Highly anticipated? You bet. Not since Dean Fearing (another longtime Mansion chef) opened his namesake dining room at the then-new Ritz-Carlton Dallas in 2007 have the city's food-lovers been so excited about — and so ready for — a debut.
The opening of Bruno Davaillon's first solo restaurant is still months away (April is the goal). But in an exclusive interview with The Dallas Morning News, the 50-year-old chef has shared the name of the restaurant, along with a sense of the menu, the style of cooking and the feel of the place.
The restaurant's name (drumroll, please!): Bullion.
"It's like gold bullion, of course, but also from 'boiling,'" says Davaillon. "There's a Latin origin to the word 'to boil.' I really like the word." He adds that it also refers to the restaurant's building, 400 Record Street, formerly known as the Belo Building. "The outside almost looks like a gold bullion bar, which is totally a coincidence."
One can't help but ask whether there will be, you know, bouillon on the menu. "I'm sure there will be some sort of consommé, yes," says Davaillon. Bouillon (the broth) is spelled differently than Bullion (the restaurant), but there is that common Latin root bull, to boil.
More important, the restaurant — which Davaillon has been describing all along as a sort of brasserie — will feature something the chef feels doesn't exist elsewhere in Dallas: contemporary French cooking.
"I want to put French back where it's supposed to be," says Davaillon. "There's a place to do way more French in Dallas. Besides Cadot and Lavendou, I don't know who's doing French — nobody. It's going to be French, but my twist." That means "revisit the classics; do it lighter. I want to make the ingredients shine and make people enjoy French food the way I would eat it."
"I want to put French back where it's supposed to be."
A big part of his inspiration is bistronomie, the casual yet modern style of restaurants and cooking that has taken hold in France (especially Paris) over the last 10 years or so. "If you go to Paris now and go to a lot of restaurants in France, there are a lot of chefs who do great food in a more simple environment with great products," says Davaillon. The style is more inventive and forward-looking than the traditional plates like escargots à la bourguignonne or coq au vin you might find at Cadot or Lavendou, or at Toulouse Cafe and Bar.
"I respect what they do," he says. "I intend to do something very different."
What might that look like? "Simple grilled lobster with a garnish on the side. We'll do a lot of finishing at the table, especially with jus and sauce. People are missing that part of the entertaining, like finishing a plate with a nice jus or a nice sauce. Nobody really knows how to make sauce anymore. I'm going back to that — a jus, a light version of the sauce. That's really French cooking."
He adds: "I'm thinking of doing a whole bird. I want to make the best roast chicken in town. We're going to use a really good chicken. Why not do a whole chicken at the table?" (Why not indeed!?) "We can have a nice wooden guéridon."
There may be other classics too; Davaillon doesn't want to box himself in. But he, says, "If you do a classic dish, there's a way to make it fun and make it lighter." He adds that though it will be a brasserie in spirit, he didn't want brasserie to be part of the name. "When we think brasserie, there's going to be a seafood tower; they're going to expect a decor." That's fine, he says, but not what he's going for. What he's looking for is the "energy of a brasserie."
"I really want to have fun with the menu and the specials and weekly lunch and dinner items. Just make it fun. I don't want to put any limits; I just want to do what I think will work." He's quick to add that does not mean the portions will be small, and he will be using Texas ingredients ("We're in Texas!") and "work with them in a French technique."
Bullion will be moderately priced, says Davaillon — $75 to $80 per person, including beverages. "You can still do awesome food without charging a crazy price. I want a place where people can come two or three times a week. It has to be a place where people feel very comfortable, have a glass of wine." (His list, he says, will include plenty of affordable, food-friendly wines from the Loire, such as Chinon and Bourgueil.) And yes, charcuterie. And oysters? "Oh, yeah. For sure."
Bullion will have 98 seats in the dining room, plus a bar-lounge with 34 or 36 seats plus eight to 10 at the bar. Downstairs there will be a grab-and-go counter, "like a little kiosk with take-away to-go items" — breakfast sandwiches, other sandwiches and soups.