Wolfgang Puck soars over Dallas; Stephan Pyles flies into Meyerson
The hair is thinning and gray, the eyes a bit hooded from late nights getting his new Dallas restaurant up and running. But even at his age — he turns 60 this year —the best adjective to describe Wolfgang Puck is, well, puckish. Short, fit and energetic, with a dazzling toothy-white smile forming English words with an Austrian inflection, Puck has done something Dallas has really needed after 2008′s abominable economic downturn: Given local restaurants hope for 2009.
In the past year, foodies witnessed the demises of BLT Steak, Scene, Pescabar, Nove and, just this month, N9NE Steakhouse, to name a few. But with Five Sixty — Puck’s newest fine-dining concept atop Reunion Tower, in the space previously occupied by the culinary black hole called Antares — and Stephan Pyles’ soon-to-open Samar, Dallas, and the Downtown corridor at that, has lots to look forward to… especially based on a quick tasting for media this week.
Puck is no stranger to Dallas. In the 1980s, he was a consultant for The Mansion on Turtle Creek and The Crescent, where he met local legendary chefs Dean Fearing and Pyles, with whom he has maintained friendships. His catering arm has prepared food in the cafÃ© at the Nasher Sculpture Center for a few years now. But Five Sixty (the name refers to the number of feet above the pavement it spins) is his most daring foray into the Dallas dining scene — only his 16th fine-dining restaurant (six are in Las Vegas alone). So how does this one stand out from the rest?
"It’s the evolution of the Asian fusion theme," he says — a movement Puck pioneered in 1983 with his famous Chinois. The cilantro-mint vinaigrette is still on the lamb chops, but he’s doing things here he’s never attempted before, including a robata bar. And he’s not dumbing down his menu any — he never intended to pander with a steakhouse or taqueria.
"You have to have a balance between what you like and what people want to buy," he says, his steely-gray eyes flickering. "But the world is very small now. People travel from Texas to L.A. to Paris. There’s enough of those who enjoy variety. It’s not enough that you have a good meal — it has to be memorable."
And based upon a first taste, he’s off to a great start.
Before Stephan Pyles swings open the doors to Samar, he’s got a little more cooking to do Downtown — and we don’t mean at his eponymous Ross Street restaurant or Seventeen Seventeen inside the Dallas Museum of Art, where he’s the consulting chef. On Saturday afternoon and Sunday evening, Pyles will bring his steak knives and wire whisk to the stage of the Meyerson Symphony Center.
Pyles is the featured guest at the Turtle Creek Chorale’s Valentine’s Day concert, appropriately titled "If Music Be the Food of Love." There will be a fully-functioning kitchen where all the patrons can see (and a select few can taste) the gay chef’s masterful creations.
The idea came to the chorale’s artistic director, Jonathan Palant, more than a year ago when he dined at Pyles’ restaurant and enjoyed the famed cowboy ribeye, "still my favorite dish in all Dallas," he says. Pyles came to his table and "we began brainstorming right there at the table" about how to join the chorale and the chef again.
"I did a production for the chorale’s Christmas concert probably 12 years ago and I’m still reeling from it," Pyles says. But he figured it was time to return.
Building the "three-tiered cake of music, food and love," as Palant calls it, was more difficult than he anticipated. He tapped comedian Paul J. Williams (playing maitre d’ Paul-Jean Guillaume in the show) to help with the scripting. "We had to let the concept simmer in order for the flavors to come together." The result is both romantic and funny, with a surprising number of music-food-love show tunes leading the way.
"I didn’t plan it as a show tune theme but it sure worked out that way," Palant says. Among the numbers: "Some Enchanted Evening" from "South Pacific," "If I Loved You" from "Carousel," "Seasons of Love" from "Rent" and, of course, "Be Our Guest" from "Beauty and the Beast."
"The membership loves this show," Palant says. "It’s very feel-good — you can come alone or with your significant other."
If you’re really feeling romantic, Stephan Pyles will open Sunday for a special lovers’ night out that includes tickets to the show and a romantic dinner for two.
John Mariani of ForbesTraveler.com recently named Nana at the Hilton Anatole one of the top 10 romantic restaurants in the U.S. — making this Feb. 14 an excellent time to book a table there. But there are plenty of other options for you and your Valentine.
The Grape, frequently named by Dallas Voice readers as Dallas’ most romantic spot, will offer a three-course prix fixe menu on Feb. 13 and 14, with champagne specials available. Fuse offers its own three-course dinner, with optional wine pairings.
La Duni and Alo will offer cookies emblazoned with "I love you" in Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese. Aurora February cooking class, "Cooking with Aphrodisiacs," is not just about oysters and chocolate. Class starts at 10 a.m. on Feb. 28.
Kent Rathbun of Abacus and Jasper’s has unveiled the name of his newest down-home concept — Rathbun’s Blue Plate Kitchen. It officially opens next Tuesday with a benefit for the March of Dimes.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 13, 2009.