Restaurant Reviews

Toussaint Brasserie Won't Be a Downtown Secret For Long

Toussaint is a new restaurant inside the Renaissance Saint Elm Hotel serving French dishes with Asian influences.
Toussaint is a new restaurant inside the Renaissance Saint Elm Hotel serving French dishes with Asian influences. Alison McLean
It wasn’t that long ago that downtown Dallas was a place for the 9-to-5 crowd to go to work and not much else. Downtown was viewed solely as a commercial district, and when the workers left their jobs in the skyscrapers at the end of the day, the few businesses around them closed up shop too. Over the years, the number of people who lived downtown dwindled to just a few hundred, and the suburbs boomed. In 1992, voters approved the creation of the Downtown Improvement District to help kickstart the redevelopment of the area.

Today, it’s impossible to miss the payoff. Sure, there’s still no supermarket downtown, and there are still shops that close ridiculously early. But the Downtown Improvement District has funneled more than $48 million back into the neighborhood to supplement public safety, city services and capital improvements, which has encouraged more investments. Old buildings are refurbished, new buildings have been built, and parks and green spaces seem everywhere. In turn, there are now more places to live and eat in downtown than ever, as more than 14,000 people call the area home.
click to enlarge A simple sign marks the spot, reminiscent of the streets of Paris. - ALISON MCLEAN
A simple sign marks the spot, reminiscent of the streets of Paris.
Alison McLean
Toussaint Brasserie is one of the latest restaurant ventures hoping to capitalize on the rebirth. Toussaint occupies the ground floor of the Renaissance Saint Elm Hotel, itself fresh off a multi-million dollar renovation. Toussaint aims to bring a classy but casual dining experience to the old Theater District with a blend of French and Asian influences, and based on our visits, they are certainly capable of hitting their marks.

Facing Elm Street, the ornate brass window frames pop against the polished black marble of Toussaint’s exterior, with just a small sign announcing the restaurant’s presence at the corner of Elm and St. Paul. There’s an entrance directly into the restaurant on Elm, but for the full experience, take a few more steps down the sidewalk and enter through the Renaissance’s main entrance. Inside, art deco touches abound, from the chandeliers and furniture to the black and brass open shelving that separates the lobby from the restaurant proper.
click to enlarge Toussaint is both swank and comfortable. Large windows, light and soft hues surround brass, marble and dark wood with impeccable accouterments. - ALISON MCLEAN
Toussaint is both swank and comfortable. Large windows, light and soft hues surround brass, marble and dark wood with impeccable accouterments.
Alison McLean
Toussaint gives off a lovely and calming aura across the dining room. Muted gray tones on the walls conspire with the tall windows and high ceilings to make the space feel bright and airy, and more dark wood and brass keeps the mid-century feel alive. A marble-topped bar occupies a large portion of the dining room, and arriving a touch early for our reservation on a Friday night, we grabbed two open seats for a cocktail before dinner.

The restaurant is named after the New Orleans rhythm and blues musician Allen Toussaint, so you’d rightly suspect that Toussaint’s drink menu would show off plenty of Crescent City influences. Cocktails include a Vieux Carré, Boulevardier, Sazerac and Toussiant’s New Orleans-style take on a Negroni ($14) made with three different gins and Peychaud in place of Campari. There’s a lengthy selection of wines by the glass or bottle, with a variety that leans French, keeping with the brasserie theme.
click to enlarge The bar running along the back of Toussaint might be one of the best new spots to imbibe in downtown Dallas. - ALISON MCLEAN
The bar running along the back of Toussaint might be one of the best new spots to imbibe in downtown Dallas.
Alison McLean
The full food menu is available to order at the bar, and we availed ourselves of the gougeres ($5), light spheres of baked bread and cheese that we dipped into the raspberry mustard sauce. For a heartier appetizer, we found the poisson cru ($17) to be an excellent choice. Chunks of fresh ahi tuna and sliced Roma tomatoes filled our plate, bathed in a lime and coconut milk marinade with chili flakes and piquillo peppers that give the dish a delightful zing.

On its dinner menu, Toussaint offers a rotating plats du jour such as a truffled chicken pot pie or Asian pork belly ramen. Curiously, daily specials like the cassoulet or boeuf bourguignon have similar equivalents on the everyday entrée section of the menu. The Monday special cassoulet features chicken instead of the daily vegetarian version, but there appears to be no difference in the braised beef dishes, other than ordering it on a Tuesday drops the price from $26 to $24. Either way, the generous portion of tender beef is plated on a bed of pureed potatoes with noticeable bits of smoky bacon lardons adding layers of flavor to the dish, a decadent example of French comfort food.
click to enlarge Toussaint's take on lobster "thermidor" is made with curry combining French technique and Asian flavors. - ALISON MCLEAN
Toussaint's take on lobster "thermidor" is made with curry combining French technique and Asian flavors.
Alison McLean
While many of Toussaint’s dishes lean toward either French or Asian influences, some attempt to touch on both cuisines simultaneously. The lobster red curry “thermidor” ($42) is one such example, with thermidor in quotation marks on the menu. Traditional lobster thermidor involves cooking the lobster meat before stuffing it back into the tail. There’s no tail to be seen on Toussaint’s version; rather, chunks of lobster tail were cooked in a red curry and served with snap peas on a bed of calrose rice. The flavor of the mild curry was on point, but  the lobster bordered on overcooked and chewy.

On another visit for brunch, we thought we’d give the lobster one more chance, this time ordering it as a Benedict ($19). Alas, the lobster was still chewy. The Benedict’s high flavor points included a delicate hollandaise sauce and perfectly poached egg with a vibrant orange yolk from pasture-raised hens. Unfortunately, the brioche bread that cradled the dish wasn’t up to the task and quickly turned soggy.

We also added a poached egg to our croque monsieur ($14), which should be considered standard. The open-faced sandwich was served with a generous pile of shaved ham and a creamy mornay sauce, but once again the brioche bread was quickly overwhelmed into mush. We appreciate the efforts that go into making brioche, but a heartier bread is in order. Toussaint recently launched an expanded brunch menu after our visits, so perhaps your experiences will be better for it.
click to enlarge Bánh mì at Toussaint - ALISON MCLEAN
Bánh mì at Toussaint
Alison McLean
A lunch visit renewed our faith in Toussaint’s bread-making abilities. We tried the namesake Toussaint burger ($18) that features a wagyu burger patty, butter lettuce and onions on a more sturdy brioche bun, which was up to the task of containing the juicy burger. We also ordered Toussaint’s take on a bánh mì ($16), which showcased tender pork belly tucked into a flaky baguette, dressed with chili aioli and a radish and carrot namasu. Morsels of savory pork paired perfectly with crunchy slaw and tangy aioli and made for a perfect sandwich.

The fries that came with both our lunch dishes should be studied by chefs and schoolchildren alike as textbook examples of the fare. The golden browned exteriors encased a fluffy, starchy center, and nearly impossible to put down. Toussaint’s menu also sports brassiere classics like steak frites and moules et frites, which may be worth ordering just for the potatoes alone.

Service during our multiple visits was consistently sharp, which should be expected as Toussaint's dining room was never more than half occupied on any of our three visits. That strikes us as a bit of an oddity. Aside from some overcooked lobster, Toussaint's food is well-executed, a smart blend of French and Asian cuisines. The dining experience definitely trends upscale without feeling stuffy and overly fancy. Valet parking is validated by the restaurant, so getting in and out is a breeze.

It's possible that Dallas' growing number of downtown residents are simply enjoying a bounty of restaurant choices, and Toussaint, which opened in February, hasn't yet garnered the popularity of some of the more established neighborhood spots. Eventually, we imagine hotel guests and visitors alike will discover this swanky yet casual downtown spot, but for now, Toussaint remains a lovely secret. Tell a friend.

Toussaint Downtown Brasserie, 1907 Elm St. Open 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday – Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Bar open until 11 p.m. daily.
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Chris Wolfgang has been a contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2015. Originally from Florida, Chris moved to Dallas in 1997 and has carried on a secret affair with the Oxford comma for over 20 years.
Contact: Chris Wolfgang