By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
Fearing's is a well-oiled machine. Service is prompt. Water is chilled and filled. Wine recommendations are astute. Skipping through the list, wanting a light-to-medium-bodied red to successfully straddle the orders of fish and red meat at our table, sommelier Paul Botamer talked up the Peltier Station Petite Syrah from Lodi, California. Petite Syrah? This glass of garish fisticuffs is better unleashed on a bowl of Texas red than a piece of salmon resting in a miso spa.
Yet Botamer nailed it. Sure, the wine unleashes a meaty load of black fruit and pepper, but the grip is subdued and the floral and tobacco notes are neatly bundled with surprising crispness. It's re-poured with rhythmic regularity, as if Botamer were a uniformed security guard clocking checkpoints.
Service is witty. Dining one Sunday in the Sendero room (Spanish for path), a glassed-in garden hexagonal-ish space drenched in creams and greens, a fly dove into my water glass. It buzzed in circles and figure eights before coasting to a sudden stop. I asked to have it changed. Our server lifted the glass and held it up to the sunlight. "Seems like everyone's dying to get into the Ritz," he says. "Good thing Dean's not here. He'd probably try and do something with it." No ingredient is safe.
2121 Mckinney Ave.
Dallas, TX 75201-1873
Region: Uptown & Oak Lawn
Servers are funny in other ways. One tells us—this time on the heavily manicured Ocaso patio with water features spurting jet streams into rectangular pools—that Fearing's buffalo comes from a ranch in Lawton, Oklahoma. He says it's rich and buttery, almost like a prime steak. Is it corn-fed? Yes it is. Corn-fed buffalo?
"They ship us 100 pounds of buffalo per week," former Mansion chef and Southwestern cuisine founding father Dean Fearing says, sidling up next to our server. But are they corn-fed? "It's actually grass-fed. It's actually grazing out there in Lawton, Oklahoma." He looks at the server. "Well, they might use a little corn." (According to Greg Hughes of Ron Nance's Comanche Ranch, Fearing's buffalo supplier, the animals spend 120 days on a feedlot before slaughter, gnawing on a grain blend that does contain small amounts of corn).
Fearing's buffalo is marinated for two days in Vermont maple syrup blended with peppercorns, garlic, thyme, sage and shallots. It's served with jalapeño grits (delicious) and a butternut squash taquito. The meat is ruddy, loose and velvety. It can be cut with a fork without wrist strain. It's also cool—too cool—and a bit dull. Yes, it chews luxuriously. But there's no pop in that chew. And what's with that taquito?
Fearing's menu is busy. His "bold flavors, no borders" manifesto seems a green light to load up on elements—cute elements, like that taquito, that don't appear to serve a discernible purpose in context. Here are two short menu readings: orange ginger-dipped pheasant on curried shrimp fried rice with tempura white asparagus and organic shiitakes; and pan-roasted spiced fillet and chicken-fried Maine lobster on queso fresco potatoes and chico spinach enchilada. A little noisy perhaps?
Dishes look and taste as complex as they sound. Focal points blur in a smudge of constituents. The wholes too often don't transcend the parts. Foie gras is glazed with honey soy and rests on three hefty caramelized ginger peach wedges in a dish, unctuous syrup pooled below. Next to it is a slightly crisped scallop carefully nested on papaya watercress salad. The lobe is fine, but why all of this other stuff? How does it enhance the foie gras? The peaches have their relevance, but why not have delicate slices or shavings and skip the bulk?
Fearing urgently recommends his two autumn salads served on one plate: one a strip of cider-braised pork belly with salsisfy, leeks and golden beets; the other a maple-smoked salmon tartare with confit of fingerling potatoes, fennel and tangerine mustard vinaigrette. They're beautiful. They're inventive. But in the mouth nothing grips, nothing arrests the senses.
Fearing's sometimes feels like a perfect-on-paper arranged marriage. The assets are there: tortilla soup, and his tacos, this time with barbecued shrimp standing in for lobster. The flair is there, smoke and Southwestern strokes. The house is magnificent. The ambition is intact: Fearing wants to put Dallas back on the global dining map, the way it once was when Southwestern cuisine was in vogue. But the heart doesn't flutter; the breath doesn't quicken—at least not as much as you might expect.
Fearing's culinary reasoning is sound. He says he wants to put several elements on the plate to tease out different flavors and textures. Why the taquito with the buffalo? There's gotta be something crunchy on the plate. "It's what we love about Doritos," Fearing says. "It's what we love about potato chips. We love to hear a crunch when we're eating." Mission accomplished.
The restaurant itself mimics this disparateness. Crafted by Atlanta designer Bill Johnson, Fearing's is an architectural string of irregular pearls with casual-to-elegant intervals, a layout Fearing says will generate repeat visits. Joining the glassy Sendero and the trickling green-spaced patio is the posh gallery with an art collection in Western wear, a private cellar room, a voyeuristic dining space wrapping the kitchen, and the Rattlesnake Bar with elbow rests made of rattlesnake skin. Fearing says he no longer wants to be pinned in the Southwest corner. "I want to be free," he says.