By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
After tasting Pyramid Grill's steak tartare, a huge mound of milky pink pulp shaped like a loaf of rye bread, I began to wonder: Why does so much of the tartare served in Dallas, no matter what its species, taste like something plumbed from a bedeviled little Underwood can? So I consulted my primary culinary reference work, Rude Food. Published in the early '80s, Rude Food is a compendium of culinary photo essays with various foods juxtaposed with naked models (though at least one is wearing a clump of frisée, and another brandishes a garter made of fresh little candies in little pleated paper cups).
1717 N. Akard St.
Dallas, TX 75201
Region: Downtown & Deep Ellum
"The association between food and sex has been firmly established since that old business with Adam, Eve, and the apple," say the authors in the introduction to this slender volume. Yet if Adam and Eve did with apples what one of the Rude Food models does with oysters, those parts were edited out of my version of the Bible. Rude Food contains the predictable hot dog and cream-tipped banana phallus clichés (though there is an interesting twist on the pickle, with an upended cornichon floating next to a pair of green olives in a martini). But it also has some compelling, creative visual forays. There's a bondage scene involving strands of spaghetti, and a "still life" incorporating soft white sole fillets gently curved to resemble lips surrounded by curls of parsley. There's even a little photo essay explaining why the navel is superior to glass brandy snifters. "It provides a constant even warmth which brings out the bouquet of the cognac," says the caption under a photo of a brandy-dribbled bellybutton.
But the most relevant rude shot in this book, at least in terms of this review, is a spread titled "Civilised Raw Meat" (the book was first published in Great Britain) that explains the origins of steak tartare. According to the book, this little delicacy originated with Genghis Khan's Tartar horsemen, who kept their meat under their saddles and rode on it until it became tender enough to eat without cooking (purists contend that real tartare should be made with horsemeat). The right panel of the spread has a buffed beauty about to park her hams on a raw steak. "Fortunately, the butcher has replaced the bum," reads the caption. The left panel shows a gentleman with washboard abs holding in his cupped hands a large spinach leaf that in turn supports a large, blood-red mound of ground steak with an indentation on top, in which sits a raw egg.
True tartare is nothing but raw, unadulterated lust sprinkled with a little salt and pepper and ringed with little piles of drained capers with chopped shallots and parsley. So why is this so hard to find? Why do chefs seek to pester it beyond recognition with condiments?
The steak tartare mound ($14) at the newly transformed Pyramid Grill (formerly The Pyramid Room) is placed on a carpet of leaves with a split cornichon on top. The pulverized beef is studded with onion, garlic, capers, and specks of cornichon mixed with Dijon mustard, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, port, brandy, and raw egg. Next to it is a tomato-skin shaving curled into the shape of a rosebud. In the center of the bud is a small green salad. It's a touching arrangement.
The tartare is creamy but uninteresting. The flavor is dominated by the condiments. Its color isn't boldly red, and the rich meat flavors are fogged over. It's accompanied by a basket of cold toast points.
This tartare is a distillation of the whole problem with Pyramid Grill: Though competent, it isn't boldly imaginative or compelling--characteristics almost any restaurant in this price range has to have if it hopes to survive in the roiling stew of Dallas' dynamic dining scene.
Since the Fairmont shut down the Brasserie some 18 months ago, it set out to make the Pyramid Room more casual with modest cosmetic changes, the addition of breakfast and lunch, and a transformation of the menu. The timidity of the overhaul is starkest on the breakfast menu, a boilerplate array of omelets, eggs benedict, waffles, pancakes, and two egg variants. There's virtually nothing else--no creative forays, no bold moves, not even a slab of smoked salmon.
Still, the food is consistent and very good, even the stuff plucked from the buffet table ($14). Scrambled eggs are supple and firm (even at the conclusion of breakfast service), not runny or hard and dry as they more often than not are in hotel buffets. Strips of bacon and links of sausage are fresh and succulent. Even the hash browns worked well: moist, crisp, separate, tender--not dry, sticky, pasty, and hard.
Ordering off the menu yielded the same sort of solid but uninspiring results. Three-egg omelets ($12.50), with a choice of three ingredients from a list that included ham, bacon, sausage, tomato, and three different cheeses, would put a hardened Denny's patron to sleep. So I tried to put together the most interesting combination from the list--snow crab, green onion, and herbs. Shreds of sweet crabmeat were woven throughout the moist egg fold with herb flavors that came through with clarity, especially the rosemary.
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