PLANO — Because there are surprisingly few compelling destination restaurants in and around booming West Plano and Frisco, the debut last year of Dee Lincoln Steak Bar, on Park Boulevard near Preston, seemed auspicious. Dallas’ steakhouse diva took over the space where Avner Samuel tried to make a go of it with one of his Nosh Euro Bistros a few years back. Originally called Dee Lincoln Steak and Burger Bar, it was her second of two, though she closed the Uptown original in March.
The Plano dining room is a welcoming space, contemporary and comfortable, with roomy booths, an inviting bar and friendly service. And the food can be pretty good, as it was one evening in April, when my friends and I enjoyed crisply fried (if unremarkable) calamari, and seared scallops on a warm salad of shaved fennel, arugula and julienned Granny Smith apples on a plate splashed with lemon-vanilla vinaigrette. Best of all that evening was the special “Dee’s cut of the day”: a mammoth bone-in cowboy rib-eye that came to the table perfectly cooked and sliced — in gorgeously medium-rare slabs — off the bone. Pricey at $90, yes, but the 45-day dry-aged cut had terrific flavor and texture, it came with two sides and at 24 ounces it was more than large enough to serve two generously.
Another night, things didn’t go so well. I’d ordered a 14-ounce prime New York strip with a $46 price tag, and when the server set it in front of me, she asked me to cut into it to make sure it was cooked to the proper temperature.
“I’d rather not,” I said. No worries, she said, or something to that effect, assuring me she’d come back and check to make sure it was OK.
My steak wasn’t OK; it was overdone.
Unfortunately, she never came back to check on it, and though the restaurant wasn’t busy, over the course of our entire dinner, I couldn’t manage to catch her eye. Only when we were nearly finished (I didn’t eat much) did a manager stop by and ask if everything had been fine. When I explained the problem, he was extremely apologetic, and tried (unsuccessfully) to comp the steak and bring me another.
So, why didn’t I want to cut into my steak? First, if a cooked steak hasn’t been allowed to rest a few minutes before coming to the table, cutting into it will cause its wonderful juices to run all over the plate rather than staying in the meat. Second, it may look like the medium-rare you ordered, but if it hasn’t rested enough, it may actually still be cooking — getting more and more done as the server walks away, satisfied that he’s fulfilled his duty. Now it seems more medium? Too bad — you said it was fine.
Abdicating responsibility by putting it all on the diner in one decide-right-now second is a disservice. Dinner should go at the diners’ pace, not the server’s — particularly when a diner is paying big bucks for a wet-aged cut that comes solo on a plate with nothing more than a little chopped parsley.
Whether the request to slice into a steak is a server’s idea or restaurant’s policy, it may signal (or attempt to gloss over) a problem in the kitchen. Any self-respecting grill cook in a high-end steakhouse should be able to season a steak properly, sear it well and get the temperature right. It’s just not that hard; and by pressing the meat with a fingertip, it’s easy to judge doneness.
On a third visit came the bothersome request again, from a different server this time: Would you mind cutting into your steaks? I had a burger in front of me, but my guests dutifully complied. All three were cooked to the temperatures requested. Hurray! But unfortunately, two of the three — a 16-ounce prime rib-eye ($39) and a New York strip — were over-salted to the point of being nearly inedible.
This time I fared better: My burger, a thick, nicely cooked dry-aged Wagyu patty melted over with cheddar cheese and set on butter lettuce on a toasted brioche bun, crowned with slices of ripe tomato and red onion, hit the spot. A filet trio ($47) was fine, too: One was topped with melty blue cheese, another with crab gratinée and the third was spooned over with decent shallot bordelaise sauce — all well-seasoned and cooked to the requested medium-rare.
The starters and sides at Dee Lincoln are hit-and-miss, as well. Giant onion rings were fried crisply to a lovely golden brown. Fried green tomatoes were nicely cooked, too, set on a good sauce ravigote, though the dish was overwhelmed by squeeze-bottle squiggles of balsamic reduction. Shrimp “hush puppies” weren’t very hush-puppyish; with no cornmeal involved, they were more like workaday fried shrimp — except they had the kind of objectionable flavor you sometimes find in poorly farmed shrimp.
By far the best were tempura-battered avocado wedges: Fried up light and hot, they were wonderfully melty and rich inside. What a great play of textures.
We gobbled up the vegetable du jour one evening — simple yet attentively sautéed green beans and broccoli — while undercooked button mushrooms in a too-heavy demi-glace-like sauce (“mushroom madeira” sounded so nice) sat unloved and forlorn in their mini cast-iron pan.
Salads were sad. I usually love a chopped salad, but Dee Lincoln’s reminded me of one you get on an airplane — economy class, mind you, including the vinaigrette, no better than what comes in those food-service packets.
Still, for all its shortcomings, it’s got such a nice vibe and friendly staff that it manages to be a likable spot. The server who forgot to check on us mixed a terrific martini one night when she was behind the bar. And while the desserts are forgettable and its play-it-safe, generally pricey wine list, big on California cabs and Super Tuscans, isn’t exactly inspired, enlisting a manager’s help can turn up well-priced treats. One night that meant a 2008 Marqués de Cáceres Gran Reserva Rioja for $47. Another evening we sipped a 2009 Zédé de Labégorce Margaux for $50, a bargain price. Served at proper cellar temperature in Riedel stemware, it was a welcome consolation, one with elegance, depth, silky texture — and a lovely finish.
Dee Lincoln Steak Bar (2 stars)
Price: $$$-$$$$ (dinner appetizers and salads $8 to $19; main courses $15 to $47; brunch starters $8 to $14, main courses $14 to $37; desserts $7 to $10)
Service: Warm, pleasant and welcoming, but not always attentive
Ambience: An attractive contemporary dining room with comfortable booths and an inviting bar
Noise level: Pleasantly buzzy, but never so loud that conversation was difficult
Location: 4701 W. Park Blvd. (between Preston Road and Ohio Drive), Plano; 972-519-1642; deelincolnsteak.com
Hours: Dinner Monday-Thursday 4 to 10 p.m., Friday- Saturday 4 to 11 p.m.; brunch Sunday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V
Wheelchair accessible: Yes; ramp is two doors to the east.
Alcohol: Full bar. A pricey, three-page wine list focused on familiar California and Old World labels (lots of giant California cabs and Super Tuscans) includes five Champagnes, four Texas reds and a few bargains tucked here and there. Wine adventurers may have trouble finding something intriguing among the 22 available by the glass.
5 stars: Extraordinary
4 stars: Excellent
3 stars: Very good
2 stars: Good
1 star: Fair
No stars: Poor