Lunch at The Office takes on a whole new meaning.
Lunch at The Office takes on a whole new meaning.
Sara Kerens

The Office Grill: Perfect Escape from Cubicle Hell

It's the rare restaurant that announces its intention to satisfy every possible segment of its customer base with its sign. But for The Office Grill, open since March off a clamorous expanse of the Dallas North Tollway near Trinity Mills Road, its placard says it all: "The Office: Sports, Stocks, Grill."

The "office" ambiance starts with its tony appointments: lush green carpet, cushy leather banquettes, starched tablecloths, heavy flatware and the satiny finish of cherry wood abounding on partitions, doors and columns worthy of the Parthenon. All in all, the décor lends the restaurant the soft glow of a law office or a highly ethical hedge fund.

But—and this is where The Office makes a transparent move to distance itself from a decade's worth of former steakhouse tenants (Fleming's, Rick Stein's and Tre Amici)—the restaurant has replaced an old wine-storage space with a comfortable nook where any aspiring master of the universe can email, make hundreds of copies or send out reams of faxes. In this virtual office, Wi-Fi comes with your breadbasket.


The Office Grill

Lobster nachos with black bean hummus $16 Asparagus tempura with lemon aioli $8 Seared crab cakes $14 Board of Director�s Caesar $8 Seared lemon-thyme gnocchi $12 for half-order; $22 for full order Grill Colorado lamb loin $29 Crystal Creek grass-fed hanger steak-frites $15 Molten lava cake $8 Lavender cr�me br�l�e $6 Truffles $4

But there's more: A notary public is available from 9 a.m.-7 p.m. to seal that elusive oil-lease deal. Lockers, holding everything from a stapler to a laptop, can be rented, and two back rooms open up to form a conference area, catered to by The Office kitchen and primed for that PowerPoint presentation.

"Stocks" refers to The Office's attempt to have at least three of its 11 flat-screen televisions tuned to a business show broadcasting a stock-ticker crawl. The other flat-screens cover The Office's other main entertainment concerns of food programming (there's Rachael Ray on the Food Network) or, naturally, sports, which often means plenty of bloviating from ESPN's SportsCenter.

Obviously the "grill" in The Office's name refers to the primary mode of cooking adopted by its skilled kitchen. That's a tad misleading as executive chef John Kleifgen proves himself to be a versatile master of myriad cooking techniques, beyond branding some grill marks on some flank steak.

If The Office were a person, he would dress in natty pinstripes, call Wall Street home and "always be closing" a deal, any deal. The Office has serious aspirations of being North Dallas' answer to such macho downtown businessmen hangs as Morton's or Fort Worth's Del Frisco's. Its drink menu says as much, as it trumpets cigars starting at $12 and has dubbed $14-$15 drinks as "board of directors."

That business-like precision runs throughout almost all of the nearly dozen dishes sampled at The Office. Precise and often very tasty, The Office's food chooses to play it safe, eschewing the adventuresome for often flawless execution and a steady rate of taste return.

Among the starters, the lobster in the lobster nachos is as fresh and meaty as one can hope for, and it pairs well with an earthy-tasting hummus base along with a glistening tomato salsa spiked by rich guacamole. The asparagus tempera is a paragon of skilled frying, its light cloak allowing the asparagus batons to peek through as if pushing up the soil in a mid-spring bloom. So enjoyable a package is the asparagus with its breading that its accompanying lemon aioli can be relegated to the sidelines.

The same adroit frying touch can be found at a lunch-time portion of seared crab cakes, whose panko-light bread crumb exterior never overwhelms the delicate crab interior. The unctuousness of the crab is nicely offset by the slight acidic notes from a tomato puree and a thatch of anise-flavored pickled fennel and cucumber.

And if the Board of Director's Caesar is momentarily let down by a steroidal, vaguely stale crouton, it more than recovers with its crisp romaine lettuce, shaves of tart Wisconsin Parmesan and the meal's most welcome surprise: a mini-geodesic dome of breading, concealing a perfectly soft-boiled egg, a truly beloved emissary from breakfast. One fork slash and the egg spills its yolky treasure all over the Parmesan-flecked lettuce. Sheer heaven.

If one subscribes to the maxim (OK, Italian restaurant maxim) that any ambitious restaurant should be judged by the quality of its gnocchi, then The Office's seared lemon-thyme version certainly flatters the eatery. The dumplings are appropriately pillowy, and their taste is pushed and pulled by the mild acid of cherry tomatoes, the sweetness of curried corn and the crunch of green beans. Strands of Gorgonzola make for a tangy drape to the dish.

Meanwhile, the grilled Colorado lamb loin is cooked to a lovely roseate middle and is flavorful and almost fork-tender thanks to its constant coddling in an olive oil poaching bath. Each of the portion's six slices pack so much juiciness that the accompanying red pepper emulsion is nearly irrelevant. That's a real feat considering the lamb loin is much leaner than the more popular rack.

As part of The Office's aura is all-business, meat-and-potatoes, one should definitely not pass up its Crystal Creek grass-fed hanger steak-frites. The meat comes already sliced on the plate and boasts a nicely burnished crust surrounding a perfectly ruddy middle. Lapping up against the beef is a heavily reduced red wine demi-glace sauce that is syrupy in consistency and lends the meat new depths of flavor.

With the steak, The Office's kitchen takes what could have been an after-thought in the "frites" and turns them into a stunning hybrid, part matchstick (or "allumette") cut, familiar to any fan of a Parisian bistro, and part thicker steak fries of the classic American steakhouse. Dusted in a mix of chives, rosemary, parsley, sea salt and pecorino cheese, these fries are downright addicting.

While The Office rarely breaks any new ground with its desserts, its kitchen still excels at its reverential take on the classics. Shooting back to the '80s, The Office offers a molten chocolate cake sitting on its own private estuary of a puckery strawberry sauce. The coulis acts as a nice offset to the sinfully rich lava flow of sweet chocolate spilling from the cake's middle. And while the lavender crème brûlée could have used a bit more of the blowtorch to crisp its lid, its middle still provides custardy satisfaction.

It says everything about The Office's business-like approach to so many American classics that one of its standard desserts is something everyone associates with a fine hotel's turn-down bed service: the chocolate-covered strawberry. The Office also delivers a trifecta of truffles, three chocolate pellets strafed with milk and white chocolate lines and served with a bit more of that tart strawberry sauce, which knifes through the unctuous sweetness of the truffles' dense chocolate interiors.

That dessert, like much of the food served at The Office, is the culinary equivalent of a meeting with old friends, at a spot serving really familiar, if elegantly presented, American food from on and off the grill. It's the kind of food that will easily prompt one of your buddies to nudge you and ask quite seriously: "Are you gonna finish that?"


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