I’m sipping a splendid cocktail, called Oil Money: Red River Texas Rye Whiskey and Cocchi Vermouth di Torino with a splash of Pineau des Charentes and a dash of peach bitters. It’s thoughtfully mixed, deliciously nuanced and mindful of balance.
It’s one of 32 on the reserve bar list at the buzzy new Dish Preston Hollow. Yes, there are 32 cocktails, plus whiskey flights, tequila flights, recherché aperitifs. There’s a full margarita list, a trio of dessert cocktails and impressive collections of single-malt scotches, rare aged rums and cutting-edge gins. You’d think Prohibition had just been repealed in Greater Big D.
But it’s not only what’s being poured that impresses; it’s the way the bartenders pour. They mix well, don’t dawdle and garnish with care.
Their dazzling libations aren’t going unnoticed by the well-to-do denizens of the staid quarter; the place seems always to be hopping. Chalk it up partly to the great energy — the swirly gray-and-white granite bar that snakes down a long, narrowish dining room, illuminated by striking, outsized filament lamps, is one of the most pleasant places to sit and sip anywhere in town.
So what’s to eat to soak up all that booze?
You can slip into one of the comfortable booths under the front windows and ponder the menu, which has much in common with the original Dish, now called Dish Cedar Springs.
To start, consider the prettily piped deviled eggs decorated with bacon and pickled onion, or smooth-textured lamb meatball “lollipops” parked on almond hummus with a splash of chive oil and an exclamation point of tomato confit.
Or go for one of the round pizzalike flatbreads. I liked the toppings on one called “ham and cheese” — melty brie and prosciutto di Parma — though its crust wanted more crunch and char, and a surfeit of balsamic-fig reduction squirted in circles overdid the sweetness. Another evening, one featuring fresh goat cheese, mushrooms braised in red wine, a bit of crushed tomato and herbs was wonderful.
I was glad our excellent server sold us on salt-and-pepper calamari, which turned out to be much more compelling than workaday fried squid. This was a giant platter of battered and crisply fried rings and tentacles drizzled all over with “buffalo butter,” the rich chile sauce with a vinegar kick that we all know from Buffalo wings, and adorned with hunks of fried corn on the cob, roasted red bell pepper and lemon wedges. The flavors were fun and festive.
Do you recognize the dish from Cedar Springs? It’s on the menu there, too. Though a well-known chef — Andrew Bell (last seen at Bolsa, where he earned three stars last year) — leads the Preston Hollow kitchen, the calamari and many other dishes were created by Cedar Springs chef Garreth Dickey, or its original “concept chef,” Doug Brown.
The similarities between the two restaurants pretty much end with the food, though. In fact the look and the vibe at the new place have more in common with Front Room Tavern in Hotel Lumen than with the original Dish. All three are owned by Tim Headington’s Headington Cos. (Oil Money!) and partner Tim McEneny’s NL Group.
While the 5½-year-old older sibling has a glammy 1980s aesthetic and a party feel, the new place is stylish yet understated and sophisticated, with lots of polished reclaimed wood and charcoal gray booths. The bar-dining room that forms its heart opens onto a covered patio on one side; on the other, an inviting space with an open kitchen features a striking, outsized black-and-white painting by Jonathan Bailey, the restaurant’s conceptual designer. But just because the crowd is older and more conservative doesn’t mean it’s necessarily quiet; on a busy Friday night that dining room at prime time was one of the noisiest I’ve ever experienced. When the crowds started leaving (at 8:30 or 9), conversation became easier.
One of my favorite main courses, created by Brown for the original Dish, has been deliciously perfected here: a gorgeously cooked, thick and succulent bourbon-marinated bone-in pork chop set on buttery mashed potatoes and smothered in a saucy, arugula-laced ragu of diced Granny Smith apples, onions and bacon.
Most of the main courses are straight-ahead, satisfying (if not terribly exciting) plates such as luscious beef tenderloin (also on mashed potatoes) doused in green-peppercorn sauce, with mushrooms and charred cippolinis, or roasted half-chicken with golden-brown skin on a good jus with roasted Thumbelina carrots and jalapeño mac and cheese.
I was less fond of a dish of three jumbo sea scallops on pearl couscous flecked with bacon and corn kernels topped with some arugula leaves and a poached egg and spooned around with sauce. It’s one of Brown’s creations from the original Dish, but for me, the combination of flavors seemed random; couscous and corn is not a marriage made in heaven.
Fiddlehead ferns — normally such a fabulous seasonal treat — got lost in a morass of mushrooms in a richly sauced halibut special one evening. But a couple of weeks later halibut turned up again, this time more refined and focused, with swirls of romesco sauce and potato purée; the fiddleheads came alive.
So why bring on a name chef, if the menu relies on old Dish faves? “We will always hire well-known chefs to keep us fresh and unique at each location,” says McEneny. Yes, there are expansion plans in the works: A new Dish is envisioned down the road for Austin.
Unlike at Cedar Springs, the Allen Bros. steaks at Preston Hollow are prime cuts. Perfectly rosy medium-rare slices of hanger steak (“butcher’s cut frites”) were well-seasoned and beautifully seared on the grill, served with decent skinny lemon-pepper fries. Its pool of red wine demi-glace, which tasted more like steak sauce from a bottle, was a distraction.
McEneny and company called on Front Room Tavern’s pastry chef, Allison Morse, to dream up the sweets — maybe a banana pudding parfait served in a jar or a classic apple crisp. While they’re quite nice, they don’t have the verve or creative spark I find in those at Front Room.
If the plates aren’t quite killer, the wine list, presided over by engaging, super-knowledgeable and enthusiastic sommelier Brandon Smoot, definitely makes up for it. There are more enticing selections from around the world on those two pages than on some of the more impressive book-length lists in Dallas. Whether you let Smoot lead you to something unfamiliar (a 2012 Michael David Ancient Vine Cinsault from Lodi, Calif., for $70 was just the ticket when we asked for a seafood-friendly red with some Old World character) or rely on his expressive tasting notes, it’s hard to go wrong.
The new Dish has such a winning personality that I can’t help but wish it had its very own identity — and menu, and name. In an age of brand-’em-up and roll-’em-out, it’s fascinating to see how things look and taste when a chip off the old block refuses to act like one.
Dish Preston Hollow (3 stars)
Price: $$$ (lunch starters and soups $8 to $13, main-course salads and sandwiches $11 to $14, main courses $17 to $24; brunch starters $8 to $13, main courses $10 to $21; dinner starters, soups and salads $8 to $16, sandwiches and main-course salads $12 to $19, main courses $18 to $39; desserts $9)
Service: Attentive, professional and friendly
Ambience: A stylish, sophisticated trio of interconnected dining rooms with comfortable booths, an inviting bar and an open kitchen
Noise level: On a busy weekend night, this was one of the noisiest restaurants I've ever experienced - it was difficult to converse. Noise was not an issue on a quieter weeknight.
Location: 8611 Hillcrest Ave., Dallas; 214-363-3474; dish-dallas.com
Hours: Lunch Monday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; brunch Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; dinner Sunday-Thursday 4 to 10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 4 to 11 p.m.
Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Full bar, with an extensive list of cocktails. Sommelier Brandon Smoot's two-page wine list has plenty of delicious surprises, with reasonable markups. Twenty-eight of them are also available by the glass.
5 stars: Extraordinary
4 stars: Excellent
3 stars: Very good
2 stars: Good
1 star: Fair
No stars: Poor