Five Sixty's Dinner With a View
Five Sixty is a cut above the rest, if solely in the literal sense. The restaurant spins like a slow-motion pulsar above the Dallas skyline, perched atop Reunion Tower. Now into its fourth year under the direction of Wolfgang Puck, the revolving dining room continues its long history of catering to people marking special occasions and a never-ending procession of hungry tourists.
Puck visits the restaurant about once a year, garnering feverish press coverage of his sporadic visits. Instead of table-side back pats from the man himself, a massive portrait of the celebrity chef greets diners as they enter the lobby. In it, Puck sips from a glass of white wine while pensively staring off into the distance, as if to note a whisper of minerality and bright acidity.
White wines pair nicely with spicy, heady foods, but the partnership works best when the vintages are bright and crisp. So when I pointed to a Riesling, a Grüner Veltliner and a Gewürztraminer during one visit and asked if any of them was dry, my waiter's negative response was disappointing. Not just because the Laurenz Grüner Veltliner was actually exactly what I was looking for (as I learned on a subsequent visit) but also because the waiter made light of the question. Yes, those three varietals often lean sweet, but when they don't, they make some of the finest possible food pairings. Besides, a waiter should never chuckle at a customer — especially with prices like this.
While a dining room manager holds a basic certification, Five Sixty has no official sommelier, and the wine and food knowledge of the staff is dispassionate. One night I ordered the crabcake for my date, and then looked at the menu to recall another item. When I lifted my head the server had disappeared, perhaps caught off balance by the endlessly rotating restaurant. Another joked that he made a dish himself as he brought it to the table. That the waitstaff lacks a certain polish stings a little more when you're asked to pay $19 for a very small crabcake. With a heavy binder and stringy meat, the puck didn't live up to its pedigree.
Lobster shrimp rolls, on the other hand, exploded with flavor. They even looked like firecrackers, filled with rich and buttery seafood and bound in golden paper tied with a tiny crimp of seaweed. Choose these over dumplings that sometimes satisfy and sometimes underwhelm, but consistently shock with their price tag.
I wish the servers could be better Sherpas. Some thoughtful guidance might help diners better appreciate their meals here. A wok-fried striped bass with a spicy ginger dipping sauce is a siren, but at nearly two pounds the dish puts a two-top in a bind. A suggestion to add the crispy quail produced way too much food. Some sides like field mushrooms or the Brussels sprouts would have filled the bill nicely.
The striped bass presents well, standing on its belly with its mouth agape like a roast suckling pig sans apple, but what was brought to my table was far overcooked. Anyone who loves whole fish knows the treasures to be found in the small lumps of flesh behind the eyes like cheeks and behind the head at the top of the spine. The head of this fish was completely desiccated without a single juicy morsel to be found. Thicker portions of the fish were fine, but the tail snapped like driftwood.
During another visit on a humid Saturday night, I shared an elevator ride with a young couple celebrating a 19th birthday. The gent in a boxy suit and the lady in a white form-fitting dress rode up to the tower, their anticipation swelling with their altitude. Five Sixty is a special-occasion restaurant — a high-ticket diner with an ever-changing view.
So why are the scallops sitting in an assam curry unevenly cooked? Their disparate size doesn't help, but that's no excuse. And a heavy sauce, while delicious, was thick and overwhelming for the delicate seafood.
The twice-cooked pork was off on this visit, too. The fat in the pork belly was nicely rendered, but the meat had lost its succulence. The sauce dressing the supporting noodles was thick, intense and too heavy. Details like balance and subtlety are important in a fine dining restaurant. Without them you might think you're dining at a high-altitude P.F. Chang's.
Special occasions require that meals end with something sweet, and if the number of stainless steel saucepans on the tables is any indicator, the bittersweet chocolate soufflé is the go-to order. The dessert brings value to the table with its ample size, and it comes with a show. Your waiter first cracks the top of the soufflé open with the flick of a spoon, and then pours viscous chocolate sauce into the steaming chasm. A scoop of gianduja gelato is added, and then, of course, whipped cream. The ingredients slowly melt like a sinking ship into a dark chocolate sea.
At least there's the view. The restaurant completes its rotation in just under an hour, and half your dinner is spent overlooking the majestic Dallas skyline, while the other is spent looking into the abyss of southern Dallas.
There are exceptional cocktails too, made with fresh fruits, infused syrups and the passion one would expect in a $16 drink. Pepino's Revenge pairs tequila and lime with the coolness of cucumber, while aromatic basil adds freshness to this worthy summer sipper. And the Samurai Sword, which makes use of a smoky Japanese malt whiskey, offers citrus and a subtle sweetness derived from the cautious use of honey. The drinks are reason enough to come here. Paired with a snack and the unparalleled view, they mark the best use of Five Sixty.
Stay for dinner though, and you'll risk disappointment. And after a dizzying elevator ride back down to street level where reality awaits, the truth will become all too obvious: There are far better restaurants worthy of your special occasion.
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