Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Urban Rio to open in Plano in June with menu consult from chef Mark Miller
Famed Southwestern chef speaks of sauces and techniques.
The three-story complex is the latest, most audacious effort from Nathan and Bonnie Shea, who opened Urban Crust, the popular pizzeria with chef Salvatore Gisellu, also in old downtown Plano.
Urban Rio will incorporate a restaurant, bar, coffee/gelato stand, chef demo room, and catering operation. It's located in a highly visible spot off the DART Rail line on 14th Street, one block south of the main drag.
And it'll feature culinary contributions from chef Mark Miller, one of the big names of Southwestern cuisine and founder of the famed Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe, N.M., whom Shea hired as a consultant in March.
Miller came to Dallas for about 10 days when he offered suggestions for sauces and techniques.
"It's in the vein of things I did at Coyote Café, with a modern Southwestern bent, taking traditional dishes and giving them a new twist," Miller said.
"We hoped to accentuate the fresher element that gets lost in Tex-Mex, and emphasize the smoky elements that play well in Texas because of barbecue," he said. "Flavors that are doing well nationwide right now are a little more smoky, more roasted tones, and a strong presence of herbs like basil and cilantro."
He devised eight to 10 salsas for ceviches and shrimp cocktail, and sought out sources for masa so that Urban Rio could make tortillas by hand.
"Instead of doing one red chile salsa, why not do four or five?" he said.
Miller, who is currently traveling in Asia, came to Urban Rio with inspiration from a class he'd just taken with Mexican cookbook author Diana Kennedy, where they made pipians with dried shrimp and pumpkin seeds; before that, he'd gone to Thailand and Turkey and Mexico City, where he was exploring pre-Columbian tamales.
With no Mexican restaurants in the area, the Sheas saw an opportunity for a Mexican place that would do Tex-Mex and a little more. The cornerstone of Urban Rio's menu is a tamale pie, from an idea sparked by Bonnie.
"That came from my wife," Shea said. "Instead of a traditional tamale, we wanted to do a tamale pie in a cast-iron skillet. We came up with ingredients we wanted to make to our palate and what we liked."
While Miller contributed ideas for using chiles, sauces, and salsas, Urban Rio's menu won't feature any Miller recipes, said Shea.
"We put together our menu based on some of the experiences we got from him as well as chef Ryan Olmos," he said. "There's not any specific dishes we're using, but we're using some of his techniques."
The other distinctive element is the construction of place, carefully built around the old Plano Ice House, which Shea painstakingly renovated in 2010. At one time, it was the home of Urban Oil & Gas, and old-time lettering has been painted across the top of the building. But it was the original Plano Ice House, where locals obtained blocks of ice. The Sheas procured old photos which they've incorporated into the decor.
"We want to keep the history just like we did with Urban Crust," Shea said.
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