Restaurant Reviews

Blow Out

In the thick of country pitch-black, it's hard to perceive the grandeur of Four Winds Steakhouse scenery. The night constricts everything to the narrow cone of headlights. The long, twisty pavement ribbon off of FM 47, wood fencing on its flanks, unravels just a few feet at a time. A gazebo pops into view just before the amber light flushing from the huge ranch windows and its long stretch of porch drowns the headlight beams. A few oaks, some pushing the century mark, sulk in the spillage from the street lights over the near-empty parking lot. The 15-acre pond is invisible in the darkness.

Founding chef Frank Rumoré says he and his crew staged fishing contests in that pond while working to transform a former ranch house into a steak house. Who could catch and release the most bass in 15 minutes?

Rumoré doesn't fish much anymore. Doesn't have time. He has to make cheese and cleave beef and sear scallops, or at the very least, see that it gets done.

Rumoré had already amassed a sizable steak-and-chops résumé before he began casting fishing line into the pond. He spent 15 years as executive chef of Del Frisco's Steak House in Dallas. Before that he had assorted kitchen posts, including executive chef of the Stone Trail Restaurant. It was there Rumoré invented grilled goat cheese.

It's far more robust than it sounds. Fresh cheese is wrapped in tightly tucked folds of drab, fatigue-green grape leaves soaked in brine. The grilling incinerates the leaf edges, soiling the racy cheese with smoke flicks. Tucked between fanned arrays of toast points are billets of thick roasted bell pepper pesto. If you twist it into the goat cheese, you get a rich racy spread with a little sweetness to leaven the bite.

There are other old things too. The menu has beef tips and noodles with sautéed bell peppers in a red wine sauce. It's simple and rich with thick, supple noodles simmered into tender firmness.

Rumoré says he has to calibrate his week to thrive. Dinner specials and beef tenderloin and pulled pork sandwiches keep locals from Four Winds' Wills Point orbit in dining room seats during the week while he drives the menu upscale on the weekends to reel in destination diners from Tyler and Dallas. This is also why Four Winds is one of the rare steak houses within Dallas' range that doesn't stake a prime claim. Prime beef prices might scare off the locals, Rumoré admits, so he settles for hand-selected choice, aged 21 to 28 days, though after a cut and a bite you realize Rumoré hardly settles for anything.

"When the ticket comes in the kitchen, we cut the steak fresh off the loin," he says. Then he seasons it with a simple blend of salt and pepper, buttering it after it's pulled from the broiler.

Four Winds started out as a ranch house built by former Dallas Cowboys middle linebacker Lee Roy Jordan, who harassed quarterbacks between 1963 and 1976. Jordan now owns the Lee Roy Jordan Lumber Co. in Dallas. Larry and Darlene Freeman, who did well in the insurance business, purchased the ranch and expanded it to an 1,100-acre coastal hay ranch, pulling Rumoré in as a partner to transform the ranch house into an upscale steak house. Rumoré did much of the work himself, ripping out the kitchen to make way for the bar, converting a sunroom into a long, narrow, glassed-in dining strip and enclosing a patio and carport to make way for a professional kitchen. Rooms on the second floor have been transformed into private dining nooks.

The entire restaurant is paneled in rough-hewn cedar planks countered with lots of floor-to-ceiling glass on one end. Upholstered wood chairs ring white-clothed tables. House-made bread is dropped on the table hot, wafting off yeasty curls of steam.

Like most steak houses, the sides brim with brawn. Shrimp cocktail contains four sweet meaty hooks on a bed of greens dribbled over with cocktail sauce. Iceberg wedge is a generous hunk with tomatoes and real bacon grit embedded in thick blue-cheese dressing.

Crab cakes are as ubiquitous as loins on steak house menus. It's hard to find places where they don't make an appearance. And they're morphing. Once just bun forms hemorrhaging pasty filler wormed with stray crab fibers for flavor, now most crab cakes have just enough binder to facilitate making the cakes. They tumble apart when forked. Here the cakes are balls—two of them. Scallions are flurried over the top. Meat flakes from the balls in large, rich shingles offset by spicy Creole mustard sauce that's reduced until potency peaks, then hit with a shot of butter to rein it in.

Tomato mozzarella salad is composed of house-made cheese twisted into loops and spread on a plate with thick tomato and onion slices covered in basil and tarry balsamic drool. Rumoré says he makes his own mozzarella because it's so easy and the payoff is so big, both in flavor and texture. He cooks curds slowly in brine at about 160 degrees. "You pull it like taffy basically once it starts to come together," he says. Then he folds it back into itself before it gets another brine bath. He slices the results to order. It's delicious: soft, chewy and moist, without the rubbery or mushy textures that you sometimes get from stuff that isn't so fresh.

Four Winds service is mostly competent and attentive. Servers thumb through notes tucked behind checks to make sure menu details are accurately dispensed. "Yes, the opa is in a wasabi cream sauce," ours says. The night before, it was blackened, which means fresh fish is being stretched. It arrived crusted in sesame seeds, dry and spongy, helped by neither seed crusting nor spicy cream.

Yet the service system is often on the verge of stress fractures. On one visit, the wait was 2 hours for walk-ins. The problem wasn't space, it was servers. One had a death in the family. Another was thrown from her horse and was incapacitated. And the bench isn't deep—the hazards of staking upscale claims in downscale sticks.

Yet these stresses are but mild annoyances in the context of beef. The 26-ounce bone-in rib eye is a craggy cinder with a bone protruding from the anterior. The surface is smudged with brandy peppercorn sauce. Steak-house liturgy ensues: "Go ahead and cut into your steak. Is it to your liking?" The knife sacrament follows with the cleaving of rosy muscle and the bleeding of pink flow. It's rich and broad with the beefy exuberance you would hope to find in the priciest Dallas prime, but often don't. The thick brandy peppercorn sauce looks like it could easily cripple the natural beef flavors, but instead it seamlessly infiltrates the juices, marrying and enhancing.

Onion rings are a neat pyramid of large brittle hoops, greaseless and crisp. They're simple: cut, dredged in buttermilk egg wash, double-breaded and fried in clean hot oil. We finish with a house-made sorbet: brisk balls of fruit essence stacked as neatly as those onion rings.

Four Winds literalizes the destination part of destination dining. It's far flung from the hype and hyperbole coursing through the Dallas steak house tribe, which is perhaps the best steak seasoning of all.

21191 FM 47, Wills Point, 903-873-2225. Open 5 p.m.-10 p.m.Tuesday-Saturday. $$$-$$$$

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Mark Stuertz
Contact: Mark Stuertz