SOUTHWEST WITH A TWIST
Used to be, you could always tell a Ritz-Carlton dining room by its heavy brocade, dark mahogany furniture and signature cobalt blue glassware. Fearing’s, at the just built Ritz-Carlton, Dallas, dashes those design clichés forever. From the moment you enter the Rattlesnake Bar, which from day one was packed with young Dallasites in their casual boot-heeled best, you get a sense of swagger: the railing is faux rattlesnake skin; the backlighted walls are honey onyx. Beyond the bar, you pass a sunny patio and a glass-walled, conservatory-style dining area, then a more formal room with tufted sofas rather than banquettes. Finally, you reach the main room, which features a huge open kitchen with a polished granite counter where you can sit and watch the sizzle. Meanwhile, the soft Texas light pours through fifteen-foot windows, and desert shades of taupe and brown set off rough stone columns.
The Fearing in charge is Dean Fearing. When he started in the kitchen at Dallas’s Mansion on Turtle Creek, two decades ago, his dishes focused on a Southwestern identiy that married proletarian food, like tacos, with such expensive ingredients as lobster, and there was much smoking of meats and seafood. During his reign Fearing became one of the icons of New Texas cuisine. Since then, Americans’ taste for well-seasoned, boldly spiced, colorful dishes has followed examples set by chefs like Fearing, who has led the way – far away – from the staid hotel-dining-room fare of years past, in which rack of lamb with mint sauce and fondant potatoes ruled.
Fearing’s menu at the Ritz includes hallmark items, like his torilla soup, alsong with bright, brilliant new dishes, such as barbecued oysters with Gulf crabmeat, watermelon-and-jalapeño-glazed quail with a hush-puppy prawn and prime rib of beef cooked over mesquite embers and served with twice-baked cauliflower potatoes. Global flavors subtly influence such regional entrées as juicy pheasant beside curried-shrimp fried rice with white-asparagus tempura. The restaurant’s popularity proves that authentic American food – Texas style, with fresh snap and dazzle – is what real people want to eat. 2121 McKinney Ave.; 214-922-0200; ritzcarlton.com/en/properties/dallas/dining.
– JOHN MARIANI