Ooh-la-la

There’s a reason The French Room has a rep as one of Dallas’ best restaurants — because it is

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

MAIS OUI | The food at The French Room is as impressive as its decor.

Overall Rating 4.5 Stars

The French Room inside the Hotel Adolphus, 1303 Commerce St. Open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner,  6–9:30 p.m. 214-742-8200. HotelAdolphus.com.

There’s fine dining, there’s special event dining, and then there’s The French Room. Chef de cuisine Marcos Segovia has maintained the high standards of this jewel box restaurant, with food as elaborate and impressive as the decor. Despite a mix-up on the bill that was quickly resolved, service is almost impeccable

Food: 5 stars
Atmosphere:  4 stars
Service:  4 stars
Price:  Expensive

……………………………………

Mark Twain defined a literary classic as a book everyone praised and nobody read. The same might be said of any creative undertaking with a long-standing reputation, even a restaurant. Sure, it was once great, but has it maintained those qualities, or do people’s expectations simply mask its weaknesses?

So after years of The French Room at the Hotel Adolphus getting credit as Dallas’ best dining establishment, a reassessment was in order.

Wow. Or rather, still wow.

Some things just resist diminishment. Certainly the room itself — an ornate rococo jewel box of space that almost makes Versailles look like a double-wide in Abilene — has retained its bones.  Soothing seafoam blues and angelic pinks on the walls and ceiling, soft ecru linens and comfy medallion back chairs inject a luxe Gallic panache into the boots-and-denim familiarity of most Texas-based restaurants. (It’s one of the few places in town where men are still required to wear a jacket.)

The mechanics of service are also intact. Waiters invisibly replace silverware for each course and refill water glasses with stealthy precision. The sommelier introduces the wines with authority but not pomposity. Plates are deftly serves from the left and removed from the right. (A mix-up on the bill on our visit was unfortunate but quickly resolved.)

But while bad service or a shabby atmosphere can ruin a good meal, it’s the food that should be the star, and here, it still is.

The menu at The French Room permits one of two prix fixe choices: An elaborate feast chosen by chef de cuisine Marcos Segovia ($110), or a three-course dinner (usually $80, but $50 Tuesdays through Thursdays) that allows some a la carte selecting by the diner. We went with the three-course, without disappointment.

The meal, of course, begins with a bread basket (the fennel wafer and oat bread were fantastic) and a complimentary amuse bouche of lobster salad with white grape and chanterelles, where crisp, earthy texture of the seafood combined seamlessly with the rich, soft fruit. But that’s just the beginning.

VERSAILLES REDUX | Compared to the usual denim-and-leather style at most Dallas restaurants, The French Room still requires men to wear a coat to dinner. Nice.

The appetizer of Hudson Valley foie gras was a perfect starter for the season. With its autumnal influences of cranberry reduction (so thick and tart, it almost tasted of raspberries), it’s a soothing cold-weather bite. The spongy fluff of banana bread, topped by a wedge of pecan crust, melted effortlessly on the tongue — helped along, no doubt, by the glass of Sauternes-like Torrentes wine that came with it. The floral, apricot-like notes with a bit of pear educed the fatty richness from the liver and bread.

The crab cakes took on an herbaceous quality, with lobster sauce imbuing the crab with a distinct muscularity, while the combination of goat cheese and polenta, pancetta and figs on slightly warm spinach elevated the salad to haute cuisine. (An apple cider sorbet, served in a charming bloom of a cup, makes for an excellent palate cleaner.)

The veal tenderloin, turned a vibrant red from the intense Chambord sauce as well as the medium rare prep, can only be described as creamy, with the beef nearly blue alongside an equally rich risotto with Spanish chorizo spicy. The boldness of the chorizo is not exactly French in character, but then who needs to be a purist? The black angus beef entrée melted in the mouth.

A rare misstep was with the halibut. It came as a beautiful piece of fish: big, white as a mountain with its top of toasted cocoanut. The cooking was also spot-on, though the sauce was too salty, interrupting the flavor of the fish.

Any place calling itself The French Room better know something about pastry, and naturally it does, under the eye of Joe Garza. If there was anything wrong with the Grand Marnier soufflé, it was just the strength of the orange sauce, which swirled around inside the lightest custard balloon imaginable. Soufflés can be tricky, but this one nearly floated out the dish.  Just as delicious was the banana bread pudding: Chunky but smooth, served warm with pralines and bourbon glacé.

There’s fine dining and there’s event dining, but The French Room is something else entirely: A restaurant whose food brilliantly mirrors the extravagance of its setting, where style is confluent in all disciplines. A classic? Yes. But one people definitely want to come back to again and again.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 10, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens