When it opened Tuesday, May 16, not much information was publicly available about José. The Mexican restaurant, on Lovers Lane just west of Inwood Road, had a Facebook page that featured pictures of its exterior and some cacti, with no other information. The official website was a single brightly colored page listing contact information, the opening date and a link to make reservations, but reservations weren’t available for the first couple of weeks. A months-old article on CultureMap offered blind guesses as to what might show up on the menu, but with such a curiously tight-lipped opening strategy, those who stumble upon José might have a lot of questions. What is this? Is it open?
And who is José?
For all the mystery, it sure looks like a certain crowd knew about this place from the start. The night before opening, a private cocktail party drew culinary luminaries like Kent Rathbun and Tacos Mariachi owner Jesús Carmona. José immediately became slammed with Park Cities socialites. I visited on the second night of service to find a dining room full of well-dressed women whose hair color ranged from blonde to blonder. I also spotted at least two well-known Dallas food scene leaders. The place was packed.
This isn't on the minimalist Facebook page or website, but the restaurant really opens Monday, May 29. Until then, tables are available only by reservations, which, in a catch-22, can't be made online until May 29. We recommend calling, following the Park Cities method of knowing somebody who knows somebody or showing up and looking pitiful, which was the approach my party took, foolishly thinking we could just walk in.
“OK,” the hostess said, “we can seat you as long as you’re gone before our 7:30 reservation shows up.” Sure.
José is still fine-tuning its service and its menu, which is why menus haven’t been posted online. Prices aren’t finished, either. (Pictures of the temporary menu are at the bottom of this story.) But, it turns out, the restaurant is already as confident as its clientele. The enormous bar is lavishly appointed with mezcals, tequilas and scotch.
The restaurant's namesake seems to be José Noé Suro, the designer, art collector and ceramics specialist who designed the restaurant's interior. A press release sent to the Observer after interview requests says Suro's firm manufactured "the hand-painted tiles, plates, light fixtures and furniture," as well as the enormous (and spectacular) tile mural that takes up the western wall. There are more elegant touches around every corner, including the charming bathrooms.
This wealth of Mexican decorative art imparts a relaxing, cool blue-gray beach cabana look that’s only slightly marred by orange chair cushions the color of a carpet my parents once bought to make cat puke stains harder to see. The waitstaff are polite, professional and clad in seriously awesome aprons. The water refill guy wears a Fossil watch.
Yes, this is Mexican food for the Park Cities social crowd. But even in the first week, the food is pretty awesome. Chef Natalio Charles and executive sous chef Elmer Pineda, formerly of Mi Piaci, lead the restaurant's culinary team.
My table was taken by the soft-shell crab tacos with gently fried crab piled irresponsibly high on blue-corn tortillas with black beans and slivers of charred onion. We also loved the chile relleno stuffed with shrimp, crabmeat and the occasional squid tentacle. All that seafood was perfectly cooked inside the roasted poblano pepper, and Oaxacan cheese made the whole dish all the more indulgent. A salad of julienned chayote, tomatoes and cilantro made for a refreshing side.
There’s a braised lamb shank, fork-tender and bathed in a richly savory, reddish-brown guajillo chile sauce. It’s supposed to come with house-made tortillas, but the staff forgot ours, no doubt an early service hiccup. But it did arrive with some nice veggies, including potatoes treated to the same guajillo sauce and some green cilantro rice.
I wasn’t so keen on my mezcal-jalapeño-lime cocktail, The Contraband, which tamed those wilder flavors with an awful lot of pineapple juice. But as my tablemate said, “No one will find this cocktail objectionable. The way I’d make it, some people would find objectionable.” Pacifico beer, on draft rather than bottled, comes with a wedge of lime.
Time will tell whether José lives up to its early promise and whether it will stick to its early menu. But this restaurant, something of a high-society secret at opening, might build a following no matter what. And the following may well be earned.
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José, 4931 W. Lovers Lane, jose.mx. 214-891-5673. Open 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; lunch service forthcoming.