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

Beyond Turkey

There’s so much more than the ordinary to be thankful for from Dallas restaurants

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LITTLE LAMB | The earthy depth of lamb, mushroom risotto and a rich demi-glace conjure up autumn without cleaving to traditional ideas of the holidays. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Thanksgiving always conjures up thoughts of turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie, and while those staples are comforting, there is so much more to an autumnal menu than those familiar standbys. And Andre Natera, executive chef at Pyramid inside the Fairmont Hotel Downtown, has come up with some inventive ways to ring in fall without cleaving to the ordinary.

Mixing it up not just for the season, but for specific plated dinner offerings on the Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, Natera’s theme exudes sophisticated comfort, starting with the butternut squash bisque (available now only on Turkey Day, but hopefully on the full menu soon). A dollop of oil and slight bite from chorizo turn a simple vegetable soup into a tremendous savory experience.

But you don’t need to be there on Thursday to fully appreciate the scope of the flavors, from a surprising heirloom carrot salad ($10) wrapped around goat cheese to a butter-poached lobster perched on a stone-grits-stuffed ravioli provides a whimsical — and wholly satisfying — variation on the Southern specialty of shrimp and grits.

The hearty, earthen flavors of roasted lamb ($33), served with mushroom risotto and crisp Brussels sprouts, are accented by a rich Zinfandel demi-glace and pitch-perfect preparation.

As always, desserts are a winner, especially the smartly conceived pineapple upside-down cake, which turns a ‘70s-era dinner party joke into a robust and tangy closer. With his current fare, Natera has devised probably his best menu since coming to Pyramid: Inventive, thematically unified, intensely seasonal and executed with all the warmth of a hearth on Christmas Eve. And he did so without relying on turkey or ham. That’s something to be thankful for.

Pyramid is open for brunch buffet and a plated dinner on Thanksgiving Day ($49.95), and offers “turkeys to go” as well.

TASTING NOTES: THANKSGIVING EDITION
Many Dallas restaurants will be open on Thanksgiving, offering those who don’t feel like cooking at home the chance to still enjoy a feast. Among the specials:

Craft — Prix fixe dinner including appetizers, desserts, a selection of side dishes and choice of turkey, prime rib, salmon and more for $85/adult, available 11 a.m.–8 p.m.

Nana — Both a four-course brunch and a select menu for dinner (including bottomless mimosas) are available, starting at $65/adult.
The Second Floor — Chef J Chastain has the kitchen at his Galleria restaurant going all day, with a three-course dinner from 11 a.m.–11 p.m. for $49 (add $20 for wine pairings).

Mignon — In Plano, enjoy a traditional buffet of butternut squash soup, roasted turkey, stuffing, dessert and more from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. for $40/adult.
Some restaurants have pre-Thanksgiving takeout services. The Grape will prepare a smoked Amish turkey dinner or a maple-glazed ham with all the fixin’s from $165–$275 (serves up to 15). La Duni is offering its luscious cakes for pickup on Wednesday until 9 p.m. Pre-order online at LaDuni.com and get a 5 percent discount with the promo code CAKE.

The annual Beaujolais Festival, which for me has always symbolically kicked off Thanksgiving week, comes to a new locale (the new Omni Hotel) on Nov. 18, 7­–9:30 p.m. You can roam around the fancy new digs while swigging some good French (and even Texas!) wines, and tasting bites from local chefs. Tickets are $55. Visit FACCDallas.com for more information.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 18, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Tasting notes

Pyramid scores chef trifecta; foodie app GrubHub debuts

IMG_1029edFor more than a decade, the Rising Star Chef competition of the Dallas Wine & Food Festival has singled out local culinary masters expert at pairing food and wine. For the first time ever, three past winners share the same kitchen: The Pyramid’s exec chef Andre Natera (2003 white wine winner) is ably assisted by exec sous chef Paul Peddle and sous chef Andrew McDonald (2011 white and red wine winners, respectively). Their winning dishes have changed a bit, but the quality of them is excellent, with Peddle’s pan-seared cod with caper sauce, pictured, unforgetably terrific.

There’s a new web site (and smartphone app) to help the savvy foodie find his way about the Dallas culinary scene. On Wednesday, GrubHub.com launched its Dallas version. The app (similar to UrbanSpoon.com) takes your address and your preferred style of cuisine and matches you up with something to your liking nearby. What sets it apart, though, is that you can also order for delivery or pickup. To induce first-timers, the site is offering a $10 off coupon at GrubHub.com/DallasSneakPeek until Sept. 11. Dallas is the 14th city covered by the app.

It takes balls to make cake for five years… or does it take five years to make cake balls? Whichever. Point is, the Cake Ball Company celebrates its nickel anniversary Friday with $1 balls — can’t beat that at a stripper bar. You can also get a quarter-off coupon from their website.

From Aug. 22 to 27, Sprinkles Cupcakes will donate 100 percent of its sales of the vanilla milk choc cake (adorned with a gold star) to Vogel Alcove, a charity helping homeless children.

Grant Morgan has been named executive chef at the Park Lane location of Bailey’s Prime Plus, following local stints at Luqa and Dragonfly. At the Landmark Restaurant at the Melrose, Mike Pacheco has been named exec chef.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 19, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

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