On Jan. 2, Stephan Pyles made a headline-grabbing, double-barreled announcement: He was retiring from the restaurant business, and his current ventures, Flora Street Cafe and Fauna, were closed effective immediately.
Within mere hours, Fauna had found a new home and was back from the dead.
Chef Peter Barlow, who oversaw Fauna’s private, reservations-only $150 tasting menu experience in Flora Street’s private dining room, moved all of his personal equipment, including high-tech kitchen gadgets from his various endorsement deals, just across the street to Ellie’s in the Hall Arts Hotel.
In the brand-new private dining room at Ellie’s, Fauna 2.0 is serving its elaborate Saturday night tasting experience as if nothing had happened.
“I couldn’t imagine anything more perfect than what’s going to happen the next couple of weeks,” Barlow says of his restaurant-within-a-restaurant’s unexpected second act. “They’re just overwhelmingly supportive (at Ellie’s). As long as we don’t skip a beat, I think it’s actually going to be kind of fun.”
Ellie’s executive chef Eric Dreyer reached out to Barlow within hours of the announcement that Flora Street was closed, offering to take in the newly homeless dinner series. In its new digs, Fauna 2.0 will honor the reservations that customers made for January and February seatings. Ellie’s staff will handle drink service and collect the profits on wine and liquor sales, and Barlow will be joined by a new chef de cuisine, Josh Bonee.
The transition period was a whirlwind for Barlow. On New Year’s Eve, he cooked a 17-course meal for diners who’d paid extra to reach midnight at Fauna. The next night, Pyles told him to come to an important meeting. The day after that, he was loading his car.
The private dining room at Ellie’s isn’t exactly a downgrade. It has high ceilings, a huge projector screen, a sound system and its own air conditioning control, and guests arrive via hallways full of artwork from the Hall family collection.
When the current run of reservations ends in mid-February, Barlow and his team plan to take a month off to rest, travel and learn. Barlow is flying to Copenhagen, Denmark, to spend time working at the attention-getting new restaurant Alchemist.
“Alchemist is like 45-course insanity,” Barlow says. “Some of the food this guy is cooking is nuts. I couldn’t even believe that I got into this place. Stephan said I would be a freaking idiot if I didn’t go. This guy’s pretty brand new. This place is blowing up on a worldwide level.”
Come springtime, the Fauna concept will face its biggest challenge: finding a more permanent home. Barlow is hoping that he can score a brick-and-mortar location. Pyles plans to help out if he can, albeit behind the scenes, not in an ownership role. As for what an independent Fauna restaurant would look like, that depends on where it lands.
“If I got something in the Design District, I might move the menu to something that fits out there,” Barlow says. “If I got something in East Dallas, I might try to make it fit there. I don’t want to be selfish and be like, I’m me, this is it. I want to serve the neighborhood wherever we go. Offer an actual a la carte menu during the week. That’s the goal. Unless some angel investor gives me some private room in a high-rise in some hotel. All that stuff is up for discussion.”
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While Barlow manages Fauna 2.0 in its new space at Ellie’s and works in kitchens in Europe, he’ll be looking for investors from any part of town. He thinks the tasting-menu series is just hitting its stride, even after glowing reviews in publications like D Magazine.
“I think the business structure of the way Fauna is, on weekends, is meeting the needs of Dallas,” he says. “We’re finally figuring out what people need, how long it takes, the pace. We’re looking for a permanent home, but I’m already blessed that I have a brand-new kitchen and a brand-new dining room already within 10 hours.”
One of Pyles’ biggest legacies has been the young cooks who worked under his mentorship on their way to bigger things: Dude, Sweet Chocolate founder Katherine Clapner; new Dallas icon Matt McCallister; and international superstar Bobby Flay. If Fauna blossoms in its new home, we might have a new name to add to the list.
(Peter Barlow is the partner of the Observer's food editor, Taylor Adams. She played no role in assigning or editing this story.)