The Cheap Bastard's Guide to Eating Like a Fancy Bastard
Tracie Louck / Art by Dan Zettwoch
Everyone knows that in a nice restaurant, special etiquette must be practiced. Carefully following the rules of decorum reserved for fine dining is what separates The Fancys from The Normals. The trouble is, it's hard to remember every single rule at once. Well, lose your shit not, friend. The Cheap Bastard has created this handy-dandy guide to eating with Fancys in Dallas just for you. See also: The Cheap Bastard's Ultimate Guide to Eating like a Total Cheap Bastard
In these pages you'll find answers to most every question you could have about dining at an expensive restaurant. How much sex is too much sex in the unisex bathrooms at Fearing's?* When is it acceptable to punch the valet at Charlie Palmer in the junk?** Yes or no: Jams and a suit jacket, Weekend at Bernie's-style, at The French Room?***
I visited six of Dallas' fancy restaurants in order to give you real-world examples of the proper do's and do-not-do's for your nice night on the town. If you learn the rules of decorum for these restaurants, you'll know how to refrain from acting a fool in any fancy Dallas food place.
*Have as much as you want, but it's unisex, so hover over the seat, ladies. Say no to herp. ** After you get your car and only when you have a clear path to the street for a getaway. *** No. Only well-dressed stiffs are welcome.
Dressing Appropriately Before you set about on your travels through high-brow Dallas, let's make sure you're dressed for the occasion.
When planning for a night out of fine dining in Dallas as a woman, it is imperative that you dress like a Superhero Hooker: at least three inches of cleave, at least three inches of thigh showing, stiletto heels that can double as boomerangs in the event that service at the restaurant is slow, and hair height that is directly proportional to your please-let-me-get-laid-tonight desperation level.
When planning for a night of fine dining in Dallas as a man, pack your credit card. Beyond that, take a shower, or ya know, don't. Whatev. Just make sure you wear a suit jacket over your Tommy Bahama shirt if you're going to The French Room.
The French Room wins the award for "Most Times Reminding Me Not To Wear Jeans." The Open Table reservation states that men are required to wear jackets and that jeans are not allowed. Then, the restaurant calls you to confirm your reservation, and when they call, they remind you: "Jackets and no jeans." Then, the day before the reservation, they call again to remind you to wear a jacket and to not wear jeans. Just in case you forgot.
The reason they call this many times to remind you that a jacket is required and that jeans are not allowed should be obvious: If an old fancy woman sees a pair of jeans or a man not wearing a jacket, she'll dissolve in a pile of smoke like the witches from that book The Witches. And a buncha dissolved old ladies is not a good look for the French Room dining room. Dying in close proximity to someone who's wearing jeans is a rich old woman's greatest fear.
Arrival at the Restaurant: ?The Valet In Dallas, it is customary to pay a valet at fancy restaurants for three services: 1) existing, even though you don't fucking need him to be there, 2) closing his valet service before you're done hanging out downtown and 3) allowing you to watch him walk to your car, put it in reverse, drive it three feet, put it in park and hold the door open for you.
A pay-for-it valet should not be confused with a complimentary valet. A complimentary valet is obviously the better option because it's free. But complimentary valet is not fancy. Paying for a valet even though it makes no fucking sense -- that's fancy.
Charlie Palmer executes the pay-for-it-for-no-reason valet flawlessly. They will take the keys of your Ford Escape without wincing. When you claim your vehicle, they will ask you for $8, and even though you can see your car right in front of you and you could walk three steps and drive away in it yourself, they will do that shit for you. If the valet then waits for a tip, it is your obligation to throw a middle finger to signal to him that you appreciate his bird-like beauty.
The valet at 560 charges $10 for valet, and includes a free "There's an ATM inside if you don't have cash on you." So, if you've used up all your cash earlier in the night at the gentlemen's club, you're paying $10 plus an ATM fee to have this sweaty man put your car in park.
If you're thinking that you should skip the valet to save yourself tens of tens of dollars at these restaurants, think again. Paying for valet even though it's really dumb is how Fancies roll. You are far too important to park your own car on a street. If there's one thing you need to learn before you go to a fancy restaurant, it's this: Only Normals choose to be practical. Next: a Typical Fancy Meal, Course by Course
A Typical Fancy Meal, ?Course By Course Course 1: Water At fancy restaurants, servers unfold your napkin for you and place it in your lap, as rich folk have notoriously horrible fine-motor skills. When a server unfolds a napkin and places it in your lap, it is polite to have a boner. Immediately following the weird napkin thing, you will be asked whether you would like a glass of still, sparkling or "Dallas' finest tap water." The test here is simple: Dallas water is for Normals. If you simply order Dallas water, you have outed yourself to your server as a Normal before menus have been opened. In this moment, the way to sound like a true Dallas Fancy is to say, "What's water? Please fetch me a wine list."
The typical Normal will think that simply ordering bottled water will disguise her normal-tude. This is because the typical Normal is an idiot. A true Fancy understands that, much like wine, the appropriate water pairing for your meal is determined by its 1) rarity, 2) how far it has to travel and 3) the obscurity of its label. Many Fancy poseurs will demand something like Skëdzlx, which is a mix of melted glacial and hot mineral spring water carted by Tom Cruise (on horseback) from Iceland to the States. But, if you're really celebrating, ask your server for "Oak Cliff's finest," which is an incredibly rare local vintage found only at the tap at Taquería El Si Hay. It has distinct notes of minimum wage and hipster, with the occasional bonus of tapeworm (every Fancy's favorite diet plan).
Pro tip: To make sure that your server knows he is your property for the next few hours, take a mouthful of Skëdzlx, then immediately blow an enormous spit-take across your table while shouting at your server, "Bitch, do NOT try to play like this water is chilled to 52 degrees! I know you did not just serve me some regular-temperatured-ass bullshit."
Course 2: Amuse Bouche "Amuse bouche" is French for "a baby-bird-mouth-sized bite of seared tuna or a half-teaspoon of cold soup in a shot glass." Undeniably, the best part of the amuse bouche is that it is given to you for free, as a "thank you" from the chef for being so rich and bringing your wallet to his restaurant. It showcases his talents, and it should make you feel important.
Amuse bouches looooove to show up on your table in shot glasses because rich people think it's fun to shoot food instead of booze. Ask Dean Fearing. I dare you to go to Fearing's and not get served some super tasty food that's been cheffed into a blender and poured into a shot glass. In fact, when the clock strikes 10 p.m. at Dean Fearing's, it is not unusual to see cougars doing Dean's famous tortilla soup body shots and downing mini-vanilla-maltshake bombs at the bar. Do not stare at this delicious, delicious scene. What if someone has amuse bouche stuck in her teeth? Your first instinct might be to ignore the food teeth, and that instinct would be wrong. Always remember: Fancy people are too fancy to ignore things. They point that shit out using code and starting with a pet name. So, you could say something like, "Darling, you have a mouth wedgie."
What if I don't like an amuse bouche? Can I send it back? Absolutely. If you don't like an amuse bouche, it is perfectly acceptable to send it back. At this point, if the chef understands the true etiquette of a fancy meal, he will come out to your table from the kitchen and will serve you the traditional punch in the tit. Probably the one on the left.
Course 3: Free Bread While expensive restaurants do charge more money per entree, they serve much more free food than you might expect. The traditional fancy restaurant follow-up to the free amuse bouche is the free basket of breadies. At Stephan Pyles, for example, a server approaches your table with an entire basket of miniature loaves of bread, saying, "You can have as many as you want. And don't forget the free mini blue cornbread you get -- that'll show up in a minute." It's a carb fetishist's dream. If you brought one of those cartoon X-ray machines into The Mansion, I guarantee you'll find every Prada bag in the joint filled to the brim with loaves of fresh-baked baguettes. You'll also see be-diamonded, unlicensed lady pistols and James Avery shivs in there, because, hey, you never know what the valet will try to get away with when he brings your car back. Course 4: Wine and Cocktails If you're going to order a cocktail at a fancy restaurant, order a classy cocktail, like a Jack Daniel's and Diet Coke. Never order "well" drinks. Always drop a brand name, like Lone Star or McCormick. If they don't have the brand you have requested--for instance, say they're out of Schlitz--make sure to sigh loudly and then ask them which 40-ounces are available at the bar tonight.
Old grapes are very delicious. Nobody knows this better than a Fancy. Rare wines, like Franzia, are a real treat. You can't get a box wine in every fancy restaurant, but it never hurts to ask. When you find one, treasure it. Next: What the shits is the Wine Dance?
What is the Wine Dance? When the server brings your wine to the table, it's time for the traditional Wine Dance. The Wine Dance is a variation on the Water Dance that you participated in earlier in the meal, only this one involves actual dance moves. Here are the steps, in order:
Step 1: When the sommelier (French for "human wine wiki") shows you the bottle of wine that you ordered, say "Fuck yeah, that's the ticket! Good job reading, yo!" (Watch episodes of Breaking Bad to master the proper inflection of the word "yo." Practice is imperative. If you get it wrong, you'll just sound ridiculous.)
Step 2: The sommelier will attempt to open the bottle of wine inconspicuously. Do not allow that. Constantly ask him if he "needs a little help there" or "you got it, pard?" Always offer your sommelier more conversation than he seems comfortable with. "Man, how many bottles of wine must you have to open a night? I bet it's a lot. Because people here look like lush assholes." "Is that a Swatch watch?" "Don't spill! Hahahaha. Ahhhh, wine jokes." Step 3: The sommelier will pour a small amount of the wine into your glass. This is your signal to: swirl the wine in the glass, stick your nose into the glass and take a whiff, stand up from your chair holding the glass and sing UB40's version of "Red, Red Wine" if you're drinking red wine. If you're drinking white wine, it's just the chorus of 69 Boyz's "Let Me Ride That Donkey" (making sure to incorporate the "ride the pony" dance moves from "Gangnam Style" during the "Donkaay, donkaaaay" part.) Then, you chest bump the sommelier, pretend to drop a microphone and take your seat.
Click to embiggen
Course 5: Foods You Pay For The foods-you-pay-for course immediately follows the amuse bouche and the breadies courses. This course includes everything from appetizers to coffee and dessert, and could take three hours. So, fasten your Louis Vuitton seat belt.
What if I can't afford to spend one million dollars on dinner?
Just because you find yourself budgetarily challenged, that doesn't mean you can't eat at a fancy restaurant. In fact, your broke-itude can make you sound even wealthier. People will probably assume that you're short on cash because you spent your last $3,000 on something ridiculously fancy. Maybe it was a cup holder for your Benz, or maybe you spent it trademarking "Dumbstep," which will be the universal name for what happens to dubstep when you hear a 40-year-old mom singing it.
When I visited these fancy restaurants in Dallas, I gave myself a budget of $50 per person to see how the waitstaff at each establishment would treat a customer who's opting out of ordering 40-course tasting menu in Fancy Town, but who still wants to hang out among the Rolls Royces at The Mansion for a while.
While you might fear that these fancy restaurants will treat you like poop if you order only an appetizer as your meal, you're making a classic Normal mistake: You're giving a shit about what other people think of you. That has to stop. Be confident in your order choice, and you will receive zero dickery from your servers at most restaurants. Remember: Your servers are used to dealing with arm-candy models and rich people's tiny, tiny children and dogs, who eat negative nothing. The fact that you're ordering food and not just booze is already a bonus. In summary: Stop caring so damn much about what the staff thinks. It's making you look like a Dumb.
If you have only $50 to spend, you'll probably be able to afford either an appetizer and a dessert and a glass of wine, or an entrée and a glass of tap water. Or three cocktails. Or one half a glass of amazing wine. Or five minutes alone in a bathroom with a bar cougar.
Click to embiggen
Course 6: Free Cookies or Candies and the Bill Fancy restaurants love to end your meal with a tiny plate of tiny free sweets. Knowing that rich people are easily distracted, restaurants usually place these free candies on top of the bill in hopes of diverting a Fancy's attention from the total cost of their food adventure. "Whoa! That entrée was 50 -- OH BUT LOOK CANDY YOU GUYS CANDY I LOVE CANDY IS THAT GINGER?!"
If you're on a budget at a fancy restaurant, don't feel like that should make you stick out as an intruder in your server's eyes. In fact, if you're stingy with your cash, you're likely to fit right in among the Dallas Fancy. The one thing rich people love the most is that they're rich, which means they really love hanging onto their money, too.
Just make sure you order with your eyes on the prices and take complete-to-inappropriate advantage of the free amuse bouche, the free bread and the free candies. If you can do all that, your wallet and your stomach could both still be full when you walk out the door. Oh no. My credit card got declined at The French Room in front of a bunch of old ladies with high hair. What should I do?
This happened to me, so I can tell you what works from first-hand experience: Back out of the dining room slowly. If The Olds sense that you didn't have enough money to pay for your foie gras and soufflé, they will eat you and you can't really blame them because you just made yourself into a foie-gras-and-souffle-stuffed something. You will be irresistible.
Click to embiggen
The Most Surprisingly Nice About A $50 Budget: The Mansion 2821 Turtle Creek Blvd., 214-559-2100 You might think that a place called "The Mansion" would be stuffy and snobby. On the contrary, the server people at The Mansion were incredibly nice. Your server will not even blink when you say you'd like to order the tortilla soup and the shrimp cocktail for dinner, "And that's it."
Instead of bringing soup out to your table in a bowl, which would be simple, your soup will arrive in two parts that we will lovingly call "the chunks" and "the liquid." So, when your soup bowl is set in front of you, for a moment, they will trick you. Your thought process will likely be something like, "Bitches got my order wrong. I didn't order chicken chunks with avocadoooh HOLY CRAP THEY'RE POURING SOUP ON THOSE FOOD CHUNKS Y'ALL." As it turns out, rich people not only love putting food into shot glasses, they also love serving soup from pitchers. And all this time, you thought the Medieval Times soup pitcher was classless. Hidden cost: If you're seated in a dark corner of The Mansion restaurant, when they use their pen lights to light your menu, you'll know that they've been trying to hide you from the rest of their guests.
The Most Food for Your $50: ?Stephan Pyles 1807 Ross Ave., 214-580-7000 Here, you can afford an entrée and a glass of wine. And the entrée comes piled on top of side items, too. Bonus. The Sous Vide Fried Chicken with Three Potato Salad, Wilted Mustard Greens & Dried Cherries is $28 and is plenty of food for a delicate flower like yourself. As a good friend once told me, "It's one of those meals that's so good, you want to keep it inside you for a while." Pro tip: Bring a lady flask strapped to your thigh and drinks are free. Blam. Now you can afford that kick-ass coffee and doughnuts dessert. Hidden cost: Ratio of Hawaiian shirts to Not Hawaiian shirts = high to quite high.
The Most Atmosphere for $50: 560 300 Reunion Blvd., 214-741-5560 Obviously, Wolfgang Puck's 560 is a tourist trap. But so is the State Fair of Texas. And if you're a true Dallas Fancy, this is your only real option for a carnival in town. It's a Tilt-A-Whirl at 560 feet in the air. It's worth a ride up the elevator just to chug a $16 beverage and get dizzy around a bunch of people getting engaged while your server explains to you what "modern Asian fusion" means. If you weren't so cultured, you'd create a drinking game while you're up there, chugging every time a camera flashes, and you'd be drunk in three flips of a cougar's weave.
In addition to the regular menu, 560 has a sushi menu that is much more modestly priced and offers sushi rolls ranging from $16 to $27 each. The $27 roll is the "Surf & Turf Roll" with lobster and Kobe beef. It's tasty, but not 27 whole dollars worth of tasty. If you want to blow all of your cash on a roll, instead opt for the $20 Fujipeno Roll, with cucumber, tempura shrimp, tuna, sweet and sour chili sauce and avocado. That roll + $16 Pepino's Revenge cocktail = happy.
Pro tip: What if I have to go to the restroom during my meal at 560, but my table's super far from the pisser?
The trick about this restaurant, in the top of Reunion Tower, is that it constantly revolves so that rich people only have to walk two feet to the bathroom and elevator if they time their liquid intake properly. If you find that you're full of pee when your table is on the opposite side of the restaurant from the bathroom, you have two options:
1) Attempt walking all the way around this Tilt-A-Whirl to the restroom. The risks with this option are high, especially if you're already drunk on their delicious $16 cocktails. (Pepito's Revenge does not fuck around.) Your table will not be where you left it. Just like the world, this restaurant doesn't stop revolving just because you have to make a pee payment to the toilet bank. Should you lose your table while voiding, simply birdcall at your dining partner until you see her in the dining room.
2) Ask your server or sommelier for one of 560's giant fishbowl cocktail glasses for use as a pee cup.
Hidden cost: While you are getting a fantastic view of Dallas, you are also never not spinning. People will tell you that you can't feel this restaurant spinning when it's spinning. People are liars.
The Most Alone Time For Your $50: Charlie Palmer 1530 Main St., 214-261-4600 If you're going to go out for a fancy dinner at Charlie Palmer, plan for it to take awhile, even if you only order the lobster macaroni and cheese side item and a glass of wine. Why does it take so much time to make a meal at Charlie Palmer? Because it's so fancy. I heard that the instant you order the lobster macaroni and cheese at Charlie Palmer, they send a sous chef to a secret garden on Main Street to forage for the most perfect, most ripe lobsters, macaronis and cheeses, which they pick right off the vine for your meal. The chef will masterfully dump that into a casserole dish and bake it. Then, your server will watch your meal sit on the line waiting to be run to a table for at least 10 additional minutes. That, my fancy friends, is service.
Hidden cost: The servers at Charlie Palmer can be so thoughtful that at times, they could come across as overly concerned with properly recording your order. For example, when I told my server that I would only be ordering the side item as my entire meal, he said, "Really?" When I confirmed, "Yes, really." He then asked, "Seriously?" Yes, seriously, you vagina wad. I mean, how nice of him to triple check my order.
The Most Cleave for your $50: ?Dean Fearing's 2121 McKinney Ave., 214-922-4848 High-Dollar Boob Hunters already appear to know that the bar at Fearing's is where the cougar herd hangs out. Groups of old men in smoking jackets sit in the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton drooling into their wine glasses at the Cleave Parade high-heeling it through the door. Thirty-year-old short white guys with sticky prom hair check their phones for messages that aren't there, trying to look important in front of cougar cubs. It's not working.
Ladies, seriously: If you 1) have a set of boobs handy and 2) like it when old men pay for your drinks, this is the place to use your powers of boob.
Hidden cost: If you're a lady, you'll need to purchase and bring with you approximately one gallon of creepy-dude mace.
The Best Old-People People Watching for your $50: The French Room 1321 Commerce St., 214-742-8200 Ross Perot Jr. is still working on his Museum of Nature and Science. In the meantime, if you'd like to see some dinosaur-old Dallas Fancies (most of whom are still breathing), make yourself a reservation at The French Room. This restaurant is old-school fancy dining at its best: real taper candles burning real fire that almost lit up the real rose on my table, antique ladies weighed down by definitely real diamonds and their boring-as-fuck spouses, the distinct aroma of moth balls + decay + denture breath. It's like watching the History Channel while enjoying a TV tray full of foie gras and souffle. Absolute fancy perfection.
Hidden cost: The French Room's prix fixe menu can really gouge you if you're not paying attention. Here's the solution: If you simply ask, "Can I order these items a la carte?" without hesitation they will say yes, both on the phone ahead of time and also in the restaurant. Which is how you know rich people have asked them this question before, so don't act weird about it.
Ten options for your fake fancy reservation name:
Milbo Moneybaggins Amuse Bouche Pho Kyermom Leslie Brenner Lewis Vuitton Shar Cuterie The Duke of Yep Humpy Earsex, Esq. Dean Fearing's Famous Tortilla Soup President Barack Obama
Alice's Fancy for Under $50 Orders:
Fearing's - Sampler appetizer (Griddled Jumbo Lump Crabcakes, Barbecued Duck Tamale and Two Bite Lobster Tacos with Avocado Relish): $24 - Jack Daniel's: $10 - Front hug from an old man stranger at the bar who thought you were definitely his hooker: $10 in Clorox disinfecting wipes The Mansion - Bowl tortilla soup: $13 - Shrimp cocktail: $18 - Glass of wine: $9 - Joy from eating the world's tiniest wrapped mint while sitting on a stranger's Rolls Royce: Mega
French Room - Escargot: $18 - Souffle: $20 - Level of waiter's shock when credit card was declined: 0 - Life points achieved for 1) asking for a menu that wasn't prix fixe, 2) having credit card declined and 3) making valet park a truck: +500
Charlie Palmer - House-made spinach cavatelli: $24 - Glass of wine: $10 - Valet: $8 - Rage at watching the valet move my car two feet, having him charge me $8 for that service and then having the balls to wait around for me to tip him: Big
560 - Pepino's Revenge cocktail: $16 - Fujipeno Roll: $20 - Valet: $8 - Therapy required after spinning and spinning ahahahndspinning: 1 metric ton
Stephan Pyles - Sous vide fried chicken (with potato salad and slaw): $28 - Coffee and doughnuts: $10 - Pure happy level when the free-bread guy brought a whole basket of bread to our table and said "Try anything you like," just like he was Bread Willy Wonka: 9 (of 10)
Five Answers to the Fancy Restaurant Waiter Question Q: "What are we celebrating tonight?" "Rich people stuff." "My ferret's death. Thanks for bringing it up." "Junior's first sexing." "Kent Rathbun, Best Chef in The Universe." (Only for use when you're not in one of Kent Rathbun's restaurants.) "Sambas. Remember when everybody used to wear Sambas, even though everybody didn't play indoor soccer? Sambas. I'm here fuckin' celebrating the shit out of those black shoes with the white stripes, man. Hell yeah, Sambas."
2821 Turtle Creek Blvd
Dallas, TX 75219
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Dallas dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.