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IN THE KITCHEN

By June 28, 2021July 2nd, 2021No Comments

Balancing Act

By Babs Rodriguez
Photos by Meda Kessler

Every time we see Megan Potts, she has her hands full.

But whether she’s toggling from tote bags to backpacks and toys to kitchen tools, daughter Reagan or plates of food, the Granbury chef/owner of Restaurant Anise always looks more together than harried. Long-legged and tall, she moves gracefully from the small kitchen to the dining room where she greets guests and, if a server is out, delivers plates.

The last two years have challenged Megan’s penchant for balance. She was still teaching part time at Sur La Table in Fort Worth when she went into labor — Reagan was born in January 2020 — and the plan to open Anise by Mother’s Day the same year was scuttled by the pandemic and construction delays. Never mind. In addition to being good at keeping balls in the air, Megan knows how to navigate a winding path while staying focused on her destination.

Megan plates a recent meat and potato offering: Szechuan crusted ostrich served with tasty sides of sauteed Swiss chard and confit Yukon gold potatoes with sour cherry mustard.

Restaurant Anise in Granbury is becoming well known for its amuse-bouche, a sublime mixture of whipped goat cheese served with local honey and crispy lavash.

Born in Virginia, she grew up in France and Spain, speaks three languages and has a degree in microbiology. She learned about following her dreams when her mother, a chemist, accepted a job outside Paris in 1988. Megan and twin sister Sarah were 4½. After settling in, dad David Babineau, who holds a doctorate in botany, took up French cooking. He gained skills respected by chefs in restaurants large and small and brought home a passion for food that Megan, always at his side in the family kitchen, embraced.

In 1995, the Babineaus moved to Arlington, and the twins attended middle school at Fort Worth Academy before graduating from Martin High School. Megan’s subsequent degree in microbiology from the University of Texas at Arlington provided good jobs, but she was still in search of her North Star.

In 2007, she married Steve Potts. In lieu of a big wedding, the couple backpacked across Europe and was blessed by a 7-year-old monk in Tibet. The adventure did little to quell Megan’s appetite for a culinary career.

That door opened three years later, when she enrolled at The Culinary Institute of America in Helena, California. But she soon realized that, courtesy of her dad, she already had a solid foundation in kitchen arts. After her first year, an externship with John Besh in New Orleans became an exit ramp from school that led to other big toque kitchens from Louisiana to Napa.

Eventually the Pottses moved to Cresson, just outside of Granbury, to be close to both families. Stints working for Fort Worth’s Jon Bonnell and Stephan Pyles in Dallas as well as other local kitchens led Megan to the catering business that evolved into her restaurant.

Finding the perfect location was key. When a 1,200-square-foot limestone building in Granbury became available, Megan found the space, most recently a salon, relatively easy to convert into an intimate dining spot. While not on the popular town square, it’s not far off U.S. 377 and boasts a spacious parking lot. A tight budget allowed her to remove walls to create a dining room and install a kitchen, but limited her to two electric ranges rather than splurging on a gas line.

The small kitchen houses two electric ranges; Megan was unable to fit a gas line into her remodel budget.

Megan seeks out the best possible seafood, including giant Madagascar blue prawns and clams, both entree choices on the June menu.

The restaurant — named in homage to the spiritual protection Eastern philosophy attributes to star anise — opened in June a year ago, and now, despite pandemic stress, the dissolution of her marriage and single-mom complications, everything is coming back into balance.

We visit with Megan early one afternoon to talk about the monthly menus and her signature amuse-bouche of local honey and goat cheese with housemade lavash, as Reagan toddles about. Dad David calls in about a fish order he has picked up in Arlington. Megan’s first cooking instructor remains an extra set of hands for everything from plating food to landscaping.

As she rotated through kitchens, Megan simmered the notion of her own place into one defined by fine food served in a bistrolike setting. “I wanted a restaurant that represented me. I moved around so much; I am not French, I am not American. I wanted to serve different cuisines, the flavors of different cultures.”

Her emphasis is on fresh, seasonal food with everything procured as locally as possible. Each month’s menu includes three selections under each category: appetizers, entrees and desserts. The curated wine list includes New and Old World vintages (a monthly wine dinner returned in June); bottles on offer are displayed on one wall.

She likes seasonal chilled soups and prefers wild game, everything from elk to antelope, over beef. Her sides are simple but inspired, as are her desserts, which always include a meat and cheese plate for those who prefer a continental end to the evening’s meal. Housemade condiments, such as a sour cherry mustard, are subtle additions packed with flavor. Her eggplant caponata is light, and golden raisins add just the right touch of sweetness.

The dining room is candlelit and comfortable. “I had to serve fine dining quality food because that’s what I ate growing up; but it had to be in a casual setting because 99 percent of people will skip a good meal if they have to dress up to eat it.”

Each menu captures the chef’s imaginative way of weaving together three courses that resonate with the European respect for elevated family meals. Seats for the Thursday-, Friday- and Saturday-night dinners book out quickly. “I never wanted 100 seats. The restaurant business is stressful enough. I want to meet my guests, offer a personal touch, like they are coming to my house for dinner.” If the 24 seats turn over twice in an evening, it’s a very busy night for the staff of four to six. Megan typically only has one other cook on staff, and everyone washes dishes.

Sweet memories are made of a lemon génoise filled with lemon curd and topped with Chantilly cream and fresh berries.

The June menu included a chilled cucumber cantaloupe soup with a small block of salty halloumi wrapped in Spanish cured ham and topped with marcona almonds.

She ducks into the kitchen and emerges to hand Reagan a spatula and a whisk, perfect toys in any child’s world. The chef’s all-important work-life balance gets a boost from parents living nearby, and limited service allows her the all-important opportunities to watch her daughter grow up.

As we say goodbye, Reagan wrangles a wheeled bucket she likes to fill with potatoes before taking it for a spin around the dining room. Megan requests that she head home with her to help walk their two large rescue dogs.

“I used to run with them every day. I learned if I do that I wear myself out. Now I run every third day. Some days I feel like superwoman. But most of the time it’s about balancing my energy reserves.”

THE DETAILS

Restaurant Anise Visit the website to see the monthly menu for dinner service Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights; reservations are a must. Join the mailing list for info on wine dinners and call about catering or special event bookings.

605 Calinco Drive, Granbury, 682-205-3376, restaurantanise.com