Texas Spice, the Hotel Restaurant That Shouldn't Be But Is

What good is local if local isn't good?

I'm staring at a perfectly seared and large piece of red fish, with crisp skin and flaky white flesh, trying to figure out what went wrong with Texas Spice.

It's a decent plate, if a little ham-handed. The fish sits on a bed of black-bean and avocado purees, both heaped onto the plate in generous quantities. The whole thing is decorated with small cherry tomatoes, their skins peeled back and crisped but still attached, like the iridescent wings of lady bugs. It's an artful garnish that pleases the eye as much as it complements the plate, exploding with bright, summery flavors that manage to work even in the dead of winter.

But here's the thing: There are only two words in the name of this restaurant, and I'm having trouble tasting evidence of either.

Texas Spice lives inside the Omni Hotel, which opened in November as the city's Hail Mary attempt to lure the nation's conventioneers. Two complementary restaurants opened alongside it: Bob's Steak and Chop House, which sells a $59 Porterhouse to tourists who don't want to tour, and the Owner's Box, which pampers sports fans with burgers, nachos and hot dogs as a backdrop to giant TVs. Typical hotel stuff.

Texas Spice seems to want something more. It seems to want a crowd curious about a couple of things: Texas cuisine and farm-to-table cooking.

Everything's bigger, etc., etc.: That's one of the messages Jason Weaver, executive chef for the entire Omni, looks to be trying to convey through the hired hands of Texas Spice chef Cory Garrison. Margaritas are 15 ounces (and $10). Order the house version for a quick buzz, but avoid the pickle version, which pairs tequila with a salty house-made pickle brine. The two ingredients never marry and the results drink like a bad college shot.

Desserts are big, too. Milk and cookies arrive soft, warm and loaded with melting chocolate chips — three massive rounds suitable for Olympic discus. The banana split, made with local Blue Bell Ice Cream, stays true to tradition with three scoops, whipped cream, cherries and even banana fritters. The kitchen caramelizes a layer of sugar over the cut side of each banana; it cracks like delicate amber with the gentle urging of a spoon — a nice touch. But have fun trying to finish the thing. My waiter told me he'd never seen a table do it.

The chicken and dumplings arrive as half a roasted bird alongside golf balls of bready dough. Garrison covers the chicken in a subtly peppered gravy and proclaims it a tribute to his grandmother, who's surely proud. The dish, if not traditional, is mostly pleasing.

He also cuts brisket into massive batons flanked with a salad of fried potatoes dressed in a sour cream and mayo that reduces to a delicious, almost cheese-like consistency, and a large pint-sized jar filled with an inch or so of sweet and heavy barbecue sauce. But the large hunks of meat are dry and lifeless and flecked with fat and collagen not yet rendered.

Maybe grass-fed beef isn't the best cut for barbecue known for its soft and glistening fat, but the kitchen smoker the restaurant employs will never offer up the world's finest brisket. What Texas Spice needs, if it strives to offer a window into Texas barbecue, is a proper pit. And if this restaurant intends to offer a window into Texas cuisine as a whole, it needs cooking that's a lot more aggressive. Everything's bigger, sure, but everything here could be better. Instead of screaming Texas, these dishes whisper sheepishly, under-delivering on the big and bold flavors the region is known for.

And Texas isn't the only message Garrison and Weaver are trying, and failing, to convey.

That Blue Bell Ice Cream is churned and frozen in Brenham, Texas. That red fish is farmed sustainably in Gulf waters. The milk is from small local farms. The sausage comes from Kuby's, the small German grocery off of Daniel Avenue. There's Texas Ruby grapefruit in the Farmer's Market Salad, and Paula's goat cheese from Deep Ellum makes an appearance, too. The mantra is echoed in the insignias that grace the frosted glass partition that runs along a far wall: Farmer's Market, they promise. With as much as 90 percent of the ingredients used in the kitchen, Garrison says, that mantra is delivered.

It's a nice sentiment, and for the dishes that work — like that red fish and a generous shrimp-and-grits dish — it's a successful welcome into the locavore movement. And it's all served in a gorgeous dining room that, in all its LEED-certified glory, is decked out in reclaimed lumber, serves filtered water from reusable containers and makes use of energy-efficient cooking equipment. It's a model for what every restaurant should strive for — until you get to the food. And it's a friendly reminder that the farm will never last at the table if the food doesn't sing.

Pig's head fritters land like stones. It's not that they're fried improperly; it's the lack of acid and brightness that makes the dish so heavy. Parmesan jam eats like mud, and a bed of chow-chow is soft and sweet when it needs to be bright and crisp. This is a very brown plate.

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13 comments
CarolTaylor
CarolTaylor

I сan't bеlieve....Мy bеst friеnd's mоm mаkes $ 78 аn hоur оn thе сomputer. Shе hаs bеen оut оf јob fоr 9 mоnths but lаst mоnth hеr сheck wаs $ 5489 јust wоrking оn thе сomputer fоr а fеw hоurs. Rеad аbout it hеre..... >..... С А S Н S Н А R Р . С О М

Mike
Mike

I liked most of what I tried at Texas Spice, though I dismissed the name as marketing hype...a thoughtful menu crafted for a hotel crowd that has to please a wide range of palates, some of which might not favor bold spices or assertive flavors. I agree that the name is a bit of a misnomer; I'm guessing it was chosen before the chefs were hired or the menu was developed.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano

I'm puzzled and (no irony or snark intended) I'm sorry DO made you go there Hotels offer incredibly high cost benefit outcomes; whether shit or orgasmic, you will pay more for the experience. You can expect some hotels to make an effort--the Adolphus, Joule, and the Ritz come to mind, if not to my bucket list, but I can say from much experience they are to be avoided except for those rare (and usually expense account required) situations where the hotel is subsidizing a quality restaurant (the aforementioned and Craft (evident at lunch), Austin's four Seasons, esp Austin's Four Seasons--they must lose money on every meal in the fine dining room). You will usually be better off with the Denny's or Waffle House next to a motel.

Do Dallas residents get a discount?

Chuck G.
Chuck G.

This place truly sucks ass and the prices for this dog chow are offensively high.

Karl
Karl

Went there for breakfast a few Saturdays ago. The service was so incredibly bad, that we won't ever go back. Nearly an hour for eggs Benedict in a restaurant three quarters empty just won't do.

Heino2012
Heino2012

@Myrna Minkoff-Katz Obviously, you have never been to Nick and Sam's, III Forks, Al Biernet's, etc.

Scott Reitz
Scott Reitz

remember that's at Bob's NOT Texas Spice

Scott Reitz
Scott Reitz

I don't LOVE the place but I disagree with the pricing comment. I think prices are fair here considering the location and space. It's a really nice dining room.

Chuck G.
Chuck G.

Location and space? We, as consumers/patrons, could care less what their overhead/expenses are. It's quality food and good service that is key, and this place underwhelms in those departments. So, yes, the prices are too high when you're food doesn't taste good and everyone in your party agrees that they will not be returning.

Scott Reitz
Scott Reitz

You may not care, but they're real variables. Eating downtown (in many cities) is usually more expensive: the rent is higher. And eating in a polished pristine dining room is usually more expensive than eating in a hole in the wall.

Food quality is an important thing for sure, though. No matter the price point.

And actually service. I just listened to a radio show were a critic cited a study that said a warm welcoming staff with OK food earns a return visit more often than a place with stellar food and a discourteous staff.

 
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