Joel Orsini Is Out at Booty’s

Joel Orsini, the chef and creative mind behind the menu at the restaurant that was formerly known as Izkina (now Booty’s), is out. A bar manager left on Friday.

It’s hard to describe the restaurant, attached to the Deep Ellum Hostel, save to reminisce about the dishes, spectacular in their creativity.

Last week, I’d had tortilla espanola covered in a mojo picon, a crumble of walnuts with an umami punch. Beans on toast meant a fluffy house-made focaccia spilling a beautiful cascade of heirloom beans and creamer peas. Fermented rice batter enrobed Korean fried chicken drizzled with honey and speckled with flowers, both from the rooftop. And fennel-seeded cornmeal cakes came with a fermented daikon remoulade—wild, rogue flavors hitting your palate. I spent about a day fixating on the burnt caramel that coated elotes showered in cheese. The menu (with latitude and longitude lines noted for item origins) took inspiration pell-mell from various parts of the world, but it was a canvas for Orsini’s fabulously inventive, fermenting-foraging-flavor-pairing mind.

Last night, Orsini removed the potted herbs and bees from the rooftop garden, where he had also been drying jujubes and curing garum and fish sauce, to take them to a new location in East Dallas.

The next step? Orsini has 10 farms lined up for farm dinners that will fall under the aegis of Allevare, his own company launched last month. He has built the tables and chairs and plans to cook on the bed of his Chevy C10—like a latter-day chuck wagon. A few dinners in the fall will be followed, he hopes, with a regular schedule starting in the new year.

Chefs for Farmers, in early November, was to be his last event under the Booty’s name. The exit was precipitated; Orsini declined to be held on with a consulting fee. After this weekend, Orsini will be operating on his own. Booty’s is in flux.

“The name was a major change,” Orsini says about the snicker-causing shift in moniker, which was inspired by a New Orleans institution and occurred in August. “They did it abruptly, and it’s hard to change something after a year.” Not to mention the entrance, which was moved so that the primary way to access the bar and restaurant was now through a door in the hostel disguised as a wall of suitcases. It’s all a little Alice in Wonderland, if the intrepid Alice were a wildly curious food-seeker and Wonderland a rabbit hole of international bar bites.

“They let me do what I do best,” Orsini says of his time with Izkina. “I said to them, ‘Let me do what I do, and I promise you, you’ll be recognized.’ ” In his perch next to a hostel, Orsini got bar food. The chef, who has worked for Jean-Georges Vongerichten, understood what gave it richness, creaminess, punch, depth—what made it addictive.

Booty’s will carry on with its name but without the food that had made it a place I plotted escapes to as often as I could.

I’ve reached out to owners Collin Ballard and Kent Roth for comment.

Update, 10/10:
Not surprisingly for the locale, an exchange with Ballard revealed that he and Roth’s intentions are to be more focused on the bar program and events. On the other hand, he writes, “We will continue our sustainable philosophy, operating a zero-waste kitchen. We are redesigning and expanding our rooftop garden. We want to bring our cocktail program to the forefront while maintaining the same quality of tasty dishes from the kitchen.”

Also, about the name, Ballard explains: “Booty’s was started by travel journalists, bringing home their favorite dishes from around the globe. Kent and I think it’s the perfect concept to be married to the hostel, which welcomes guests from all over. The name is, in fact, a lighthearted nod to pirate booty. Pirates were the original travelers and often had access to some of the most exotic spices and foods.”

In case that answers your burning questions.

Get the SideDish Newsletter