Dallas Chop House Breathes Beefy Life into Downtown's East Side
Since the age of the Cro-Magnon, Dallas has had the hell whomped out of it by all manner of steakhouses serving all manner of wet-aged, prime, wagyu, Angus, choice, dry-aged, and just plain horseshit beef. But we've never had a wet red meat romp quite like Dallas Chop House. DCH is a $3 million, 5,700-square-foot design-intensive beef sanctum on the ground floor of the Comerica Building, a modern take on the classic barrel vault element as interpreted by famed architect Philip Johnson.
DCH is in the Wild East, the once ghostly sector of downtown populated by idle high-rise relics and haunted by shambling panhandlers. That is, before subsidies and tax increment financing exorcised it.
Now the Mercantile Building on Main, with its iconic clock tower, has been converted into luxury apartments. More vitality is sure to follow with the upcoming restoration of the Continental Building and the opening of the UNT at Dallas College of Law at 1901 Main St. Couple that with the new 1.75-acre Main Street Garden, and this awakening sleeper district east of Neiman Marcus might soon draw attention away from One Arts Plaza.
This would be a shrewd investment for Mike Hoque, the 36-year-old Bangladeshi limo magnate and founder of DRG Concepts (Go Fish Ocean Club, Dallas Fish Market, Fish Express) and parent of Dallas Chop House, if the valuables in his meat locker were up to snuff.
They mostly are.
Sure, in the broadest sense, DCH is an unneeded redundancy. It has the typical steakhouse menu chatter: "cowboy" rib eyes, filets in two sizes, crab cakes, onion rings, garlic mashed potatoes, jumbo shrimp cocktails and live Maine lobsters.
But it also slyly flips the typical on its ear. Asparagus is topped not with hollandaise but with sun-dried tomato tapenade; not the thick pasty condiment but a loose scattering of sun-dried tomato strips rehydrated in warm water and wine, and kalamata olives over the thin, tender shoots.
Tuna Nicoise is packed with most of the traditional components: tuna seared into velvety grayish-red flaps, quarters of hard-boiled egg and kalamatas in simple red-wine vinaigrette. Yet it also shucks potatoes for house-made potato chips and inserts fried capers—in lieu of standard brined—into its fluffy butter lettuce. Plus, asparagus understudies for French green beans.
But the DCH kitchen takes perilous risks too. Offering thinly sliced pan-seared sweetbreads (thymus glands of a calf) in a brawny steakhouse is the culinary equivalent of leaping over a dozen longhorns in a Vespa. Offering beef tongue is the equivalent of performing that same feat in a camisole.
Perfectly symmetrical ovals of tongue, arranged in a loop over a smudge of demi-glace, are dribbled with bright green chimichurri sauce and garnished with watercress. The velvety tongue melts nearly on contact, spreading its enticing if slightly metallic flavor throughout the mouth. "It's more of an acquired taste," says DCH chef Kenny Mills, who admits he's had to give tongue away to get it into diners' mouths.
My guess is that after the initial winces subside, he won't be passing much of it out for free. (We boxed our leftover tongue and topped it with a pair of sunny-side-up eggs the next morning for a magnificent breakfast).
Mills, whose decade-long tour of steak duty includes Capital Grill, Sullivan's, Tony's Prime Steakhouse and Humperdink's—with fish and fusion respites at Chow Thai Pacific, Chamberlain's Fish Market Grill and Little Katana—pinched and tugged the original DCH menu drafted by Dallas Fish Market chef Randy Morgan, who scuttled his post for the pastures at Hibiscus in late January.
The Chop House itself is an intriguing amalgam of masculine beef bawdry and feminine poise: sharp edges and hard-surfaced geometry offset with curves, cushions and earthy art pieces. In the lounge a feature wall is cobbled together with wood blocks in lieu of retro-chic glass bricks, while heavy-gauge steel trim flaunts crude welds. To add a spit of kitsch, the D-C logo is fashioned to replicate a cattle brand and is stamped on metal and wood surfaces throughout the restaurant.
The dining room has curvaceous, high-backed butterscotch booths while the walls exhibit artwork by Charlie Whinney and Fort Worth artist James Spurlock, an attempt to marry the restaurant's modern aesthetics with Dallas' mock-macho cowboy/cattle-drive fetish.
The heavily glassed bar channels into a sidewalk patio whose centerpiece is a steel and stone wall with a gas-fueled fireplace overlooking the new Main Street Garden.
Each meal begins with hoof-sized popovers—an alluring blend of crisp, cotton candy-like pastry fluff and steam. Perhaps a throwback to Mills' forays into fusion, the lunch menu includes lettuce wraps: dew-stricken leaves filled with chicken pebbles laced with Asian slaw leaching a sauce blended from dark soy, Hoison and rice-wine vinegar. The crawdad and catfish sandwich is tasty curls of crawdad tail slow-poached in clarified butter set on a pillow-soft bun with slabs of fried catfish, caramelized sweet onions and a shock of creole slaw.
Steak inventory is set in tiers, ostensibly to capture every taste and price point. Dry- and wet-aged prime cuts complement dry- and wet-aged "premium" choice cuts. Slabs of dry-aged beef fester with disks of Himalayan salt for up to 45 days in a dedicated space aft the kitchen.
Our dry-aged bone-in Kansas City strip—a perfect sear char crusting a buttery pink—had all of the lusty nut sweetness you expect from dry-aged steak. Coat your steak with a variety of sauces and spice blends including béarnaise, tomato-infused hollandaise, Maytag blue butter, lobster butter, and an assortment of rubs.
DCH doesn't skimp on fish either. Chilean sea bass—seared into whisper-thin crispness in a super-heated skillet and seasoned with saffron vinaigrette and lemon—is as rich and flaky as the best of this breed. It's saddled with creamy risotto and a delicious batch of Swiss chard simply seasoned with olive oil and salt and pepper.
Finish off with a thick wedge of Key lime pie: fluffy and crisp, tart and creamy, sweet and salty with a crust composed of crushed pretzel and brown sugar.
Service is tightly polished, save for the fork we discovered crusted with petrified gunk on our lunch setting.
Dallas Chop House is everything you'd expect from a top-notch chop house minus the dark paneling, the leather, the brass and the humidors long since regulated into impotence. What makes it an odds-on favorite in the Wild East is the unexpected things on the plate.
Dallas Chop House 1717 Main St., 75201, 214-736-7300 dallaschophouse.com. Open for lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday; open for dinner 5-10 p.m., Monday-Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday & Saturday. $$$-$$$$
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