Private Social Hears No Evil, and That's the Problem

The loudest restaurant in Dallas can't hear (or see or taste) its mistakes.

When Private Social opened last fall, the occasion was marked with a red-carpet affair. Literally, the rug was rouge, and it was rolled out for the city's socialites, both actual and aspiring, all craving a first look into Uptown's latest offering to the upscale dining gods.

The pseudo-celebrities were out in force. Eight contestants from past seasons of Bravo's popular Top Chef series came to pay homage to the latest addition to that show's restaurant empire, this one helmed by Tiffany Derry, a contestant on the seventh season. Derry had also appeared on Top Chef Masters, but that wasn't enough to keep her first restaurant afloat. Go Fish, a suburban seafood spot, closed not long after she returned from taping.

Now in its ninth season, the Top Chef series has spawned an army of TV-approved chefs with serious draw. Diners flock to their restaurants not just for elegant (and often expensive) meals, but for a glimpse of that quasi-celebrity. Posing for pictures with guests is as routine as whipping up a Buerre Monté for these chefs, and investors have noticed. Many of these toques are backed with serious cash.

Private Social, where cameras roll, crowds roar and Tiffany Derry presents food less memorable than last season's TV schedule.
Jay Barker
Private Social, where cameras roll, crowds roar and Tiffany Derry presents food less memorable than last season's TV schedule.
Private Social, where cameras roll, crowds roar and Tiffany Derry presents food less memorable than last season's TV schedule.
Allison V. Smith
Private Social, where cameras roll, crowds roar and Tiffany Derry presents food less memorable than last season's TV schedule.

That money can buy expensive flatware and fine fixtures to outfit opulent dining rooms. It can even, perhaps, get diners into seats for a short while, in the weeks and months after these made-from-TV restaurants open. Return customers, though — the measure of every successful restaurant — have to be earned with an environment, menu and service experience that draw people back.

Private Social's environment is nice enough. The expansive space is tricked out in white leather booths and dark wood tables, and it's cut in two by the thin veil of a beaded metal curtain. The partition is an attempt to divide the restaurant into two distinct entities, each with separate offerings: Private and Social, if you couldn't guess. But it's not much more than a name. Menus meant for each side of the restaurant travel back and forth and dishes are repeated, making that divider seem like little more than industrial-weight kitsch. The noise bounces back and forth, too, and it brings with it a reminder of the restaurant's biggest weakness.

A review in The Dallas Morning News, which ran shortly after the restaurant opened, described "punishing acoustics," but nobody at Private Social listened. Perhaps they're deaf after repeated noise-exposure levels that could actually, seriously, warrant an OSHA violation. On busy nights, employees bustle and shout across what might be Dallas' loudest dining room. A mirrored glass wall works as a sounding board, tossing noise right back into the crowd that creates it. They only get louder in response. It's so noisy it ruins the dining experience, not that it needed any help being ruined.

Derry's cooking shows flashes of brilliance so bright it makes it hard to understand what went wrong with the rest of her menu. Like those sweetbreads perched in a pool of salty broth, poured table-side. Derry presented the entire thymus gland of a calf in one piece, covered in a thin but crisp coating. The crust gave way to protein that tasted like the most tender, delicious chicken nugget, lightly salted by that briny liquid. It was the best sweetbread presentation that has ever graced my table, but I'm hesitant to recommend it because the consistency is off in the rest of the menu.

A bone marrow dish was almost as good. The small femurs, split down the center and cut into 6-inch canoes, held a rich, jiggling, essence of life. Cut with the acid of house-made pickles, the messy dish was so addicting I scraped the bones clean. But what was with that supporting crostini? The thin, toasted bread slices were cut from a cheap, lifeless baguette.

The same bread marred an otherwise perfect clam saute. Chorizo's smoky paprika was a delightful punch that lingered at the back of my throat, and the sauce was soup-spoon-worthy. But the bread I used to sop up that broth reminded me of cheap Texas toast. It was the whitest of white breads.

The steamed snack touted as a Top Chef Pork Bun featured a store-bought round as well. This isn't a crime in itself, but the bread was sticky and lifeless, and I can't help but wonder how much the buns would improve if they were made freshly on site. This is, after all, a restaurant serving $30 entrees, not a dim sum joint in Richardson. A dedication to craftsmanship here should be a given. Instead the menu tailspins into errors that are much less forgivable.

Both monkfish and arctic char were overcooked across two visits. The former was capped with thin slices of truffle so devoid of fragrance it was a wasted addition to the dish.

Hand-rolled garganelli smelled amazing when it arrived. The steaming dish was heaped with fatty braised veal, cherries and pine nuts, but it marked the first time I've ever been served under-done fresh pasta, which literally cooks in seconds. The tubes of pasta clumped together during the cooking process, resulting in a tough and chewy finish.

The same thing happened to two bowls of ramen at lunch. Ramen is a serious dish in Japan — a religion complete with commandments that take cooks years to master. Derry's version committed two cardinal sins: The broth wasn't hot enough, and the noodles clumped at the bottom of the bowl like a wet, tennis ball-sized tangle of hair. Despite this, the pork belly, softly cooked egg with silken yolk and bok choy that decorate the dish were stunning.

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8 comments
Marvin
Marvin

The crust gave way to protein that tasted like the most tender, delicious chicken nugget, lightly salted by that briny liquid.

Why not just go for the delicious chicken nugget then. It's way cheaper, and less disgusting.

mark zero (Jason)
mark zero (Jason)

Sometimes I think critical reviews of overhyped restaurants are more valuable than rave reviews of better ones (or at least the lessons are more portable). This is one of those times.

Thanks for reminding us that more important than a checklist of trendy entrees & ingredients that changes frequently (and varies by cuisine) are simple ground rules restaurants should follow but seem to have forgotten: in this case, don't serve crappy bread (more generally, monitor the quality of all ingredients daily), and loudness is not a good substitute for real socializing.

Stephen Whitley
Stephen Whitley

it used to be that fame came AFTER a long slog through various kitchens and after a chef has proven themselves with amazing food. Sounds like this is a case of the cart leading the horse...or rather, someone believing their own press...

seabird20
seabird20

I wrote a review on yelp http://www.yelp.com/biz/privat... back in November. It is sad to see that those flaws are still prevalent.We certainly won't go back - unless we hear that it has improved.And just to compound the felony, their customer service department is not firing on any cyclinders. After a pretty negative review in social media (yelp), I would have expected some kind of reaction from the restaurant. None, nada. As we say in England the place is "all mouth and no trusers".

food69
food69

went to see what the hoopla was all about - will never go back - enough said

G-man66
G-man66

Huh? So based on this assessment they should be closed by the Spring.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin

they should, but they wont, because as is pointed out here quite often, dallas diners are often duped by good food, and the chance to be on camera or have pictures taken with someone famous overrides actaully have a good dining experience from begining to end.

 
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