If you haven't made it to Deep Ellum in the last year, you may not realize that it's currently undergoing a massive facelift. Segments of the streets and sidewalks are missing, all in the name of renovating the old neighborhood with a uniquely grungy reputation. Now, it looks as if that process could ultimately end up in a Deep Ellum with an entirely different character.
Yesterday, CultureMap reported that longtime Dallas restaurant scene figure Jean-Michel Sakhoui will open a French bistro and wine bar called Cépage in the space formerly occupied by the short-lived EZ Dude BBQ. Sakhoui told CultureMap that the menu would focus both on classic French dishes, including French onion soup and croque madames, and a well-cultivated list of wines.
All of this sounds like a good enough idea, especially when you consider Sakhoui's track record. He's owned restaurants in both Dallas and Fort Worth to mixed success, and the state of French food in Dallas is less-than-stellar. Most of Dallas' French restaurants too cost prohibitive for a random Wednesday steak-frites craving. No word on Cépage's pricing just yet, but the bistro format should suggest a more budget-friendly dining experience than Bijoux or The French Room.
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Still, you have to wonder whether or not a wine bar is too fancy for diners in Deep Ellum. The neighborhood has not yet established itself as a destination for fine dining, lagging behind up-and-coming spots like Henderson Avenue and Bishop Arts that are quickly becoming crowded with highly praised restaurants. There is plenty of evidence that Deep Ellum is on the upswing, but it isn't fancy restaurants driving that change.
Sure, there's a Pecan Lodge in Deep Ellum, a place where Dallasites are entirely willing to throw down top-dollar for top-quality 'cue, but does that mean they'll be investing in $100 bottles of wine before heading out to a show at Trees or Club Dada? Probably not. The casual appeal of restaurants like Pecan Lodge, Monkey King Noodle Co. and Il Cane Rosso are just more suited to the crowd that frequents Deep Ellum. Local keeps surviving, but it might be the city's best kept secret.
Even good restaurants that were slightly upscale have had trouble in Deep Ellum. Lemongrass, widely regarded as one of the better upscale Asian restaurants in Dallas, shuttered last month to make way for a (you guessed it!) bar and grill called On Premise. With a few key exceptions, many of Dallas' buzziest restaurants of the past several months, like Blind Butcher, So & So's, and Henry's Majestic, have all been centered around providing great, chef-driven food in a casual atmosphere.
Maybe Jean-Michel Sakhoui is on to something. Deep Ellum has never had a wine bar before, and the concept may be a breath of fresh air for locals and show-goers who would much rather indulge in a nice bottle of wine rather than drink Yellow Tail out of plastic cups at the Angry Dog. Or maybe Sakhoui is finally going to be able to bring Dallas an affordable French restaurant that doesn't involve putting on a jacket and tie. Time will tell.