By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
A typically collegiate summing-up, but I translate it immediately into my own gusto-centric vocabulary: Prairie style was (is) the sophisticated architectural equivalent of American comfort food.
So naturally, in a Dallas-oriented (but then Wright was always site-specific) and definitely upscale way, Sevy's Grill is as thoroughly American as any restaurant in Dallas, serving the kind of food that centers you, comforts you, and presents you with security. On a plate.
My mother has always advised me that one (meaning me) should spend the night in one's guest room once a year to make sure it's really comfortable. Notice--are there reading lamps on both sides of the bed? Extra blankets and pillows handy? Does the ceiling fan have a sleep-shattering rattle? You'll never know if you don't try it out yourself.
Sevy's has the feel of a restaurant that has taken my mother's advice. Its design is not just a manifestation of Jim Severson's daydreams--it's a reflection of how people really use a restaurant. The prairie-style low, beamed ceiling is criss-crossed with panels of industrial glass and repeating right angles. The polished floor alternates dark and light wood. The single wall of flat, mortarless stones is ornamented only with a pair of remarkably beautiful black-and-white photographs of the Grand Canyon (by Dallasite David Gibson). All this creates a comfortable, gracious space equally welcoming to dark suits and tennis skirts. Sevy's is genuinely casual, but not sloppily so--the dress code calls for comfort, but it means comfortable for fine dining. Sevy's decor underscores America's recently achieved sophistication about food--good food doesn't require fancy dress. Good food shouldn't be for a special occasion, it should be a way of life.
Other details of the design are likewise user-friendly. The list of reasonably priced wines, for instance, is printed inside the menu because these days everyone at the table has--or wants to have--an opinion about wine. Rarely does a single host do the ordering, so it makes sense for everyone to have a chance to check out the selection. There's a brief description of varietal characteristics, too, so the list gently fulfills the mission of educating the wine drinker, a function that most of us appreciate.
Jim Severson, chef-owner of Sevy's, is best known in Dallas for his long tenure at Dakota's as chef and corporate chef. Like every other chef, his dream has been to own his own. Severson, who strolls the dining room at Sevy's several times a night, looks like a guy whose dream has come true. The baby blues are bright, the smile is wide. Sevy's opening party, a smash success that snarled traffic on Preston Road for blocks around, was proof of the good will that Severson has built up over the years. The typical chef's caricature paints a pot-throwing, temperamentally artistic tyrant--Severson instead seems the personification of even-tempered placidity, whose happy aim is simply to please. (Of course, only his wife, Amy, could tell us if this is just dining room demeanor.)
With Jim strolling--or trolling--the room, and Amy standing at the door greeting guests, there was no chance this would be an anonymous visit for me. In these situations, I try to gauge the true level of service by observing other tables. At Sevy's my looks became longing, because once Amy had said hello, the parade of introductions began. It wasn't long before we'd met both hosts, the chef, and even the wine consultant, the wine buyer for Centennial who acts as a sort of freelance sommelier at Sevy's, working an occasional weekend night. It became almost difficult to concentrate on the menu
(Here I'd like to register an objection to eager waiters who pour your wine whenever the level lowers. Savvy restaurant-goers regard this as a sell tactic, not real service, and would prefer to have the bottle opened by a server, then be left alone to pour and sip at their own pace.)
At the packed opening, we'd waited in long, loud lines to taste many of the appetizers on the menu, so it was a treat to have them presented on a plate, accompanied by hot rolls and butter. And as so many of the items on Severson's menu, the appetizers were examples of the expected made extraordinary. For instance, marinated and grilled portabello mushrooms (really just button mushrooms that have mushroomed) are now a staple on nine out of ten restaurant menus. But Severson says they're too "hydrated," so he dries them briefly in the oven before he marinates them, allowing them to absorb more flavor before grilling them. The technique is impressive not just because it exhibits the care taken in the kitchen, but because the waiter had been told about this and remembered to tell us.