Three Decades Later, Dallas' Underground Steakhouse Keeps the Menu Fresh

Order cautiously, as food here comes with a side of nap.EXPAND
Order cautiously, as food here comes with a side of nap.
Kevin Marple

Somewhere in the confusion of one-way streets and skyscrapers is one of Dallas’ oldest steakhouses, except for one minor detail — it actually isn’t visible at street level. If not for a sign and valet stand, it would be very easy to forget Dakota’s even exists. The Reunion Tower may offer a unique dining experience in the sky, but Dakota’s provides an equally unique experience underground. As described on their website, “The site was once occupied by the First Dallas Baptist Church, who put a legally binding clause in the deed that prohibits any future owner from selling alcohol on former church grounds. When they bought the property, Lincoln Property Company was determined to have a restaurant to anchor their international headquarters. They discovered that 'on the grounds' does not include 'below ground,' so they excavated the land and placed their restaurant 18 feet below street grade.” There’s a nugget of knowledge to impress your dinner company.

Built with a 1940s-era feel that exudes beef, the dark wood paneling, marbled trim and columns taken from an early 20th century beaux-arts Dallas home — along with New Orleans-style gas lamps — allow Dakota’s to stand out as one of the more elegant dining rooms in the city. As accommodating as the bar and main dining area are, the inherent sexiness of the restaurant comes from a subterranean courtyard complete with an outside bar, a heartwarming fire pit and multi-tier waterfall partially surrounded by lush vegetation. The open air design is quite intentional to impress business clientele or create memories for a romantic dinner date.

Where the magic happens — or what happens before the magic happens.EXPAND
Where the magic happens — or what happens before the magic happens.
Kevin Marple

Executive chef Joe Hoffmaster worked at Dakota’s early in his career before stints at Culpepper’s and Magnolia Hotel. He took the reins at Dakota's shortly after returning to the Dallas institution as a sous chef. Under his culinary leadership, in 2015 Dakota’s experienced their highest volume in sales in nearly 20 years. Although the menu stays true to your ideal steakhouse form, he hasn’t allowed the dishes to become stale and lost in doldrums like other decades-old steakhouses.

The menu here changes twice a year, always at the discretion of the chef. “Some of the seasonal changes we’re planning are the addition of black garlic risotto, and Chilean seabass with saffron poached potatoes, chorizo and roasted fennel, with a Texas heirloom tomato foam,” Hoffmaster said. “We will also be serving our A5 Japanese wagyu table-side, cooked on a 700-degree lava rock, just to name a few.”

Under the appetizers, you have the option of saltwater selections like crispy calamari with spicy peppers or oysters-of-the-day, but go straight for the baked tart. A table favorite, this giant portobello is served warm with Texas goat cheese, heirloom tomatoes and a balsamic reduction drizzle. The pan-seared Hudson Valley foie gras came as a flawlessly cooked slice of duck on toasted focaccia, with a semi-sweet grilled apricot brandy duck demi. You'll also be delighted  by a cracked pepper tenderloin crostini with caramelized onions, marinated bell peppers and Texas goat cheese.

These scallops are the filets of the sea.EXPAND
These scallops are the filets of the sea.
Kevin Marple

If you believe alcoholic beverages should mimic a menu’s gusto, the specialty cocktails here rise to the occasion. Most restaurants aren’t solely defined by their drinks, but when you’re visiting a Dallas steakhouse that opened in the early ‘80s, it’s clever to offer a rye-based cocktail aptly named Oil Money. A lightened version of a Manhattan, this drink is made of Luxardo, Lillet, Dolin Rouge and peach bitters to tie it together. The New Fashion Old Fashioned takes the bite away from its predecessor by having a not-so-secret formula of spiced orange wedges cooked down with sugar, cloves and cinnamon sticks. It’s quietly sweet but profoundly smooth in delivery. For a little flair with your meal, try the award-winning spicy, smoky 'rita with jalapeño-infused agave nectar, a mezcal floater and smoked salt rim that has an attractive flavor. One can never go wrong with a cosmo blanco, consisting of Western Son citrus vodka, lime and a splash of white cranberry juice.

When it comes to the meat, Dakota’s uses purveyors Allen Brothers from Chicago and beef that is aged a minimum of 28 days for maximum flavor. Depending on your appetite, they offer filets in eight and 12 ounces (recommended with a side of their buttery scallops), a ribeye and New York strip at 14 ounces and a massive porterhouse at 24 ounces, as well as a 16-ounce Berkshire pork chop, Ziegenbock-brined chicken and an incredibly tender duck foie gras sausage. The specialties under the Butcher’s Block entertain the heavier and higher quality cuts of beef, surf and turf and a signature cut lamb with cherry mostarda and chimichurri. If you’re not craving a heavy plate of meat, the sea portion offers swimmers like an Atlantic salmon and pan-seared Bronzini, or a Maine lobster tail and catch of the day at market price.

Damn, back at it again with the mac & cheese.EXPAND
Damn, back at it again with the mac & cheese.
Kevin Marple

As if the entrées alone aren’t enough to add padding to your belly, the accompaniments are served family-style and will most likely have you carrying a doggy bag home. Scalloped potatoes are smothered in Reggiano cheese sprinkled with applewood-smoked bacon and caramelized shallots. If you’re a fan of potatoes, they can French fry them, bake them or mash them, and there's also a sweet potato roasted with maple butter glaze. When it comes to meat and potatoes, they nailed it with no apologies and for all the right reasons. The crispiness of the batter and juicy texture of the tempura vegetables composed of fried artichokes, sage, and crimini and Portobello mushrooms is served under a fire-lit metal ramekin that maintains the warmth of the bleu cheese dressing. This dish is suitable as an appetizer, too. The white cheddar and black truffle mac and cheese will easily make you forget the Kraft version you grew up on, yet this rich and creamy dish still reignites the whimsical giddiness of your childhood upon first bite. For the sweet tooth, we recommend the light and fluffy signature coconut cream pie. You’ll be "forever smiling," which translates from the Sioux Indian language to mean, of course, Dakota.

Dakota's Restaurant, 600 N. Akard St., Suite 3300

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