Could it be that the menu at Honor Bar, a new establishment in Highland Park Village, is designed for people who don’t want to eat?
I wonder about it partly because of what’s offered for dinner: honestly, not much. Though the place looks and feels like a full-blown restaurant, the dinner menu is a short list of mostly salads, sandwiches and snacks.
Maybe the idea is just to nibble, to stay svelte enough to look great in Chanel or Balenciaga.
To be fair, Hillstone Restaurant Group, which owns the place (along with Houston’s, Hillstone and R+D Kitchen), is marketing it more as a bar than a restaurant. “Wine, cocktails, sandwiches, salads,” promises Honor Bar’s website. That’s why I didn’t think twice before showing up at 7 p.m. on a Friday night. Reservations aren’t accepted, but given a wait, we could have a drink. Right? Plus, with a menu like that, I figured it was more of a lunch place.
I couldn’t have been more wrong: At dinnertime, the place was so packed, we couldn’t get anywhere near the bar. The wait for a table? “Between an hour and a half and two hours,” said the hostess, who requested my cell number to put me on the waiting list.
Three hours later my phone rang: Our table was ready. We had already finished dinner elsewhere.
I returned, friends in tow, on a quiet Monday night. Yes, that was more like it: We were shown right away to a comfortable booth.
The low-slung dining room has a Hillstone cozy-living-room look: tasteful art, flattering lighting. It’s the group’s third Honor Bar; the first two are in Beverly Hills and Montecito, Calif. (Montecito is a super-affluent community just east of Santa Barbara.)
The vibe is relaxed, and that first visit, the service was excellent: No surprise; great service is a Hillstone hallmark.
I had high hopes for the burger, as the Hillstone group is known for burger excellence. This one, cooked beautifully medium-rare as ordered and served cut in half, was a real looker (tall, seeded bun, generous pad of coleslaw, slices of ripe tomato), but it was weirdly unsatisfying. All the ingredients were good, but it seemed to lack a nice char flavor, and the coleslaw and fluffy bun overwhelmed the rest. I later stopped at R+D Kitchen for a comparison. R+D’s looked nearly identical, but wow — with better balance, a slice of melted cheddar, good pickle action and well-seasoned, gorgeously cooked beef, it came together deliciously; the fries were whole, crisp and fabulous. What a difference.
The fries told a similar story: At Honor Bar, a dishonorable serving of broken, charred nubbins that looked scooped from the bottom of the barrel; at R+D, a paper coneful of heavenly crisp and well-seasoned golden wands.
At lunchtime, Honor Bar’s fries were much better, but four chilled jumbo shrimp with cocktail sauce, rémoulade and a $20 price tag were cooked tough as erasers. So were those adorning a $23 shrimp Louis, smothered in an unpleasantly sugary Louis dressing.
The only vegetarian choice was a veggie club sandwich; our vegetarian friend instead asked for a Macho Salad of greens, chicken, goat cheese, toasted almonds and big chunks of date and avocado, sans the bird. That was fine, if you like your main course sweet (from the dates).
My lunchtime fave was a kale-and-chicken salad dressed in Asian-accented peanut vinaigrette. A little monotonous for a main course experience, perhaps, but the flavor was there.
The brief one-page wine list, as thin as the menu, is a fairly depressing document that leans on a predictable California lineup. Happily, there are two fine Texas wines, a 2015 McPherson Cellars Vermentino ($12 per glass, $38 per bottle) and a 2014 Duchman Family Winery Montepulciano ($14 per glass) snuck in. If it’s a nice bottle of red you seek, you may be challenged. That lovely Duchman Montepulciano is offered only on tap and served, like all the wines, in stemware that’s unpleasantly thick and clunky.
Clunky, too, was the only dessert on offer (for now, anyway): tres leches cake, surrounded by raspberries and sliced bananas. Oddest of all, Honor Bar doesn’t serve decaf coffee.
All of that could probably be forgiven if Honor Bar consistently delivered the kind of great customer experience for which Hillstone is known. Unfortunately, at lunchtime we were treated to service that was shockingly checked out. It was bad enough that our plates were removed while Vegetarian Pal was still eating, but while they were being removed, our server asked what we’d like for dessert. V.P.’s mouth dropped open: He was being treated as if he didn’t exist. After we pointed out that we weren’t ready to discuss dessert yet, we were punished by painfully long waits for everything after that: his plate to be cleared, our dessert order to be taken, coffee to be brought, the check to be dropped and picked up.
And so ended a dispiritingly mediocre experience.
Rack my brain as I might, it’s hard to understand what Hillstone has in mind with Honor Bar. But whatever it is, denizens of Highland Park Village seem to be eating it up.
Honor Bar (2 stars)
Price: $$$ (starters $7 to $26; salads $16 to $25; lunch sandwiches and main courses $13 to $35; dinner sandwiches and main courses $15 to $39; dessert $10)
Service: Ranges from attentive and professional to checked-out and amateurish
Ambience: A cozy, low-slung, comfortable dining room with attractive lighting, very much in the style of Houston's, Hillstone and R+D Kitchen
Noise level: The dining room can get noisy, but music isn't played too loudly.
Location: Honor Bar, 26A Highland Park Village, Dallas; 214-780-0956
Hours: Monday-Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Reservations: Not accepted
Credit cards: AE, MC, V
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Full bar. A one-page wine list offers two fine Texas wines by the glass and one by the bottle, but little to interest the wine adventurer or aficionado. Stemware is clunky.
5 stars: Extraordinary
4 stars: Excellent
3 stars: Very good
2 stars: Good
1 star: Fair
No stars: Poor
Average dinner per person
$ -- $14 and under
$$ -- $15 to $30
$$$ -- $31 to $50
$$$$ -- More than $50