By John Mariani
It’s a funny thing about choosing the Best New Restaurant of the Year: I can sense it the moment I walk through the door. When I entered the polished Rattlesnake Bar at Fearing’s, packed with some of the most beautiful women in Texas sipping house margaritas made with Cabo Wabo Blanco tequila, Damiana liqueur, and organic agave nectar, then passed the elegant small dining room set with wide sofas rather than banquettes, then arrived at the bright expanse of the more casual main dining room, with its shiny counter and broad tables surrounding a huge open kitchen, I suspected this was the place.
And when chef Dean Fearing bounded out of the kitchen wearing his new custom-made Lucchese cowboy boots and asked, “What do y’all feel like eatin’ tonight?” I told him to cook whatever the hell he wanted, because I know Fearing has been one of America’s greatest chefs for twenty years. Two years ago, he left the Mansion on Turtle Creek, where he made his rep back in the 1980s running what many considered to be the best restaurant in Texas. He signed on at the new Ritz-Carlton after the owner insisted he wanted Fearing and nobody but Fearing to head the restaurant. And he already seems inextricable from this spectacular new place, with a menu that improves on all he did before, including his signature tortilla soup, which he’s been making for ages. His dishes have plenty of Texas swagger — like the barbecued-shrimp taco with mango-pickled red-onion salad and a smoky citrus vinaigrette, or watermelon-and-jalapeño-glazed quail on a three-bean salad with a hush puppy made from prawns, or the prime-cut rib eye of beef “mopped over mesquite” — but he never allows strong accents to overpower his core ingredients.
Factor in a hefty dose of Texas hospitality — from the knowledgeable bar staff to the service in the dining room — and it’s clear why this is my top spot of 2007. Ritz-Carlton Hotel, 2121 McKinney Avenue; 214-922-4848; ritzcarlton.com/en/properties/dallas/dining.
Things we overheard here: First woman: “Did you hear they put $6 million into this place?” Second woman: “Is that a lot?”