Stepping into Cook Hall, the gastropub located downtown at the W Hotel, one cannot help but be impressed. A multitude of incandescent light-bulbs hang from the vaulted ceiling, bathing an interior that looks as if it were plucked from the pages of a Restoration Hardware catalog in warm, soothing light. It oozes luxury.
Such a seductive backdrop instills hope in the diner that the beauty of Cook Hall is more than superficial. And yet, at 1 o'clock on a Sunday afternoon the restaurant was empty, save for a lawyer-type doing Sudoku and drinking tea at the bar. Stragglers slowly slinked in over the course of our meal; tellingly, they appeared from the hotel side of the restaurant. The street-facing entrance might as well have been shuttered, for the outside world did not seem to care that brunch was in session. Cook Hall wants to change that. Starting this weekend, Sundays will feature live jazz and drink specials. After eating here, however, I think it will take far more than some brass and $5 mimosa carafes to turn Cook Hall into a brunch destination.
The menu reads like the unspoken but very real mantra that's been agreed upon by the food service industry. Cook Hall has adopted this burgers-pancakes-Benedict affirmation with the feverish zeal of a recent convert. Any expectation that lack of creativity would translate to reasonable prices was dashed at the site of a $14 bowl of yogurt, granola and fruit. Meanwhile, the two-eggs plate clocks in at a whopping $18. Here again one is reminded that Cook Hall seems to be playing to an audience for whom "expensed" is the verb of the day.
Eggs in a nest ($16) — wherein sourdough toast acts as the carrier for fried eggs, thinly shaved ham and a poblano emulsion — sounded like one of the more enticing options. The actual dish proved less so. Two pieces of toast, glistening with grease and the tears of a thousand inspired chefs, arrived buried beneath a sweating heap of arugula. Prosciutto and smoked cheddar brought a salty, heavy intensity to the dish. Like a cleansing rainfall, the eggs washed the greasy toast and wilted greens and salty, salty toppings in purifying, creamy yolk; they were the only redeeming components of a dish that might — might — pass muster in a community college culinary course.
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An order of steak and eggs ($19) saw no improvement. To the kitchen's credit, the steak was cooked as requested, the grilled flat iron starting out rosy and blushing bright pink at its most interior. The rest of the plate was not so lucky. Crispy potatoes covered in Dr Pepper red-eye gravy equated to home fries blanketed by saccharine sludge, and were less of a side dish than a slap in the face to steaks everywhere.
While the addition of live jazz may help liven up the stifling atmosphere, Cook Hall remains a destination best left to jet-lagged business people who don't have the time or the inclination to leave the hotel. Yes, this restaurant may serve as a well decorated locale for a discreet Ashley Madison date, but Dallasites wanting to enjoy brunch on a sunny weekend afternoon will be better served by looking elsewhere.
Cook Hall, 2440 Victory Park Lane