From the return of Pyles to epicurean hamburgers, the dining champs of ’06
Restaurants aren’t static entities but organic ones. They change with the staff and the clientele as much as the menu.
That should be a good thing unless you’re the type who wants to preserve every dining experience in Lucite. The pendulum swings both ways: A good bistro that becomes too popular can lose its appeal when the table-wait becomes interminable; one that started off weakly can hit its stride after a few months of smoothing over its growing pains.
Saying the following list names the top new restaurants of the year isn’t exactly accurate, then. Places may fail (adios, Todd Erickson’s Tryst and Christian Svalesen’s Sage, two promising locations that didn’t manage to endure the year). Some reinvent themselves for good or bad. Others just have a bad item or poor service some nights. Instead, think of these eight restaurants as tables that helped defined the culinary life of Dallas in 2006 (several opened late in 2005).
Bijoux. For most of 2006, it was inconceivable that anything other than Stephan Pyles’ eponymous restaurant would top my list. But while the genius of Pyles is apparent in every dish, the superb cuisine at Bijoux wowed us even more. Chef-owner Scott Gottlich brought French techniques to a menu and an atmosphere that were approachable and elegant but not stuffy. Bijoux wows without pretense. 5450 W. Lovers Lane. 214-350-6100.
Stephan Pyles. It’s hard to top the excitement that was generated when Pyles announced last year he was going to be in charge of a kitchen full time again. But the concomitant national acclaim and attention visited upon Dallas once it opened came close. It wasn’t merely hype the food is spectacular, with Central and South American influences boldly staking their claims on his take on New World cuisine. Pyles’ genius in design and concept also revealed themselves to be fully intact. 1807 Ross Ave. 214-580-7000.
Craft. Fancy, expensive, family-style comfort food? There are so many paradoxes about that description that it seemed unlikely Craft really would be all it promised. Surprise! The food delivers, with the much-discussed simplicity taking a backseat to the careful, creative preparation and freshness of the ingredients. (Look for a full review in January.) 2440 Victory Park Lane. 214-397-4111.
Kitchen 1924. Shawn Horne, who runs Kitchen 1924 and designs its wine list, earned his bones when he helped Pyles open Star Canyon in 1994, and the skills learned there seem to have stuck with him: The attitude is funky but the food is faboo. Chef Colleen O’Hare’s smashed potatoes and six-cheese macaroni may be “just” side dishes but are worth a visit in themselves. 1924 Abrams Road. 214-821-1924.
Amuse. Doug Brown’s retro-bistro features his unique brand of New American cuisine. Part lounge, part upscale eatery (with very reasonable prices), the quality food can be as amusing as the name suggests: pita chips with salsa replacing the usual tortillas is a good example. This is one reason why The Cedars is becoming a hip destination for diners, residents and the merely adventurous. 1326 S. Lamar St. 214-428-7300.
Twisted Root Burger Co. I was as shocked as anyone that a Deep Ellum hamburger joint ended up being one of the my favorite eateries of 2006. But you go where your taste buds take you. A low-brow setting (intentionally so) with an upscale mentality, this scrappy restaurant is manned by fine-dining veterans who prepare their own ketchups and ice cream. Twisted Root could have been just another diner, but it became our favorite place to load up on grilled beef patties. 2615 Commerce St. 214-741-7668.
Kenny’s Wood Fired Grill. Chef Kenny Bowers achieved something my mom wasn’t able to accomplish: Making me enjoy a mushroom. That’s quite an victory even if the shrooms had to be deep-fried and drizzled in white truffle oil and accompanied by blue cheese. But there’s much more to enjoy at this noisy Addison steak-and-seafood variation of a Chicago speakeasy cleverly imagined desserts, excellent salmon, memorable spare ribs. 5000 Belt Line Road, Addison. 972-392-9663.
Bistro N. What could be a mere time-killer diner for harried shoppers, Nordstrom’s in-house eatery is instead a darned enjoyable little restaurant with quick service and a small though well-executed menu of salads and light entrees and the pizza hooks you but good. (Look for a full review in January.) Inside Nordstrom’s at NorthPark Center, 8687 N. Central Expressway. 214-231-3810.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, December 29, 2006.