IRVING – "The Land, Air and Water of Texas produce some of the best foods in the world." That's the proclamation at the top of the menu at the Four Seasons Dallas' new restaurant, LAW (it's an acronym for Land, Air, Water). The tag line: "We're dedicated to making these local products into amazing dishes that you won't find anywhere else."
Well, maybe not that dedicated.
Sure, the restaurant features beef, redfish, quail, chicken, grits, tomatoes, cheese and a few other things from Texas.
What the menu doesn't mention is that other than beef, the main ingredients featured in LAW's main courses come mostly from elsewhere. Chicken fried pheasant breast? That bird flew in from Wisconsin. Smoked ruby red trout? It's from Ohio. There's lobster from Maine, duck from Indiana, salmon from the North Atlantic, tuna from Hawaii, lamb from Australia. And the grilled jumbo prawns with herb-garlic butter, a $49 dish that's starred and circled on the menu as one of "chef Johnny's favorites," come from Senegal – in, you know, Africa.
Laura Reiley, restaurant critic at the Tampa Bay Times, recently wrote a much buzzed-about article about how diners are being "fed fiction" about restaurants' farm-to-table sourcing and how those restaurants capitalize on our hunger for the farm-to-table story.
Roger that, Laura. And I'm calling horse apples on LAW's Texas pride story, too: Love the modern Texas concept, but this one tastes deeply cynical.
Though if the food's great, who cares, right?
Much was made about the makeover of the dining room, but aside from the snazzy hostess stand, backed by a striking, oversized photo of a Texas longhorn, plus an inviting mini lounge and a bistro-height communal table near the entrance, it looks and feels very much like the old Cafe on the Green: same tables, chairs and graceful lighting fixtures on the terrace level. At least the curved area faced with dramatic arched windows still offers views of the lovely grounds.
After waiting nearly 45 minutes for something to eat (anything – a crust of bread? Please?), my friends and I were eager to dive into the LAW seafood tower, another starred-and-circled dish.
This one did feature some Texas sea creatures: four boiled gulf shrimp. There were also four gulf oysters so muddy-tasting we instantly regretted eating them, along with an overcooked lobster tail from Maine and two ceviche shooters – little shots of thin-tasting chopped redfish and whatnot. For $79, you'd expect something more appetizing.
More often than not, the dishes at LAW were just ordinary, the prices crazy expensive, and the servers generally inattentive. A $139 long-bone tomahawk steak came to the table with a few slices of it medium-rare as ordered, the rest of it overcooked. Surely someone noticed?
I liked the thick-cut, crisply fried onion rings that come to the table suspended on iron hooks, though I don't think I'd file them under "amazing dishes you won't find anywhere else." Crab deviled eggs were good – nicely seasoned and perfectly cooked – but the specks of crab garnishing them (from the Philippines, I later learned) were so tiny I nearly missed mine.
Austere would be a polite way to describe the Caesar salad: two undressed Romaine heart halves charred on their cut side, set on an unconvincing Caesar dressing (the addition of cilantro made the flavor seem even thinner) and decorated with a few shavings of asiago cheese.
The best appetizer over the course of two visits was probably a vibrant, rough-chopped Akaushi beef tartare.
Among the main courses, a smartly pan-fried redfish fillet was likable, though its garnish – no sauce, just some roasted chiles, a charred lemon and a sprig of thyme – was boring. And really, $39 for that plate? Roasted rack of lamb – two flavorful, perfectly cooked double-cut chops – had a nice peppercorn sauce.
Stuffed quail smothered in barbecue glaze and piled onto a waffle was prepared well, but not something I'd want to eat again; confit duck with nice flavor was folded into doughy flour tortillas thick as potholders – yikes. Chicken-fried pheasant breast was a fun idea that didn't pan out, as the bird lacked flavor.
And if you're about to say you'd expect to pay $31 for that pheasant or $42 for those lamb chops because it's the Four Seasons, you'd probably also expect top-tier service. On my first of two visits, I asked for a wine list as my three guests struggled to share the single cocktail list on the table. Our server had his own idea about what we should sip: "Would the ladies like a glass of wine to start? Maybe a chardonnay?" Instead of telling us what's ladylike to drink, maybe he could have fetched another cocktail list or two.
My hopes dashed of finding a glass of white wine from Texas (Texas wines are offered only by the bottle) I settled for a sauvignon blanc from South Africa, served in a small, clunky glass, not the fine stemware you'd expect at a Four Seasons. When it came time to order a bottle of red, I asked if there was one in the "cool kids" section of the list for $100 or less with some character that would work well with the steaks and lamb. The server immediately recommended a Rioja at $107, which surprised me – it looked like there were so many interesting things on master sommelier James Tidwell's list for much less. I asked why he was recommending that particular bottle. "Have you ever had a Rioja?" he asked condescendingly.
Long after we ordered it – when we were halfway done with our appetizers – he returned to say another server had sold the last bottle. Had I found the Texas wines or had more time to study the cool kids list, we would have discovered something more unusual than the perfectly delicious 2011 Aline Bonfils Domaine du Gour de Chaule Gigondas we wound up with for $79.
Servers on the next visit were friendlier, but fairly checked out (so many long, unexplained waits!), with the exception of the gentleman sent to the table when we asked if a sommelier was on duty. Rene Fagoaga, who identified himself as a Level 2 sommelier, cheerfully delivered excellent advice and proper wine service and treated us to honest-to-goodness warm hospitality.
There was one sweet surprise, come dessert time. Not the s'mores, torched tableside though not enough to melt the chocolate (or even the marshmallows, the first time I tried them). It was the bite-size churros, custardy inside and hot, served with caramel and chocolate sauces.
Especially because there's definitely some talent in the kitchen (chef de cuisine Jonathan Rivera helped the restaurant earn four stars in 2012), it's a shame that the dining room at this elegant resort sells Texas so short.
LAW (2 stars)
Price: $$$$ (breakfast dishes $8 to $26; lunch starters and salads $8 to $22; lunch main courses $17 to $26; lunch buffet $32; dinner starters $7 to $22; $79 for a seafood tower; dinner main courses $21 to $139, for a bone-in rib-eye for two; desserts $8 to $12; Sunday brunch $49)
Service: Generally inattentive and sometimes condescending
Ambience: Though some cosmetic changes and updates have been made, it still feels very much like Cafe on the Green, which is to say a fairly graceful hotel dining room.
Noise level: Quiet enough for conversation
Location: LAW, Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas, 4150 N. MacArthur Blvd., Irving; 972-717-2420
Hours: Breakfast Monday-Friday 6:30 to 11 a.m., Saturday- Sunday 7 to 11 a.m.; breakfast buffet Monday-Friday 6:30 to 11 a.m., Saturday-Sunday 7 to 10:30 a.m.; Sunday brunch 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; lunch daily 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner Sunday- Thursday 6 to 10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 5:30 to 10 p.m.
Credit cards: All major
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Full bar. Beverage director and master sommelier James Tidwell's 10-page wine list, organized into Texas wines, "cool kids," "popularity contest" and "mature wines," offers some cool discoveries. It's as pricey as you'd expect at a high-end resort.
5 stars: Extraordinary
4 stars: Excellent
3 stars: Very good
2 stars: Good
1 star: Fair
No stars: Poor
Average dinner per person
$ -- $14 and under
$$ -- $15 to $30
$$$ -- $31 to $50
$$$$ -- More than $50