a few fish choices; Land, where we find meats and fowl.

Hands-down, the winner on our table was the chicken fried in duck fat, which we raved mightily about when Chef Derry made her rounds through the dining room and stopped by our table to share a greeting. Crispy, juicy and appropriately rich, the chicken was accompanied by a southern-style hot pepper sauce and textured braised greens.

(credit: June Naylor)

Pan-seared scallops were a hit, as well: plump and expertly browned at the edges, these juicy discs came atop a parsnip puree and sat in a decorated tableau of crunchy snow peas, tiny chanterelles, microherbs and a scattering of tangy pomegranate seeds.

Carnivores seeking red meat are appeased a number of ways: Lamb chops from New Zealand, braised beef cheek from Texas cattle; oxtails from the Midwest; and bone-in filet from Colorado beef all show up on the menu.

For the foreseeable future, Private/Social will be the darling of Dallas. Everyone likes meeting a celebrity chef, and the personality here makes her mark with a menu that would seem overachieving at times. She blends the familiar and old-school with of-the-moment practices, such as that of sourcing locally when possible and finding specialty ingredients all over the place.

My only question is whether the fancy aspects of this restaurant – a plate of fried chicken is $25, and it’s the least-expensive entrée on the menu; and the overall style of the place is chic, although blessedly not precious – can hold up in a competitive, fickle marketplace. We hope so; Chef Derry has earned her stripes. She deserves the success surely coming to her.

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Hours: Mon to Wed 11 a.m. – 12 a.m.; Thurs to Sat 11 a.m. – 2 a.m.; Closed Sundays