Dining at Mirador is like taking a brief, immersive vacation to the land of the wealthiest 1 percent and finding out that the rich aren't any better off than we are. They just spend more money.
Its front entrance is at 1608 Elm St., where a parking circle of pavers, not concrete, takes up the curb, swooping around a sculpture island. This is the kind of driveway so fancy that its owners call it a “motor court.”
I walk past Lexus SUVs up the motor court, feeling perplexed to be underdressed for a driveway. A woman at the valet stand takes pity, confirms that I do indeed have a reservation — at dinnertime, reservations are mandatory — and escorts me into the back door of Forty Five Ten, a garish-chic department store filled with fine china, perfumes in crystal vials, blue suede tassel loafers and other everyday essentials. The men’s shoe section is charming: $640 lace-up sneakers, a desert chukka made from what appears to be Bigfoot skin and, best of all, a single pair of Prada socks for $90.
After the attendant deposits me in the elevator, I press the “PH” (penthouse) button. The penthouse is dimly lit, manned by a welcoming committee of mannequins dressed better than I ever have been. To the right is a tony bar; in front is a bright staircase, blocked off, which leads down into the store. Much of the penthouse suite is taken up by private hobnobbing areas, sectioned off by enormous gray curtains. Here House of Cards could film a scene of crafty legislators planning a kickback scheme.
Two unmarked left turns from the elevator take me, at last, to Mirador, Forty Five Ten’s top-floor restaurant. Mirador’s greatest asset is the fact that it knows we might be uncomfortable amid all this exclusivity. The staff takes time to extend down-to-earth hospitality and makes even schlubs in shorts feel privileged for the night. Provided, that is, that we brought our wallets.
In more of a mixed blessing, Mirador’s menu also sticks closely to foods that mere commoners can understand and enjoy. At lunch, it serves fare like burgers and chicken nuggets (sorry, “crispy chicken bites”), made fancy and priced to match. Skipping the $12 chicken nuggets during a lunch hour visit, I instead opt for a $22 oyster po' boy, or as the rest of us call it, an oyster rich boy. The result is unlike any po' boy the world has ever seen. Mirador takes a long, rectangular cut of slightly sweet bread — it appears to be Texas toast — and turns the slice on its side. Then, on the thin top edge, the chef carves a V-shaped trench and adds fried oysters, thinly sliced jalapeños, cilantro and a sort of lime mayo.
The result is, technically, less sandwich and more vertical toast. Two women at the table next to me stare and loudly ask, “Is that a quiche?”
The rest of my $75-for-two lunch was disappointing, too. For one thing, those women wouldn’t stop talking about how they thought Hillary Clinton, not Donald Trump, had consorted with Russian spies. For another, a cup of coconut shrimp chowder ($6) got the creamy texture right but tasted heavily of lime and coconut and could have used more shrimp stock to balance out those flavors. My cup had just four pieces of shrimp, all so tiny that the broth overcooked them. The deviled eggs ($14 for four) might more properly be stuffed eggs since they contain no spice stronger than chives, but they are otherwise perfectly fine.
Our waitress informed us that the humidity was too high to serve a pavlova for dessert while the Hillary haters next to us happily finished a pavlova.
“The pastry chef won’t serve anything that’s not perfect,” the waitress explained, and then the pastry chef served us a cookie plate ($8) topped with a macaron from which a large chunk was missing.
Dinner is better. Most items carry over from lunch, and despite touches of Forty Five Ten’s luxury — $70 caviar supplement, $4 soft-boiled egg — it’s possible to eat well without being the kind of person who wears $90 socks.
Try the very substantial Caesar salad ($16), for instance, with curly leaf lettuce, endive and a generous dusting of herbed breadcrumbs to provide unusually strong textures. There's a lively tuna crudo with gooseberries, elegantly presented in a little rimmed bowl ($18). The chicken paillard main course ($24) is another example of understated elegance, with the thin grilled chicken exceptionally tender. It’s sandwiched between creamy sunchoke puree, which complements and amplifies the delicate flavor of the meat, and a festive topping of roasted sunchokes, arugula and lots of shaved pecorino.
Although the proteins in the main courses don’t change often, the sides are seasonal. Right now, a fillet of salmon, excellently cooked, is being served with al dente to undercooked field peas and fried fennel strips that look like onion rings ($34). And, although I missed it by a few days, the roasted pork ($34) spent early summer celebrating morel mushroom season.
At least one of Mirador’s dinner splurges is worth taking: the king crab tater tots ($29). This isn’t as literal a dish as the crab tots at Town Hearth, which really are a big pile of tots under a big pile of crab. Instead, Mirador makes a fine dice of the crabmeat and mixes it with eggy gribiche to form a petite, undressed salad, then serves it alongside three comically oversized tots. It’s no bargain, but the fabulously crisp and salty tots make it silly in a good way.
Diners will still have to decide for themselves, of course, if spending $60 per person for food is justified when the food is prettily plated fare that bistros and hotels have served for decades.
Drinking at Mirador gets expensive fast, and Champagnes in particular are clearly selected for name recognition rather than quality. I wouldn’t splurge on any wine fancier than the Maxime Graillot 2013 syrah ($14 glass, $56 bottle), which, behind a funky bell-pepper nose, is a complex and delightful wine that would pair well with darn near anything.
Mirador is a vexing restaurant because it is fully confident in its identity when it should really be suffering an identity crisis. It's an elegant, upscale space in a forbiddingly fancy department store, occupying premium real estate with killer views and semiprivate dining possibilities, boasting two of Dallas’ most talented chefs in Nilton Borges and Josh Sutcliff, serving impossibly expensive wines to impossibly wealthy patrons, yet Mirador is content to serve chicken sandwiches, Caesar salads and a $14 order of ricotta toast.
That’s fine if the food is executed well. But Mirador is deliberately declining an opportunity to lead Dallas’ fine dining scene, and I hope the leadership team knows it. If it tried, the kitchen here could find a clientele for some of the city’s most sophisticated, innovative food. I’m reminded of a bistro that opened in New York City 20 years ago to supply reasonable grub to busy financiers, even offering sandwiches in delivery lunch boxes. Eventually, Eleven Madison Park’s owners realized their space was destined for greater things.
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Mirador doesn’t have to follow that trajectory, but an attempt might be fascinating. Until then, it’s nice to know that 1-percenters have a place to go when they want to eat chicken nuggets without mingling with the rest of us.
Mirador, 1608 Elm St. 214-945-8200, mirador-dallas.com. Lunch 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, dinner by reservation only, 6 to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.