Pyramid goes iron (chef) … sort of

The Fairmont Hotel’s Pyramid restaurant — which I reviewed recently — is doing some great work, but there’s apparently some friendly rivalry in the kitchen over there. Executive chef Andre Natera and exec sous chef Paul Peddle want to show who’s tops right now, so they are demonstrating their talents in an Iron Chef-like face-off tonight in the legendary Venetian Room of the hotel. The four-course dinner with wine pairing from sommelier Hunter Hammett (one of the most astute wine guys in Dallas right now, if you ask me) costs a pretty reasonable $100, especially considering you have two chefs cookin’ for ya.

There are some tickets still available, which you can get by going here.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

There’s no place like home

With the Mavs’ victory and the Super Bowl, all eyes are on Dallas lately. But many locals don’t know just what Uptown has to offer

CLANG CLANG CLANG WENT THE … | Uptown’s trolley service has a history and plans for expansion. Best of all, it’s free. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Every year, when they bring in travel journalists from all over the world to promote Dallas as a gay destination, the Tavern Guild shows them everything the city has to offer a visitor. (See sidebar.) Just this week, all eyes were on Victory Park as the Mavericks won their first NBA championship title. In other words, lots of people from outside have had Uptown Dallas on the brain.
So let me ask: Where, exactly, is Uptown?

There’s a lot even Dallas natives don’t know about the Oak Lawn-adjacent neighborhood. And that’s something the local association is trying to change.

Uptown, officially, is just a single square mile, bordered roughly to the south by Woodall Rodgers Freeway, to the west by the Katy Trail, to the east by North Central Expressway and to the north by Haskell Street. But they’ve packed a ton of stuff in that district: Five hotels, all pretty high end (the Stoneleigh, the Ritz-Carlton, the Crescent Court, Zaza and the Hotel St. Germain); 90 bars and restaurants; three live theaters … and tons of gay folks, of course.

Uptown didn’t used to be “up;” it used to be “low.” When the plans were drafted in the 1980s for construction on the Crescent, the area was described as “Lower Oak Lawn,” which is how many in the gayborhood still see it. But Uptown has some attractions unique to it.

Not the least of these is the McKinney Avenue Trolley system, which circles Uptown before crossing over the Woodall canyon and dead-ending on St. Paul Street between the Dallas Museum of Art and the Fairmont Hotel. That’ll change soon; plans are underway to extend the end of the line and make it a true loop. That should add to the 390,000 riders who hopped one of the three trolleys in 2010. And best of all, they rode them for free.

If you haven’t ridden the trolley yet, it merits your time. Because they are antiques, these are not cookie-cutter light rail trains but variously sized, one-of-a-kind streetcars loaded with history. One of the cars is 101 years old; one has distinctly European styling; they come from as far away as Australia, and run on tracks that won’t need to be repaired for decades.

One trolley trip can take you from right next to Stephan Pyles Restaurant back up McKinney Avenue, where you can grab a cocktail at Sambuca and an appetizer from Fearing’s across the street; up toward State-Thomas, which hides some hip bars like The Nodding Donkey; and past the West Village where Cork has a variety of wines. And you’re just a few paces from the Cityplace DART stop, so you don’t have to drive home after indulging.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 17, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

A classic reborn

Pyramid, a Dallas tradition for decades, tries to reinvent itself

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

AMUSING | The pumpkin soup amuse at Pyramid is a triumph, and the scallop, despite a light caramelization, terrific. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

The Egyptians perfected the pyramid more than 4,500 years ago, but over at the Fairmont Hotel, they’re still tweaking it.
First was the name change: The Pyramid Room, for 40 years a revered institution for Dallas anniversaries, graduations and engagement parties, became just Pyramid in 2008. In a town overrun for a few decades by trendy, cutting edge and/or elegant fine dining restaurants (from Routh Street Café to Five Sixty), Pyramid had ceased to have the cache it once did. It had been upstaged, just as the Giza Plain has been by Dubai’s skyscrapers.

The rebranding included a makeover (brighter, welcoming decor, a killer wine cellar overseen by sommelier Hunter Hammett, an ace at pairings), an on-site garden for the ultimate in locavore ingredients (from roof to table!) and two new chefs in as many years; Andre Natera is the current exec. Pyramid wants to remind everyone it’s still there — and teach newcomers that it’s not daddy’s haunt anymore.

The effort is paying off — or at least it’s close to it. The menu is smart and vibrant (and well-priced, for a high-end hotel restaurant), fresh ingredients show off their muscularity on the plate. But sometimes, technique suffers.

Not on the amuse bouche, though — well, half of it. Chef Natera usually sends out two items to prime the palate, and the combination we tried showed thoughtfulness. A demitasse of pumpkin soup, spiced up with Spanish chorizo and some cayenne pepper (then topped with a light foam) turns the traditional autumnal flavorings of pumpkin on their head: It’s spicy without cliché, and satisfying.

Served alongside the soup was a scallop salad (also available as an appetizer, $10).

DUCK,  DUCK, GOOSE EGG | The pan roasted duck breast at Pyramid is enormous and gorgeous, but tender? Not so much. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

The sear on mine — and everyone’s at the table — was too faint, though: It needed more caramelization to fully evoke the scallop’s flavor. But the bits of crispy pancetta among the green apples, frisee and sherry dressing melded warmly.

The pork belly starter ($9), on the other hand, was a triumph of technique: Braised and cooked sous vide (under vacuum), pressing it into a compact cube of layered pork. Maple glaze, apples and traces of cinnamon added a savory-sweetness, as did the celery root puree. If you can handle the unexpected heat from jalapeno, the tuna crudo ($9) is a winner. Thin slices of raw tuna are accented by near-invisible slices of grape, imbuing a hidden sweet character that contrasts to the bite of radish and chile. Presentation is also excellent.

Terrine is a tricky menu item. It’s a hearty preparation, and the venison version here ($9) boasts a density that makes for an appetizer better shared than enjoyed alone. Aside from that, this rustic peasant food transports you to Provence, with authentic Dijon mustard and cornichons, and a cherry reduction that kicks all the flavors down the road. (Pickles and mustard? No easy task for Hammett to pair a wine with that.) So far, so good.

Then comes the duck ($27). You’re first struck by its imposing size. This isn’t some delicate cut, but a slab of pan-seared bird of deeply crisped and pink flesh. I dove in.

Tough — almost too tough to cut, not to say eat. Another corner perhaps. Worse. None of it was great. Maybe there’s a reason duck breast is often served in small portions. The yam puree underneath became a mess while I struggled to cut it. It would take Dr. House — or at least Dexter — to make this work.

Dessert kept this meal from ending badly. An indulgent tart tatin hit the spot. Sliced wings of fresh, spicy apple, doused in syrup, arrived on a wavy disc of pastry anchored by a dollop of ice cream. Seasonal aromas set my mood right, and the flaky pastry was the perfect medium for soothing the meal and my disappointment in the duck.

A number of other desserts piqued my interest (Mexican fondant? Petite cupcakes? Drool), but they can wait for next time. There’ll be a next time; I wanna see where this goes.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 26, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

New, lower prices to see Sarah Palin!

Poster for event for phony charity
Poster for event for fraudulent charity

This Friday, Sarah Palin will appear at the Fairmont Hotel for an event to raise money for a non-existent women’s center in Oak Lawn. Although listed as a 501(c)(3), the “charity” is not listed on the IRS website, so tickets are not tax deductible.

But that shouldn’t stop you from going. Well, maybe it did stop many people. Because they’ve lowered the price. The $1,000 tickets have been lowered to $250 and the VIP ticket price is now a bargain, non-tax-deductible $2,000 for two with the added bonus of bringing along six of your closest friends for non-VIP seating.

Only the VIPs get their picture taken with Palin, though. And yes, I know — you want to know how you can get on my Christmas card list this year.

Originally ticket prices were $10,000 each or two tickets for $25,000. Do the math on your hand. It works. Really. And four tickets were $75,000. Use your other hand for that one.

The mayor will be on hand to offer a special welcome to everyone and talk show host Mike Gallagher is the emcee.

The event starts at 7 p.m. Press not invited. Damn.

Hmm … will Robert notice an extra $2,000 on my expense report next month?

—  David Taffet

Excitement mounting for April 30 Palin event

Palin

The Sarah Palin event at the Fairmont Hotel on April 30 keeps getting better and better. Just added — conservative talk show host Mike Gallagher will be the “MC.” Mayor Tom Leppert will offer a welcome. And his office wishes I’d stop repeating that.

The evening benefits the non-existent Uptown Women’s Center. The Palin4life Web site no longer claims to be a non-profit organization. We pointed out in our original post that it is not listed as a 501(c)(3) on the IRS Web site.

Uptown Women’s Center still does claim to be a 501(c)(3), although it is not registered with the IRS as a non-profit organization. However, it may be operating under the non-profit status of a downtown anti-abortion organization. I know. They wish I wouldn’t call them that.

Apparently the property they’re threatening to buy on Fairmount Street will be a staging ground for anti-abortion activity in the Oak Lawn area.

Remember, tickets are $10,000 for one, $25,000 for two or $75,000 for four. I like the math. And it’s not a legitimate tax deduction, since they’re not a 501(c)(3), unless they’re having people make the check out to some other organization.

Contact Get Equal and Equality March Texas about any protests planned.

And jot down a note on your hand to make sure to misspell your signs so that people attending the event can read them.

—  David Taffet