More pixie dust, please
You see the red horse everywhere, and not only on gas pumps. It's on buildings. In parks. In shopping malls. And now it's become a restaurant: one each in Dallas and Fort Worth. Folks rattle on with painful seriousness about this bit of iconography, about how it symbolizes Dallas and its rise from impossible odds. Actually, the mythical Pegasus arose from the blood spurting out of Medusa's bad-hair-day head after Perseus chopped it off. Yet in spite of its dramatic mythological pedigree (or maybe because of it), Pegasus looks more like a hood ornament than it does a civic icon. The fact that it lights up in loud red and twirls only deepens its symbolism for Dallas.
The 50-foot-high, blazing red Pegasus has lit the Dallas skyline for more than 65 years, since it was bolted to the top of the Magnolia Oil Co. (which later became the Mobil Corp.) building in 1934. Mobil donated the winged horse to the city in 1976. By 1999, its neon lights had been dim for more than two years. It hadn't pirouetted in 25 years. But by the end of the year the horse had been restored and returned to its rotating perch on what is now the Magnolia Hotel. The Pegasus Room opened on December 24, just before the horse was relit on New Year's Eve. To celebrate the re-ignition, The Pegasus Room offered a seven-course dinner, alcohol included, coupled with a suite at the Magnolia for $999.
The Pegasus Room supplies the Magnolia's room-service meals, which is perhaps why this upscale menu incorporates late-night munchies such as fruit, cheese, and assorted biscuits ($8.50); quesadillas ($8.50); and tobacco onion fingerlings ($5.50). The last, fine onion shavings, are coated with chili powder-infested flour and fried to a charred ocher hue. The threads, void of any onion sweetness, are greasy and ravaged with too much salt. Better to have the lentil soup shipped up to your suite. It's rich with firm, tender lentils and flecks of bacon. But it also has an overdose of salt, which, coupled with the $8.50 price tag, made it a little hard to swallow.
The Pegasus Room is owned by Bob and Marcia Price, former bankers who plied their profession in Texas cities such as McKinney and Houston. Bob Price says he's always been in the thick of the restaurant business in some way. "Bankers always like to have their fingers in other things," he says. Seven years ago, he opened the Pub on Main, a wood-paneled bar and restaurant planted deep in the Dallas underground at One Main Place that was open only on weekdays.
After retiring from banking, Price wanted to plunge his fingers into the restaurant business in a more significant way. Thus, he opened the upscale Pegasus Room. His vision was a dining room of sophisticated simplicity serving fine cuisine in heaping portions. "To me, elegance is simple," he says. "When you get past the simple, then you borderline on gaudy." And no one would confuse Pegasus with gaudy. It's clean and stark, the only flirtations with ornate vulgarity being dual staircases in the marbled foyer and a black baby grand.
Vacant for years, the space at 1400 Main was at various times a bank, a savings and loan, and an art gallery. Price took it over and buried the Pub in the basement, adding live music and expanded hours. The Pegasus Room above is simple and basic with bleached wood chairs, a scattering of wine magnums, and brass sconces flickering with candle flames. Private dining rooms flank a portal that leads to a large vault in the back, a strongroom Price says he'll convert into a wine cellar after they broaden the mostly California wine list with more European and South American selections. The Pegasus Room shares a kitchen with The Pub, which perhaps explains the bar-food-like preponderance of salt. It also might explain a few of the menu's missteps. Deep-dish apple pie ($6.75) was vested in pie crust that was pasty and chalky, as if it had been nuked. Scoops of ice cream were stiff and flecked with ice crystals, indicating a thaw and refreeze. Greek salad ($7.50) was a vigorous exercise in mere adequacy. Prepared with spinach instead of lettuce, the mix with tomato and kalamatas was pocked with little puffs of partially liquefied goat cheese--at least that's what they tasted like--instead of crumbles of feta. And there was no detectible oregano flavor.
Chef Michael Campbell, it seems, is still struggling to get his footing. Campbell, who worked as a line cook at the Melrose Hotel, has already struck one of the more potent disasters on his menu: tandoori-seared tuna ($24). Spiced with tandoori paste, the hard waxy planks of rose-hued fish fogged the nostrils with a stench that left only one bite possible. And that was like chewing an aging, epoxied sardine
Romano-crusted chicken breast ($19.50) doesn't need to be ejected, but it sure needs to be tweaked. Pieces of chicken are coated with bread crumbs and seared before getting a coat of Romano cheese. The chicken is then allegedly "crusted up" in the oven. Only there wasn't any crust. The surface of the chicken parts was pasty and gelatinous, though the chicken flesh itself was moist and tender. A sauce spiked with wine, garlic, and shallots was light and creamy, though bland. Yet the orecchiette pasta under the weak pullet parts was perfect.
The three-pepper-stuffed pork loin approached the same perfection. Seasoned with kosher salt and pepper, the loin is seared and stuffed with red, green, and yellow bell peppers before it's finished off in the oven and bathed in a light demi-glace. The flesh is moist, tender, fearlessly pink in the center, and full of subtly rich flavors.
Campbell's best entry by far is the bone-in Dallas rib eye ($29). Seasoned with salt, pepper, and a little cayenne, the dark, lightly crusted meat is tender, juicy, and swamped with flavor--a luxurious piece of lowbrow decadence. But a side of cream cheese mashed potatoes folded with butter and bits of bacon was hard, dry, and over-salted.
While the food often wallowed at ground level, the service soared: prompt and attentive, even nurturing. Wine-by-the-glass selections are poured at the table, complete with a full label presentation. Our only wine-service setback came with a bottle of Kenwood sauvignon blanc, which wasn't chilled and had to be grounded in an ice bucket for several minutes before it could be poured.
Which shows that, unlike the mythic winged horse, The Pegasus Room hasn't quite gotten aloft. It's ripe with potential, and its footing is sure; it just needs to kick that Gorgon head of snakes out of the way and flap a little harder.
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