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

How to make the Katy Trail safer?

Lauren Huddleston

As you may have heard, a 28-year-old woman died Sunday after suffering head injuries in a collision last week on the Katy Trail near Routh Street.

Lauren Huddleston was jogging and listening to her iPod when she abruptly changed direction and was struck by a bicyclist, according to reports. Naturally, Huddleston’s death has prompted debate about what can be done to make the trail safer, including a front-page story in Tuesday’s Dallas Morning News.

In the article, one man proposes a 10 mph speed limit for bicyclists on the trail. Others say more signs are needed directing walkers and joggers to the pedestrian-only path alongside the main trail. However, this path doesn’t run the full length of the trail and — like the trail itself — becomes overly crowded during peak hours.

Anyone who’s ever walked, run or biked the trail has undoubtedly had a close call — one Dallas Voice employee was involved in a collision last year.

Perhaps the mere perception that the trail is unsafe will keep some away and make it slightly less crowded in the short-term, but that’s hardly a long-term fix. The ultimate solution is more jogging and biking trails throughout North Texas, so that the trail’s limited space isn’t so heavily in demand.

In the meantime, given that the gays are among the trail’s biggest users, what if anything do you think could be done to make it safer?

—  John Wright

Labor Day play with ‘Songs from an Unmade Bed’ at Theatre Three

Art imitates life (sorta) in Theatre Three’s musical love triangle  ‘Songs from an Unmade Bed’

The chamber musical Songs from an Unmade Bed was written as a song cycle to be sung by one gay male character. But when Terry Dobson — the musical maven at Theatre Three as well as an occasional director, actor and playwright there — heard it, he couldn’t get an idea out of his head: That the musical made more sense if it was performed not from one point of view, but from three.

“I read the reviews from when it came out, and many mentioned that it lacked theatricality,” Dobson says. And he knew how to make it more theatrical: Turn it into a love triangle between a bisexual man and his two lovers: a straight woman and a gay man. Call it Sunday Bloody Sunday (in the Park with George). The result promises to be one of the edgier queercentric productions of the fall.

DEETS: Theatre Three’s Theatre Too,  2800 Routh Street, Suite 168. Sep. 3–Oct. 3. $20.
Theatre3Dallas.com.

—  Rich Lopez

Bed time story

Art imitates life (sorta) in Theatre Three’s musical love triangle  ‘Songs from an Unmade Bed’

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

THREE’S COMPANY | Gary Floyd, center, straddles the fence between his two lovers played by Patty Breckenridge and Christopher Wagley. (Photo by Ken Birdsell)

UNMADE BED
Theatre Three’s Theatre Too,  2800 Routh Street, Suite 168. Sep. 3–Oct. 3. $20.
Theatre3Dallas.com.

………………………………

The chamber musical Songs from an Unmade Bed was written as a song cycle to be sung by one gay male character. But when Terry Dobson — the musical maven at Theatre Three as well as an occasional director, actor and playwright there — heard it, he couldn’t get an idea out of his head: That the musical made more sense if it was performed not from one point of view, but from three.

“I read the reviews from when it came out, and many mentioned that it lacked theatricality,” Dobson says. And he knew how to make it more theatrical: Turn it into a love triangle between a bisexual man and his two lovers: a straight woman and a gay man. Call it Sunday Bloody Sunday (in the Park with George). The result promises to be one of the edgier queercentric productions of the fall.

Dobson employed an informal audition process, seeking out people he wanted to work with who would combine musically and emotionally in sync with his conception of the show. And in a weird instance of art imitating life, the cast of three includes two old friends and a newcomer, all of whom are gay.

Dobson jokes that several local actors who lobbied for the plum role of the bisexual will be gunning for Gary Floyd, but few would argue with the wisdom of his casting. Floyd was already a popular and admired singer and recording artist for decades before he tackled his first acting role in 2003’s Pump Boys and Dinettes, and he fast became a go-to guy for musical roles.

Floyd met Patty Breckenridge in 2006 in what became her breakout role in Aida at Uptown Players. The next fall, they teamed up again for City of Angels at the Flower Mound Performing Arts Theatre, but this is the first onstage pairing since then for the close friends.

“It’s about time!” Floyd laughs.

“I kinda dropped out of theater for a while, just enjoying married life,” says Breckenridge, who married her wife Carrie Anne last year (the couple are currently expecting a baby in the spring). “But I was getting that itch to go back onstage. Then Terry called me and said, ‘I want to head in a different direction with this.’”

Breckenridge was onboard.

If there was an intimidation factor being odd-man out, Christopher Wagley doesn’t show it — or at least, he can use it to get into his character. Stepping into the chummy twosome has been easy for the newcomer to Dallas in his first show here.

Wagley spent 12 years in New York, acting and waiting tables early on (“I loved being an actor but hated being a waiter” he says), before moving to Dallas last year. Within a month, he was singing with the Turtle Creek Chorale’s Encore! group, which Dobson leads.

“There has been no issue at all,” Wagley says. “The fact we blend together so well musically is a byproduct of getting along together so well.”

Musically, they all related to the show, written by lyricist Mark Campbell with a score contributed by 18 different composers, including Jake Heggie, the gay musician who wrote the world premiere adaptation of Moby-Dick for the Dallas Opera this year.

“The lyrics are so universal, it could be a straight woman or a gay man or a bisexual,” Floyd says. Wagley agrees.

“The lyrics are so smart and absolutely universal, yet so incredibly specific to a gay man’s experience, whether it’s body issues or casual sex,” he says. Although Dobson had assigned all the songs to the cast, many tweaks have occurred during the rehearsal period.

“The other day, Terry asked me to sing one of the songs about not having a great body to myself [in a mirror] instead of to Gary — wow! It makes it so much more personal. We all have those moments.”

“I had heard of the musical from [my best friend, actor] Donald Fowler but hadn’t listened to any of the songs,” says Breckenridge. But she immediately became enchanted by it. “I have a couple of favorite songs. Everyone in the audience is going to relate to ‘Oh, To Be Stupid Again.’ I know I’ve been there. And ‘To Sing’ is why I became a performer.”

A lot happens in a quick one-hour show performed without intermission. “There are lots of poignant moments,” says Wagley.

None more poignant for the two old friends than one scene where Floyd has to simulate oral stimulation of Breckenridge.

“There’s no other woman in Dallas I would do that for!” Floyd avers.

“And there is no other man in town I’d do this with!” quips Breckenridge.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 3, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens