By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
How often must MBA recipients prove their "worthiness" before we finally stop listening?
And before you many upstanding business folks finish that "hey, wait just one damn minute" thought, keep in mind what MBAs have wrought lately. There's W, for example—whom the conservative media once lauded as our first such degreed president. Let's assume C-level types at AIG, Citibank, General Motors and other in-the-news institutions carry similar diplomas, as well.
I bring this up because management at the Fairmont Hotel OK'd the revamp of their Pyramid Restaurant, recently completed.
1717 N. Akard St.
Dallas, TX 75201
Region: Downtown & Deep Ellum
Crab cakes $14
Pork belly $12
Striped bass $36
Lobster mac & cheese $32
Brussels sprouts with pancetta $8
Cheap wine $39
You know, on some of those HGTV design programs the hosts redecorate and stage houses for a mere $2,000...or so I've heard. They gut kitchens, retile bathrooms, construct new walls, slap on paint and complete everything on time, under budget—adding value, as well. Of course, such shows hold down costs by contributing what boardroom types call "sweat equity."
Fairmont spent a more business-school-friendly $1 million plus on its project. It created, for this whopping sum, a dining room as fascinating as the fourth hour of a drive across Nebraska in the dead of early winter: lots of dull earth tones and a couple slabs of dead wood, along with two glass walls showing off a collection of wine bottles—reminiscent of empties discarded along prairie highways. The tables are dressed only with a ball of glass, propped there for no apparent reason except perhaps to support a flower in one tiny hole. Next to art glass pieces, contemporary stainless steel salt and pepper shakers stand like grain elevators, stark in contrast to the presumed vases. Unless you wear something bright to break up the monotony, all that dreary beige begins to grind you into a state of despondency.
Who thought this was a good idea? Nebraska, after all, happened by unfortunate accident—obviously a strike against adherents of "intelligent design," many of whom live in the state—instead of corporate planning. And we're stuck with it unless we want a big hole in the middle of our country. Come to think of it, we could get along without Pyramid Restaurant, as well.
In fitting with their unintended theme, a pork belly appetizer revels in the basics. That means sodden, fatty and plodding flavor enhanced only by a puddle of cider reduction and a few slices of braised fruit—reasonable accompaniments considering the loose globs of rich lard. But I'm still trying to understand the point of dropping a flaccid poached quail's egg on top. To add "value" (meaning cost) and snob appeal to this plebeian cut of meat, perhaps? Crab cakes offer few curiosities other than a surprising lack of dense shellfish sweetness or any hint of things oceanic, except as a background over which light, herbal flavors ooze.
To justify $32 for macaroni and cheese, the kitchen not only ladles out a heart-valve clogging portion but also builds it around white cheddar produced locally and sets two lobster tails, scrawny but sufficient, on the mass. Call it indulgent comfort food—filling and warm in tone, the sharp edges from good cheese made gentle by a dusting of herbs and the thin, almost watery presentation. Alone, this would eventually turn into an exercise in dull repetition. However gussied up (and cooks have tried everything from Spam to truffles), saucy cheese eventually looms over other ingredients. Chef J. W. Foster shows a rather keen understanding of this, keeping lobster meat in its shell and placing a tangle of citrus drenched greens on top, where it serves as a cleaving palate cleanser rather than another something lost to the kudzu-like grasp of cheddar. It's a well-thought-out serving, although you're essentially paying a nice lot of cash for two small tails, a handful of salad and plenty of bulk.
A couple on their first-ever visit to Dallas—you begin to focus on nearby conversation in the absence of ambience—boasted to the waiter of their tomato connoisseur prowess and raved about Pyramid's heirloom tomato appetizer. I'm glad someone found a redeeming dish, even one dependent more on gardening skills and a line cook's knife than effort on the grill. At that particular moment, I was poking through an entrée of striped bass, the new "it" bass now that true sea bass has become a rarity and everyone figured out the "Chilean" ruse. Many seafood aficionados rank striped bass right behind its ferocious Mediterranean cousin in flavor and texture. But in this case it hides in the shadows, a timid, uninteresting dormouse of a dish relying on the crust, sides and a dousing of tomato consommé for excitement. The latter, perhaps distilled from heirloom stock, contributes faint notes of seared fruit and smoke. Otherwise, only a spectacular side of roasted corn and green lentils turns this presentation into something worthy of comment. Each burst of earthbound, time-worn, rustic flavor harkens to log cabin days.
The side is the kind of robust presentation one should expect from a place of Pyramid's standing. But they leave bold rushes to sides and a charcuterie plate—cured meats, pickled vegetables and one small cube of impressively husky venison pâté, presumably all prepared in house and framed by swipes of Foster's homemade mustard. Slices of rather intense and oddly seasoned Parma ham prove the most disappointing aspect of this platter, bearing a strange resemblance to the flavor of corned beef luncheon meat. Other examples are more naturally pungent, and the chef's two mustard creations will make you wish for a jar to take along. The entire combination, from tangy cornichons to the mustard and fiercely tart pickled items is enough to put hair on a man's ears and set him babbling in a swarthy Eastern European accent.
You don't need a chef and steep prices to assemble something similar, but I'm tempted to applaud Foster and his crew for including one roughhouse tavern dish on the menu. On the other hand, it's rather unfortunate that mustard, two tiny cornichons and a side dish of corn and lentils steal the spotlight from $30-$50 entrees. All in all, Pyramid's cooking fits its new and dismal digs.
At least we had a congenial waiter on one visit. When I ordered the restaurant's cheapest wine, he presented the bottle soberly and unscrewed the cap with a dramatic flourish.
Yep—screw-top wine at Pyramid.
"Where is the wine from?" I asked. The list mentioned Clarksville, or something like that. And although fine Kentucky vintages probably come from screw-cap bottles...
"I don't know—I don't have my glasses," our waiter responded.
He toted the bottle over to a well-lit space, almost leaning into a table occupied by one lone guest sipping slushy red cocktails and returned after some time straining at the label. "California," he announced. "It's a nice wine."
If you strain long enough, you find something interesting in drab, wide open places.
1717 N. Akard St. (inside the Fairmont Hotel), 214-720-5249. Open 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 6-10 p.m. daily; 6:30-11 a.m. Monday-Friday, 7-11 a.m. Saturday-Sunday (breakfast). $$$$