Fearing’s portends dressing down of Dallas dining scene

National Restaurant News

By RON RUGGLESS

DALLAS (Dec. 10) —Dean Fearing, the pioneering Southwestern-cuisine chef who personified fine dining at the opulent Mansion on Turtle Creek here for more than two decades, has brought a more casual flair to Dallas since opening Fearing’s Restaurant at the new Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

Dallas chef Dean Fearing sought a more casual setting for his signature Southwestern cuisine at his new epymous restaurant.

And at the Mansion on Turtle Creek, the luxury hotel’s dining room reopened without Fearing last month but with a more casual atmosphere after a major overhaul.

The moves toward casualization already appear to be paying off for Fearing in his new entrepreneurial venture.

After taking an 18-month sabbatical upon leaving the Mansion, Fearing launched his restaurant in August to critical acclaim and avid crowds.

“If I would have known it was going to do this well, I would have made it bigger,” he said.

Fearing’s Restaurant seats 160 inside in three separate dining rooms and accommodates 40 more guests outdoors in the Ritz-Carlton’s Ocaso dining garden.

Fearing’s biggest reward is “after this many years of being in the business, having your own namesake restaurant,” he said. “That’s everybody’s dream. My dream went a little further. The buck stopped with me on every phase of this restaurant’s design.”

Fearing licenses the space from the Ritz-Carlton.

“People want the look and feel of the different dining rooms,” Fearing said. “If they want upscale dining, they can go into the gallery. Or they can dress down and have fun in Dean’s Kitchen.

He said his menu is broad enough that guests could come two or three times a week and have a different dining experience. In the style of such Fearing signatures at the Mansion as lobster tacos and tortilla soup, the chef’s new restaurant is featuring his barbecued shrimp taco with mango-pickled-onion salad, and “surf and turf” of barbecue-spiced beef filet and chicken-fried lobster over corn-queso fresco potatoes.

The new restaurant’s Rattlesnake Bar also has become a popular hot spot in Dallas.

Bill Addison, restaurant critic for the Dallas Morning News, said “after years in the Mansion’s starched surroundings, Mr. Fearing very publicly declared that Fearing’s would have no dress code and that the same menu would be offered throughout the restaurant.”

Fearing said Dallas’ diners are much more educated now and love bold flavors. He noted that he had “helped raise the flag on that over the past 25 years.”

“It’s food that’s different,” he said. “There is a ‘wow’ to the taste buds. I would say 90 percent of the people who come in here are looking for something they can’t do at home, and that’s mostly a flavor profile.”

The construction and the timing were challenging, he said.

“Since your name is on the door, you want everything to be right from the beginning,” he said. “We started with a green kitchen crew and a green front-of-the-house crew.”

The restaurant employs 120 people, with 40 in the kitchen and 80 on the floor.

“The Ritz-Carlton’s recruiting has been unbelievable,” he said.

Just a few blocks away in the area north of downtown Dallas, the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek restaurant reopened in early November after several months of renovation, providing a more contemporary atmosphere and a more casual setting.

Rosewood Hotels & Resorts of Dallas, which owns and operates the signature 143-room property, is in the midst of a $20 million renovation of the hotel.

“The restaurant and bar are steeped in Dallas history and have served countless royalty, rock stars, presidents, professional athletes, visitors from across the globe and Dallas residents alike,” said Duncan Graham, managing director for Rosewood Mansion.

“Originally built in 1925 by cotton mogul Sheppard King, the Mansion was transformed into a world-class restaurant by Caroline Rose Hunt in 1980 and has garnered numerous awards and accolades through its 27-year history,” Graham said. “Today, that same pioneering spirit leads us into the next era, and it is evident in the new design, service and cuisine.”

The opening of a formal, 20-seat Chef ‘s Room, overseen by Mansion chef John Tesar, also is scheduled to occur before the end of the year. It will be in the mansion’s former library, which has been restored with a plaster ceiling, stained-glass windows and a wooden mantel. Tesar intends to offer a three-course prix-fixe menu and tasting menu options that include a vegetarian offering.

The restaurant’s new look is highlighted by sleek furnishings, contemporary fixtures and works by Texas artists. At the restaurant’s entrance, two signature grape leaf columns, original to the King home, have been enhanced with a white antique finish and gold-leaf accents.