When Americano first opened in the Joule downtown, it was a boisterous affair. The debut coincided with a retail event at the hotel, creating a vortex for national celebrity. Cindy Crawford posed for photos while local socialites took selfies. Dirk Nowitzki towered above them all, and nobody could hear a thing anyone was saying. Busy restaurants are always loud, but a meal at Americano pushes the boundaries of sanity. The chatter rose to a cacophony so loud bartenders couldn’t hear orders from just across the bar.
Even the colors are loud. The dining room is finished in jarring shades of red and green, and while a new installation of sound-absorbing material will be completed soon, plywood walls, plenty of marble and other hard surfaces give sound waves many opportunities to bounce around. A green neon sign screams, “It’s all in your head,” but it’s not. This place can give you a headache when it’s busy, and it’s always busy. On Friday nights, the bar is full, with long waits separating diners from their tables. On Mondays, seats are easier to come by, but even when the dining room isn’t spilling over with customers the space is still overwhelmed by noise.
No matter. After a few drinks, you’ll be shouting along with the rest of them, and thankfully, the employees behind the bar do good things with beakers and shakers. The team is directed by Cuffs & Buttons, the Brooklyn-based cocktail consultancy responsible for the mixology throughout the hotel. They’re the same guys charging $15 for cocktails that include “aromatic essence” at the Midnight Rambler, the subterranean cocktail den tucked underneath the Joule’s lobby. At Americano they’ve given diners three versions of the restaurant’s namesake Campari cocktail. One replaces the traditional soda mixer with Lone Star lager. The beer lends the drink a malty sweetness.
There’s wine, too. A run of taps juts out of the white marble behind the bar, with red plastic tags revealing red and white table wines. You can order yours by the glass (it’s served in jelly jars) and by the bottle or half bottle. If you drink like the guys in Goodfellas, Americano is your kinda place, capiche?
But eating well here requires a bit more dexterity. There are delicate, beautiful pasta dishes on the menu, and there are others that taste like they should come with unlimited breadsticks. Missteps can leave you with the wrong impression.
The butternut squash filling the tortellini has a smooth and gentle texture that juxtaposes with pumpkin seed pesto to give the plate some earthy flavor. A half order is only $13 — a steal for a generous plate of pasta that was made by hand.
Spaghetti and meatballs, and pappardelle bolognese are comparatively one-dimensional and meaty plates, but they’re satisfying. It’s harder to get excited about the scampi, but if you like butter and rock shrimp, the plate delivers. A diner would have to be starving to get through a full order of any of the pasta dishes.
As Italian American as Americano claims to be, the restaurant refreshingly avoids other clichés that can dominate the red-check tablecloth genre. There are no fried mozzarella sticks or rubbery gaskets of calamari. If you’re looking for something salty to dip in a lemony aioli, you’ll have to order the deep-fried artichoke hearts, instead. The outer petals turn papery and crisp after a hot, oily bath. Order these, or the crispy deep-fried chickpeas that also bear a lemony zing, with a cold lager to wash the salty, fatty flavors down.
When you get lost in a meal here, it’s easy to forget that Americano is actually a hotel restaurant, and one that complements CBD Provisions next door very well. Two years ago, Charlie Palmer Steak was the hotel’s only option, with a tiny bar and a dining room that felt stiff and empty. Now, the Joule has a family of restaurants, its own bread program, a swank cocktail bar and one of the city’s best coffee shops. What a difference two years make.
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If you ordered a small plate of pasta for yourself and you’re dining with company, the entrées are perfectly portioned for splitting. The branzino is served whole, perfectly cooked with crispy skin and moist flesh that pairs excellently with the lively parsley salad that shares the plate. Order the cioppino with mussels, clams and swordfish; skip the chicken, which is weighed down by a gluey celery root purée.
Even if you’re splitting entrées, a meal here can leave you feeling like you’ll roll out the door, so think light for dessert and order the affogato. It’s rare to encounter a version as good as this one because most restaurants don’t pay very much attention to their coffee service. The espresso here is drawn from the same equipment used at Weekend and made from beans from Seattle’s Victrola Coffee Roasters. Notes of berries and cocoa give this simple dessert a complexity that seems impossible given it’s composed of nothing more than gelato and coffee.
A meal at Americano provides a pretty solid value. There’s a 32-ounce porterhouse steak that costs $75, but the rest of the entrées hover in the low 20s. Quail and a roast chicken dish cost $16 and $19 dollars respectively. Thin-crusted pizzas with a puffy cornicione and golden brown blisters stay under $14.
The food won’t blow you away with exciting or creative execution, but it’s comforting in a city that could use more Italian dining options. Because of the noisy dining room, it might not be the best space for a romantic date, but given how good the drinks are, it’s a solid choice for blowing off steam and eating well with friends. Considering the other restaurants that have kept downtown Dallas slathered in red sauce for decades now, Americano is your new go-to for Italian-American.