By Amy McCarthy
By Scott Reitz
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
Some restaurants are crafting expensive smoking ban workarounds. Jaden's Restaurant & Bar, which just opened off Knox Street, has a separate bar building so that the operation can permit smoking.
Yet Clower notes another pressure point: the new Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center in Grapevine. The Gaylord, which features dining at the Old Hickory Steak House and the Stephan Pyles-inspired Ama Lur, offers smoking guest rooms and smoking in Texan Station, the resort's sports bar. In Dallas, conventioneers must puff on the street. Mabel says the Gaylord threat is overblown, since it attracts smaller conventions channeled from its other properties rather than the massive conventioneer swarms that Dallas' hospitality trade thrives on.
Yet smoking isn't the only issue driving Dallas/suburban choices. Evers says the gory process of city permitting and regulation is stifling the industry, especially downtown. Evers dreams of a "hospitality czar" installed in City Hall to function as a liaison between restaurant developers and the city's various sniping fiefdoms that include the Zoning Ordinance Advisory Committee, historical groups and neighborhood associations that get riled up over things like signs. "One hand doesn't know what the other hand is doing at the city level," she says. "I think people want to open businesses down there. There's such a great spirit of entrepreneurialism in this city, and it just gets choked. It gets thwarted just cutting through all the red tape."
Prozac Patient And downtown isn't looking all that swell. In addition to the struggles of Jeroboam, Metropolitan's alcohol sales have slumped 33 percent through the 12-month period ending in September--the latest 2004 figures available--compared with the same period last year. The $4 million-plus, three-story, 14,000-square-foot Iron Cactus, which moved into the historic Thompson Building with a cylindrical tower housing a winding staircase, opened with a bang in mid-April, had a blow-out in May, and then spent the next couple of months mired in single- and double-digit declines before leveling off in September, according to state alcohol tax records. Monica Greene got so frustrated with her downtown business that she shuttered her fledgling Pegaso Cocina Economica after just eight months.
Still, urban corridor anemia isn't stopping bold downtown development. Former III Forks cellar master Kyle Kepner is working with silent partners and $3.5 million to turn the long-abandoned circa-1960s glass-shrouded building at 1217 Main St. into a massive four-story, 400-seat restaurant and lounge with twin waterfalls. It's called Cascades. "The rooftop garden will be unlike anything in Dallas," boasts Kepner. He says he will beat the downtown doldrums by blanketing airline magazines with advertising--a la III Forks--to position Cascades as a national destination when it opens in May. But even Kepner is struggling to contend with city red-tape rituals. "Permits are out of control," he says.
Best of Times Mabel insists 2004 has quietly and steadily blossomed into restaurant prosperity. "In 2004, that's the first thing they're going to remember," he says of operators. "It's been a good year. They haven't said that for a few years. Most restaurants are up in the single digits. Restaurateurs are fairly happy about 2004."
At the same time, 2004 was a year of low restaurant fertility, with few splashy openings to churn the dazzle junkies. "I can't think of a year where there were fewer interesting new restaurants that have opened in Dallas," he adds. Yet Mabel believes all that will change over the next 12-24 months. He points to the new W Hotel in the Victory project, Nobu and a possible Kerry Simon restaurant in The Crescent and the luxury hotel project displacing Hotel Santa Fe at Mockingbird Lane and North Central Expressway. The plot was recently purchased by developers, and the $80 million hotel, shopping and condo complex with a high-end restaurant will be renovated and operated by San Francisco's Kimpton Hotels.
Mabel believes future development including restaurants will cluster around DART rail stations. Yet with a few exceptions, Mockingbird Station restaurants aren't exactly billowing heady profit margins. The Angelika Film Center recently throttled its full-service restaurant, and the DART light-rail system recorded its first annual drop (3 percent) in ridership since the train system began operating in 1996.
Blooms While there wasn't much new restaurant splash in 2004, there sure were a lot of trickles. Grand Lux Café, a kind of Donald Trump wet dream in yellow starring buxom angels, planted itself in the Galleria. George Brown's long-awaited and antiseptically modern George Restaurant swiveled open in the former Riviera space while Kim and Holly Forsythe moved their Sambuca Jazz Café in Deep Ellum into the former Salve! space on McKinney. Just up the street, Feargal McKinney and Peter Kenny of Old Monk and Dubliner pedigree opened the Idle Rich Pub in the former O'Dowd's Little Dublin space. Former Nana Grill and Melrose Hotel chef Doug Brown broke the mold by opening the upscale sandwich/salad outlet Beyond the Box, while Alberto Lombardi quietly opened his loud but addicting Taverna Pizzeria and Risotteria.
Then there's Tristan Simon. He sold off his interest in Genghis Grill, took over the Barley House and opened Fireside Pies, finally bringing pizza to Dallas that doesn't taste like the box it came in (do Chinese and Italian next). The forgettable GF Prime Steakhouse opened in North Dallas with all-you-can eat prime rib; William Guthrie took over Rooster and called it Guthrie's; and former III Forks manager Rick Stein slipped into the Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar on the Tollway and called it Rick Stein's. Taco and Dunia Borga opened La Duni Latin Kitchen and Baking Studio on Oak Lawn, a project primed for expansion, while former Riviera manager Hector Garcia opened Hector's on Henderson, no doubt aiming to take a stab at Tristan Simon's upcoming Hibiscus on Henderson. Hector vs. Hibiscus: a free-range cockfight for the gourmand. But the year's crown jewel was brought to you by Phil Romano, who imported the opulent Italian New York dinner house Il Mulino New York to Dallas and then promptly launched the most exciting Dallas restaurant event of the nascent century: a defamation suit against Dallas Morning News restaurant critic Dotty Griffith for her scathing four-out-of five-star review of the pricy dinner house.