Like a summer blockbuster that’ been anticipated for months, überchef Dean Fearing’s domain at the new Ritz-Carlton in Dallas finally opened for business in mid-August¬–and how. The seven dining rooms (yes, seven, each with its own ambience) filled up immediately, and the hotel’s Rattlesnake Bar was colonized by the chic-oisie, all of whom were so busy craning their necks that they could barely answer each other’s on their iPhones. At the center of it all was the ever-genial Mr. Fearing, the city’s own Top Chef, receiving hugs, backslaps, and high fives. Talk about the Dean Machine.
His new digs are intended to dazzle, and dazzle they do, with soaring eighteen-foot ceilings, panels of glowing onyx, and nubby silk upholstery on sleek settees that area so soft and cushy you feel like the queen (or queen) of Sheba.
But the question that has obsessed foodies ever since Fearing left the Mansion on Turtle Creek was not whether his new outpost would be posh. It was, What will Dean do? Would Fearing’s be the ultimate sequel to his 21-year Mansion run? Or, maybe, just maybe, would he strike out in a different direction? The answer to the latter: a resounding “No way!”
Yes, the dishes are novel and enticing, but the fundamentals remain intact: Southwestern and Mexican accents, upscale takes on Texan classic, and exotic excursions into pan-Asian cuisines. As always, the operative word is “bold,” with a go-for-it intensity that makes me think of Butch and Sundance jumping off that cliff. As evidence, I point to his new signature dish: a romper-stomper shrimp taco with barbecue sauce and a mango-and-pickled-red-onion salad.
Among the entrées, the premier example of the Fearing formula is perhaps the mesquite-grilled ribeye. “Mopped” with an assertive molasses-based basting sauce, it comes with a chunky mash of potatoes and cauliflower on the side. As you would expect, the meet is generous and perfectly cooked (as well it should be for an eye-popping $50), but I found myself wanting to dial the seasoning level down about 25 or 30 percent. The only neutral, soothing element on the plate was the blessedly plain tempura asparagus.
But if many dishes flirt with extreme cuisine, others are lovely and subtle. The Hitachi starter is one, a sushi –like arrangement of pristine seared fish accompanied by a purée of wasabi-accented avocado and crisp sticks of Asian pear. Brilliant. A summery variation on vichyssoise is another, with a milky broth of fresh corn embracing tender nuggets of lobster and rounds of smoked tomato. Pure pleasure. Personally, I would take these delicate creations any day over a good-time Charlie like chicken-fried Main lobster.
But that’s easy for me to say, because I don’t have to get all kinds of people into the tent, and if there is one thing that Fearing knows, it’s his audience. He hasn’t spent more than twenty years polishing the most distinctive culinary profile in Texas for nothing. Did you like the Dean Identity and the Dean Supremacy? Well, my friends, your going to love the Dean Ultimatum.