I sat at the bar at DISH, trying to explain to my bartender what the last restaurant in DISH's new space was like. Customers and servers swarmed around us like angry insects. A martini sloshed, and amber liquid swirled in a mixing glass.
"It was called Soleo," I told her as I described the shuttered Mexican restaurant. The bar was much smaller back then and felt cut off from the main dining room. "They served an amazing pozole," I said. She'd never heard of it. Nobody I talked to at DISH had heard of Soleo, which is why it's no longer there. That delicious bowl of soup should have been enough to draw the hungry, but the restaurant was dead every time I visited.
What a difference a year — and a whole new restaurant — makes. Gone are Soleo's earth tones, replaced by a cool palate of grays. A sleek bar lit by massive filament bulbs runs the length of one dining room, extending seamlessly onto a patio that is climate controlled so carefully you can't tell you're sitting outside most nights. A second dining room boasts an open-air kitchen with more bar seating, turning frantic cooks into dinner theater. The new space shares little more with its predecessor than GPS coordinates.
8611 Hillcrest Ave., Suite 100, 214-363-3474, dish-dallas.com, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, $$$
Deviled eggs $8
Pork chop $26
Hanger steak $24
DISH's bottom-to-top renovation isn't all that's striking. Gone is Soleo's crypt-like atmosphere, replaced by a dining room filled with energy and people. Every stool was taken when I dropped in for my first visit, on what my bartender claimed was a slow night. I never witnessed the bar "three deep" with customers, as she claimed it often is, but the place was always jumping. Preston Hollow is head over heels for its newest restaurant.
But the place isn't exactly new. For the past five years, DISH has catered to Oak Lawn locals, in a neighborhood known much more for its dance clubs and party bars than its dining destinations. With late-night cooking, drunken happy hours and the occasional drag queen brunch, the original DISH draws a youthful party set while maintaining a high standard of dining. The second location brings much of the original's menu to a polar-opposite Preston Hollow neighborhood, where moneyed parents shuttle activity-laden children around in luxury SUVs. But while the customers are different, the food transitions seamlessly, and as far as business is concerned, the second DISH looks poised to outpace the first.
Too often, fried calamari arrives like oily rubber gaskets, coated in soggy breading and accompanied by chunky marinara and lemony aioli. The appetizer is so ubiquitous at Italian and other casual restaurants that I've come to expect very little from it. But DISH raises the bar, delivering a crunchy snack that's gently lapped with a buttery version of the spicy sauce you typically see on chicken wings, and roasted red bell peppers for sweetness. If you're bored with calamari, give this one a shot.
The deviled eggs are solid, too, topped with small crumbles of salty, crunchy bacon and a zingy pickled onion.
The flatbreads were popular, popping up on every other table, but I wish they'd been left in the oven a little longer to pick up some charred and blackened flavors. Lamb meatballs started as a good idea, but a clunky hit of curry powder overwhelmed the meat and drowned other flavors. Sweetened curry powder in a curried Russian cocktail at the bar was just as jarring. Stick to the martinis and beer.
For the most part, the menu is well designed, with flavors and dishes that complement each other, and when the kitchen executed them perfectly they were a hit. Roasted wild king salmon arrived with a glistening, rosy center, topped with crab and avocado and draped in a beurre blanc lightly kissed with jalapeño. Leaves from a dismantled Brussels sprout were strewn about, adding earthy flavors. A clean plate left my table.
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A pork chop was as beautiful — nestled in a bed of smooth mashed potatoes, with applesauce reinvented as a sautéed mixture of apples, onions and bacon — but the meat was overcooked and tough. I asked for medium and received something much closer to well done.
The fries that came with several plates were a miss, too. They were matchstick length or smaller — like golden potato confetti.
Errors seemed the exception, however, and most plates met my expectations of a restaurant that's packed to the hilt with smiling diners. It's much easier to remember my roast chicken, with crunchy skin that somehow concealed impossibly juicy flesh, or a charred hanger steak with a bright red center. The vision of a summer berry crisp topped with a single scoop of vanilla ice cream stays with me as well.
The stickiest thing about DISH isn't the dessert; it's the vibe that presides over every dining experience I had there. From the second I walked in the door and was greeted by a bevy of young, smiling hostesses, to the time I handed over my valet ticket and sent some sad sap off into the rain, DISH struck me with an energy I haven't encountered in a restaurant for a while. It's a "perfect fit" restaurant — the type of place that dropped the right dining room and menu into a neighborhood that was waiting for it. All that's missing is a little of that edgy appeal that made the first DISH so fun. How about a brunch emceed by a team of drag queens in 6-inch platforms and boy shorts? Preston Hollow moms would love it.