One of Dallas’ best views always housed its most mediocre restaurant. But Wolfgang Puck’s Five Sixty spectacularly remakes Reunion Tower
The boon of being "that restaurant" — the one at the top of Reunion Tower, astride the perfect visual representation of Dallas’ pointless grandiosity — is also its burden. Yes, it demarks Big D’s skyline with twinkling individuality… but is there more inside? Who needs to try when everyone is ready to give it to you, no questions asked? Think late-career Sinatra. Think post-9/11 Bush.
Complacency kept Antares — Reunion Tower’s now-shuttered kitschy bastion of bland, overpriced cuisine — smugly uninventive for as long as I’ve lived in Dallas. The revolving view of North Texas and its iconic locale were its only selling points; I don’t recall a time I ever went when I was not accompanying out-of-towners, who gladly footed the bill and endured the increasingly tired dÃ©cor for the privilege of pointing to a post card when they returned home, proudly declaring, "I ate there!" For us locals, it was gastronomic drudgery.
So the bold announcement last year that the godfather of all celebrichefs, Wolfgang Puck, was taking over the space to open a fine-dining restaurant (only his 16th) did something that Antares was never able to do: Get foodies excited about eating inside a rotating bubble.
Puck’s re-emergence in the Dallas dining scene could have been the perfect recipe for disappointment. Even if he served greasy tacos from a pushcart, Puck’s name alone would probably be enough to keep the reservation desk busy for six months while the out-of-towners buoyed it the rest of the year. Would he try when his predecessor didn’t?
Oh, my, yes.
One word you won’t associate with Five Sixty — so named because the building stands 560 feet above the pavement — is "disappointing." There’s meeting expectations and there’s surpassing them; but Five Sixty comes close to changing the syntax of expectation altogether. I was prepared to be underwhelmed, even cynical, but Five Sixty proves, pretty authoritatively, that Puck deserves his reputation. Right now, it’s the finest restaurant in Dallas.
Not that Wolfgang deserves all the credit. Yes, the recipes are his, and he’s reportedly in town every few weeks tweaking the menu. But it’s his on-site executive chef, Sara Johannes, who executes each item with a skillful hand in Dallas. Only one item I’ve tried (and there have been more than a dozen after several visits) didn’t floor me.
The cuisine is evolutionary more than revolutionary. Puck practically invented fusion cuisine 25 years ago when he opened Chinois, which blended French and Chinese dishes, but he’s better know for his "California cuisine," from high-end pizzas to Francofied steaks. Five Sixty harkens to Chinois’ Asian-fusion roots, with some updating.
There are the signature dishes, like the exquisite chili-mint vinaigrette drizzled seductively over two hefty, stunningly prepared Colorado bone-in lamb chops — a deep char on the outside sealing the pink flesh inside a juicy flavor cocoon. (It also came with the best eggplant I have ever tasted. Ever.)
But Five Sixty also offers a robata grill (Puck’s first) and unique sushi rolls (all excellent and hearty) that are as dazzling to look at as they are to eat. Thai spices expand the Asian influences beyond the Szechuan style, offering opportunity for more boldness, more layering.
The restaurant’s location, perched precariously at the pinnacle of a concrete baluster, serves as a metaphor for the overriding theme of the food: Balance. Virtually every dish synthesizes competing flavor profiles into a harmonious whole.
"Sweet versus heat" encapsulates the duality of each item, as most plainly reflected in the tuna tartare "cones" ($15): spicy and soothing, crunchy and smooth. They’re the ideal appetizer, hinting at the blend of tastes infused in every dish. That’s the case with the crispy calamari ($13), served with a jalapeno puree and Asian salad; the Yakitori sauce (sweet soy and sake) on the robata beef (savory); the pork belly potstickers with black vinegar and chile ($12).
It’s not just the appetizers but the entrees that dance around the concept. The wild striped bass ($28) sits atop a shallow pool of pineapple-and-lime relish. But sneaking in along with the tang of citrus is the whoosh of chili, raising the temperature in the mouth slightly. Then you detect the sprig of cilantro, and Thai-flavored shrimp. Yet the cool fish — soft and fleshy — brings it all down to earth. Abrol peppers in the "General Tso’s"-style quail ($26) were counterbalanced by the sweet soy sauce and salad.
That tightrope between the pillars of spice and sweetness is fraught with risks. The curried Assam prawns ($30) was the most aggressive dish on the menu in terms of heat, but even it pulled back without overwhelming the palate.
Desserts sit somewhat outside the theme — sweet for sweets’ sake. Banana cream pie? Heaven. I can hardly recall the others I tried (there were some) … not because they were bad, but because, by the end of the meal, I was simply at a loss for words.
On one visit, service was insistently over-attentive, with our waiter as jumpy as a hare, almost stumbling over himself to offer more wine or a dessert menu, and racing to the kitchen to answer esoteric questions about ingredients. But nervous enthusiasm trumps careless inattention any day, and much of the service was stealthy — I honestly don’t ever seeing a water goblet refilled, though they were never empty. And from the greeter at the bottom of the elevator to the busboys, efficiency and friendliness were de rigueur.
The old Antares is equally not in evidence in the dÃ©cor, which has been updated minimalistically — clean lines that don’t devolve into cliches. The dining area is now one level, not two; stationary semi-opaque panels occasionally interrupt the flow of windows during the restaurant’s spin cycle, subtly reminding you that the view is, in fact, changing. Even the utensils, wine carafes and beer glasses are beautifully languid pieces, elegant but not precious.
And then there’s the famous view. On my longest visit, we circled the city twice, from dusk to nighttime, taking in the breathtaking views and generally acting so touristy we should have worn Bermuda shorts and Panama hats with our black socks. But we didn’t care: it’s still a selling point.
Portions aren’t a problem, though be prepared for some sticker shock — the cheapest starters are $12 and entrees hover in the mid-$30 range. Maybe it’s still a location best enjoyed as a way of impressing the in-laws when they come for a visit, or celebrating an anniversary.
But I hope it becomes more than blue-moon destination dining. A splurge? Perhaps. But a valuable one. "I ate there" you’ll be able to say one day. And you won’t need to point to a postcard to impress people — they’ll be able to see it in your eyes.
Five Sixty, 300 Reunion Blvd. Open for dinner Tuesdays through Sundays and for Sunday brunch. 214-741-5560.
Wolfgang Puck’s 16th fine dining restaurant — Dallas’ first — shows why the Asian fusion celebrichef deserves his rep.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 10, 2009.