With holiday shopping madness barely underway, it's already easy to anticipate the kind of symptoms that traipsing endlessly around the mall might bring on: fatigue, weakness, anxiety, listlessness.
If the thought of refueling in the food court engenders existential or gastronomic dread and the scene of your dutiful rounds happens to be NorthPark Center, take heart: There's relief this season in the form of one of the most unusual mall restaurants anywhere -- the Theodore.
The bar, presided over by ex-Bolsa cocktail genius Kyle Hilla, felt like a party on Friday evening, just four days after the place debuted. The vibe, which reverberates throughout the place from hostess stand to dining room to a private room for 10 behind a sliding wall, is a crazy collision between The Grand Budapest Hotel in its roaring '20s heyday and Smoke, the restaurant in the Belmont Hotel. (See a slide show of the Theodore here.) The menu reinvents American classics.
The Smoke part of the equation makes sense: The owners of the Oak Cliff restaurant (and of Bolsa, Chicken Scratch and others) are behind the project.
American cooking seems just the right prescription for holiday angst, especially in the hands of chef-owner Tim Byres, who draws his inspiration from Teddy Roosevelt -- hence the restaurant's name. Helping out are executive chef Scott Romano (you might remember him from Charlie Palmer at the Joule), pastry chef Marlene Duke (formerly of the Ritz-Carlton) and a set of fancy bread ovens from France.
Ah, yes, the menu leads off with inventive toasts -- built on sourdough straight from those ovens -- including one (four pieces, yay!) topped with a thick layer of horseradish-spiked egg salad and draped with cured ham. The menu, the same for lunch and dinner, is fairly concise, with only four main courses -- breaded veal cutlet, fish of the day, broiled lobster, beef Wellington -- but enticing: Every dish on it sounded like something I wanted to eat. Prices range from $18 (for the veal) to $32 (market price for the lobster).
Despite the fact that the place has just opened, the cooking is already confident. My three friends and I went for steamed chowder clams (crowned with a thick slice of that toasted sourdough), something called a lamb shank pie (sort of a giant, pastry-wrapped lamb shank lollipop), a couple of salads and all the mains.
If it's lunchtime and a whole broiled lobster with coconut butter and crab-boil potatoes sounds over the top, one of those salads -- maybe starring morsels of roasted pheasant, pink grapefruit, napa cabbage and toasted sliced almonds ($14) -- could be the ticket. There are also great-sounding sandwiches on freshly baked bread ($12 to $15), and a passel of pizzas ($13 to $15).
I can also imagine stopping by for a cuppa joe and one of Duke's thoughtful desserts: crabapple toffee cake, or a chocolate tart, or a mini grapefruit-and-honey baked Alaska ($9 each). Brunch dishes are being gradually added to the menu, with plans to serve Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Procrastination is usually my middle name this time of year. But with treats like these at hand, I just might shop early -- and often.
The Theodore, NorthPark Center (north entrance, between Macy's and Nordstrom off Park Lane), 8687 N. Central Expressway, Dallas. 469-232-9771. thetheodore.com. Sunday-Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.