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Sep 24, 2008 12:28 PM

DFW upscale dining

I wanted to get a general feeling on the Dallas/Fort Worth dining market. I know that the area has quite of bit of wealth splashing around (recently saw an article it's the millionaire's capital of the country) and they love to eat out. I know the metroplex gets picked on for being such a "chain" place, but it does seem like it's getting a lot of attention from the higher-end outposts of celebrity chefs. You have the usual stable of the high-end restaurants, from Fearing's, The Mansion (I see it lost it's fifth diamond last year), The French Room, Abacus, The Dining Room at Hotel St. Germain, The Pyramid Grill, the steakhouses, among others. Recently, Nobu, Charlie Palmer at the Joule, and craft landed in the city in the last few years. Wolfgang Puck plans to take over the restaurant space at the top of Reunion Tower to open in December/January. However, Il Mulino New York and BLT Steak outposts failed. Why did II Mulino NY and BLT Steak fail, but the others didn't. Is Dallas/Fort Worth really that kind of place that is desirable to the high-end, celebrity chef-driven outposts? With two plan luxury hotel chains planning to set foot in the city, St. Regis and Mandarin Oriental, I suspect we'll see two more high-end restaurants that will create waves.

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  1. Not totally sure what question you're asking but...Dallas has definitely turned the corner in the last 8-10 yrs and has become a fine dining destination city with loads of local culinary talent as well as some of the outposts you mentioned. Sounds like you've done some research and you've listed a few of the great local spots but there are so many more that aren't as publicized.

    As far as the rest of your post, opinions vary on Il Mulino. Many contend Dallas won't support a high end Italian restaurant. Not true in our opinion but some say the royalties they had to pay back to NY were too high, others say their entree prices were too much. Bice failed too but that was purely location, as was the case with BLT. Horrible location.

    Last we heard the Mandarin project was put on hold indefinitely. Regardless, Dallas can support the wealth of local high end dining talent and the imports that bring their A game (Charlie Palmer being one). We'll concede the top 5 culinary US destinations to NY, Chicago, SF, New Orleans, and I guess LA or LV - though we could argue against both. After that Dallas is right there.

    1 Reply
    1. re: snootyfoodie

      Thanks. I really wasn't asking a "particular" question, I guess. I just wanted to get a feel for the market and if it could handle all of the growth, and if DFW residents are open to these chefs. I know I could of posted a lot more restaurants, but it would be quite a long list to read.

      I know the Mandarin has been delayed. Some rumors are flying around it may be moved to another building. I'm guessing it'll be at least a few months, until the economy starts to dig its way up, before anything happens. It doesn't seem like the idea is scraped, just delayed. I wonder what the St. Regis will do in terms of dining when it opens in about 3 years.

      Didn't Dallas have an outpost of Nove Italiano (Is that correct?)? I know Victory Park has a N9NE steakhouse outpost.

    2. As I've pointed out in all of my restaurant reviews, Dallas is a city that is TOUGH for restaurants to make it. We Texans, even millionaire Texans, are very VALUE oriented. We're a bunch of self-made millionaires like Michael Dell and that Mackey fella (Whole Foods). Mackey used to sleep in his first Whole Foods location in Austin because he couldn't afford to rent an apartment and keep his market running. We Texans don't pay for "panache" , marketing, or small dishes that don't fill you up. We're willing to pay for skillfully prepared food, with great service, atmosphere, and VALUE.

      In other words, having a happening place where celebrities hang out ain't gonna cut it. This is not LA nor NY. This is the big D. Ya have to give us, the common folks, lots of VALUE. For example, my favorite restaurant is Fearing's. I go there every week. It costs me $145 for a meal for 2 including food ($84), tips ($25) and drinks ($36), but not including tax. $145 is a lot of change for a meal, but it's a bargain due to the VALUE since I am getting unlimited homemade breads, rolls, muffins, cornbread, biscuits, and unleavened breads. All made fresh just before it hits my table. My big fat belly gulps down 2 entire baskets full of this stuff before my salad hits the table. If I don't want to buy an alcoholic drink, they'll give me filtered, chilled water so I don't have to buy bottled water to avoid drinking nasty tap water. They have free valet parking (you still have to tip), too. Some places make you feed meters downtown. This is stressful and expensive. Some places have outrageous valet fees.

      Il Mulino thought that it could sell "panache" in Texas, but we Texans know better. Ya cain't eat panache, pardner!

      Why does Tokyo One do so well, but little tiny sushi places have been going out of business? Like the one that went kaput on Frankford and Preston.... Why? Because of the difference in VALUE. This ain't Tokyo where tiny Japanese eat tiny sushi for big prices. We Texans know better. Tokyo one serves unlimited sushi for a limited price. I go there once a week and eat over 40 pieces of sushi, noodles, salad, a plate of crab legs, tempura, stir fry, and 2 plates of desserts! All for just $15.99. I would have to pay over $100 for this meal at the ittty bitty Japanese sushi places!

      Dallas is a TOUGH town for restaurants. There are lots of restaurants so competition is FIERCE. In towns like LA or NY, you don't compete on price and value. You can sell panache or image. We Texans know better than to pay for crap you can't eat. Panache and image never filled a stomach.

      Don't get me wrong, Dallas has good eating, but if you don't have VALUE in Dallas, you'll go out of business real quick. For example, there's a restaurant in/near Harry Hines, Super Buffet. They serve a $5.99 all-you-can-eat excrapvaganza. This is how the owner pays the bills, by offering value to undiscerning diners. However, he also has a "back room" or private VIP dining room so you don't have to eat with the plebians. He has a special menu where he'll serve you the holy trinity of Asian seafood cuisine; 4 winds lobster (4 lobsters cooked 4 different ways; black bean stir fry, white onion stir fry, steamed, deep fried in cheese), sea cucumbers, shark fin soup, and giant sea scallops. This is a $200 meal, not including tax, tips and drinks. The guy used to cook for the Korean presidential palace. Great stuff, but I think that he's been cooking the buffet stuff too long because he put a bit too much msg in my food. Great food, but I got real thirsty after the meal. If you go, be sure to ask him to go easy on the MSG. If all he sold was the $200 meals, he'll probably go out of business. The meal also came with unlimited rice and unlimited hot tea refills. These items are often charged extra for in NY or LA. That's because we Texans won't stand for crap like that. If we are not offered VALUE, the restaurant will go out of business real quick.

      Todai does really well in California, but went out of business here in Dallas. Why? lack of value. Tokyo one has better value. Todai has sushi on rice, small fish on big rice. Tokyo one has big sahimi, raw fish only, no rice. Also, big chuncks of beef on shish kabobs, big crab legs. Todai would often refill their good stuff real slow to save money. Tokyo one just keeps it comin'.

      VALUE dining folks, whether it is in a high-end restaurant or in a chain store. Without VALUE, you will go out of business in the big D.

      8 Replies
      1. re: lillymao

        I agree with a lot of what lillymao stated.

        Dallas (and definitely Fort Worth together) have some great choices and I think the area has turned a corner to really compete with other big cities and to compete with multiple options not just one or two restaurants, but you can't just show up in Dallas because you have a name somewhere else and expect it to automatically take...Bice, Il Mulino, Nove, Grotto.

        1. re: lillymao

          Lilly, if the argument you're presenting is really the dining culture of Dallas, then it's the equivalent of labelling Dallas as a city without true hounds. We're just settling for an all you can eat buffet? We're all gluttons who would value their food by quantity rather than quality? If this is true, then I am sad to be a resident here.

          1. re: donnaaries

            If you take lillymao as representative of the "discerning" Dallas diner, then you've already answered your own question and should be really, really, really sad.

            Enough with the nonsensical soapbox-ish rambles from someone whose self-proclaimed expertise is gorging.

            1. re: kersplat

              kerpslat, thanks for the confirmation. my post was partly in sarcasm, but good to know there are still quality oriented hounds out there.

            2. re: donnaaries

              Most of the Dallas foodies I know have a pretty good sense of fine dining and also foodie dining. If you want to talk about the "value" of a fine dining dollar, Il Mulino failed because there are higher quality dining options for the same dollar. I can get the tasting menu with wine at Lola for what it would cost me for dinner and one glass of wine at Il Mulino. And the food is far better at Lola.

              BLT Steak failed mostly because it was in an awkward location and most reviewers mentioned less than stellar service. Nove failed in part because parking at Victory is a nightmare.

              My personal feeling is that celebrity fine dining chains falter because Dallas has enough fine dining options on our own without the Vegas style importing of these fine dining chains. We have local competition for fine dining and our own chefs have become "brands" in their own right. To name two, Pyles and Fearing are known on a national level. If I'm going to spend $100 per person on dinner, I'd rather spend it with a more local chef, than a franchise like BLT where the name chef has maybe been there once.

              1. re: dalaimama

                I agree if I am going to drop $100.00+++ on a meal I want the Executive Chef to at least be in the Kitchen. I have been to Stephen Pyles places over the years and he is always on site as well as Dean Fearing. I spoke to the waiter at Craft the other day when I was having lunch there he had worked there for a year and had never seen Tom Cielico(msp) I think. We love Lola, and the chef is always there if you have a question . I think for me and my husband it seems almost like a chain Rest. experience if the chef is not there taking personal responsibility for what comes out of his or her kitchen. If you have outpost all over the Country it becomes less and less special and more like a high-end Chain.

            3. re: lillymao

              So, you're saying that Dallasites are fat and we like big plates of food. We are also cheap because we like all-u-can eat buffets with free "fixins"; and we only tip 15 to 20 percent even if we frequent the same place every week; and we also can't recognize the value and simple beauty of fine Japanese and Italian cuisine. Wow, I need to move to NY.

              1. re: stricken

                I think lillymao might have chosen some poor examples (bread rolls) or maybe I missed the point of the post. I took it as all restaurants at whatever price point have to provide a value to their customers. That value can come in service, interaction with manager/owner, atmosphere, quality of taste, uniqueness, location, price, celebrity chef, celebrity hangout, etc.

                My take, which is probably stating the obvious, is people put different values on those factors and that restaurants fail when enough customers don't perceive enough value in the combination of all that goes into the restaurant experience. And the main point that I agreed with lillymao on is that I don't think outside brand name of whatever place carries as much weight in the Dallas area as it might other places. Just because it is a hit in NY, doesn't mean we are going to love it just for that. Its Dallas location is going to be measured by its Dallas location compared to the competition and sink or swim based on that.

            4. As a recent transplant, I would have to say that I am pleasantly surprised by the restaurant offerings here. Having lived in the past few years in Boston, DC, NY, Miami and Chicago, Dallas was never on my foodie radar. I love Nobu (the other posts are correct, Dallasite don't respond to celebrity chefs), which is not usually busy, except on the weekends. Fearing's and Pyle's are amazing and I have not been to some of the other places mentioned. I take comfort in the fact that there are so many great restaurants left to try. I would defin. put Dallas in the top 10 in the US for gourment places.

              1. Wolfgang's Puck is suppose to open soon.

                The restaurant looks pretty nice.