Monument to an ego

Why is multimillionaire Scott Ginsburg building one of the world's most expensive restaurants in Dallas? Because he can.

"He has definitely been able to look at certain business landscapes and decide how to redecorate it so as to create the greatest amount of equity for himself and his constituents," says one observer who had a recent financial clash with Ginsburg. "But when somebody gets ready to spend $100 for a meal, I don't think anybody is going to feel all that persuaded to make a contribution to Scott Ginsburg's new holdings."

George Papadopolous is relaxing on a bench just outside his test kitchen in a North Dallas church after completing a menu tasting with Ginsburg and designer Paul Draper. Papadopolous remembers his days in the kitchen of some of New York's finest hotels, and he holds his head down, his hands always in motion, as if he's still assembling plates of food. "I didn't see the chef for three years," he says. "I couldn't look up. All you could hear was the yelling and screaming."

Judy Walgren
Former radio mogul Scott Ginsburg may not have any experience in the culinary arts, but he believes his new restaurant, Voltaire, will be a huge success because of his business acumen. His unlimited ability to throw money at any problem should also help.
Judy Walgren
Former radio mogul Scott Ginsburg may not have any experience in the culinary arts, but he believes his new restaurant, Voltaire, will be a huge success because of his business acumen. His unlimited ability to throw money at any problem should also help.

His speech shoots in swift streams, with lots of graceful lunges and jabs -- an oratorical prizefighter. "I'm a troubleshooter. I know the menu like the back of my hand...I know when the ticket comes in, the order goes out. I know exactly what's going on. So, when this breaks, or he drops that, that's where I am. All over."

It's easy to see why Ginsburg took a liking to the prematurely graying 30-year-old Papadopolous, whom he approached in the kitchen of Chez es Saada in Lower Manhattan with an offer to come to Dallas after eating the chef's food. He's easily as intense and determined as Ginsburg, even as cocky. When Papadopolous took a look at the blueprints for Voltaire's kitchen, he told Ginsburg to fire his designers. He would build the kitchen himself.

Structured in the traditional French fashion, Voltaire's kitchen is a full 4,000 square feet with separate stations to butcher meat, prepare sauces, and prep food. There's a separate pot-washing area. And the cook line, with all Jade equipment, was custom-made in a seamless line to maximize flow.

Like Ginsburg, Papadopolous is vague about numbers. "It's a million-dollar kitchen," he says, and then quickly corrects himself. "I'm not saying that's the figure. But it's a million-dollar kitchen. It's up there."

Classically trained with a degree from the Culinary Institute of America, Papadopolous has worked at Peacock Alley in New York's Waldorf Astoria Hotel and has prepared dinner for the likes of Princess Diana and her entourage at The Carlyle Hotel. At Chez es Saada, his menu was a merging of French with Moroccan and Asian cuisines.

How was Ginsburg able to persuade Papadopolous to chuck New York sophistication for the vast stretches of North Texas prairie? "I understood the caliber of the restaurant," Papadopolous says. "I knew it wasn't some nickel-and-dime mom-and-pop place...I know that I can take two days to make a sauce from scratch. I know that I can order foie gras and make a true terrine. He's giving me the ability to do that."

To feed this state-of-the-art kitchen, Papadopolous has developed a distinct menu that, instead of being overtly fused, subtly mingles French platforms with Asian embellishments: wasabi-infused crab cake in lemongrass beurre blanc; sautéed coho salmon in kaffir beurre noir; kobe beef carpaccio in jasmine-soy essence over baby greens.

Perhaps it's just another fusion folio. But unlike many fusion menus sprung in Dallas, such as those at Seventeen Seventeen or the Green Room or The Mansion, this one has no Southwestern influences, a characteristic Papadopolous wasn't interested in incorporating. "The foie gras rocks," Ginsburg says to Papadopolous in the test kitchen after forking a slice of duck liver with black currants in a mandarin miso sauce.

But many observers think that no matter what the menu, Voltaire may be too much of a beast to tame. "It all gets back to the greed and ego thing," says Dean McSherry of DMC Hospitality, a Dallas hospitality management and consulting firm. "These are the true killers in the restaurant business."

Ginsburg dismisses such criticisms as superficial and stemming from people who lack the perception to see what he's trying to do with Voltaire. He says that at the base of every great restaurant is a series of concentric circles that includes a great chef, a professional who understands terrific service, and a professional who understands wine and spirits. "And between those concentric circles, you have the P.T. Barnum, that someone who can spin the plates, make the atmosphere lively, enchanting, attractive."

Ginsburg paints himself as that P.T. Barnum. But to some observers, this is precisely the problem. "He's probably more suited to the radio business than he is the restaurant business," explains one source who's familiar with his persona. "Especially given his personality. I hope it's not him at the front door. He just doesn't have the warmth or the style to be there hosting people."

Still, there's an undeniable feel to Voltaire. Even when the space is nothing but studs and dangling air ducts, it's possible to pick up the crisp earnestness of intention. It doesn't come across as loads of money thrown at the wall to see what sticks. It strikes with concerted commitment and the necessary resources to see it through.

"We don't have to hit in one day," Ginsburg stresses. "That's just the fortune of good fortune." He leans back and tosses up his hands. "We'll build it and see if they come."

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