No one needs to be reminded that Craft Dallas and Stephan Pyles are two of the city’s finest restaurants. Both come heavily pedigreed. Chef Pyles was a leading force in the Southwestern cuisine movement of the 1980s. From Routh Street Cafe to Star Canyon to his eponymous restaurant, he’s one of Dallas’ few celebrity chefs. Tom Colicchio’s chain of Craft restaurants was popular for its “simple food done exceedingly well” mantra long before Top Chef made the restaurateur a household name. He opened his Dallas outpost of Craft at the W hotel in 2008.
So, two celebrity chefs. Two popular restaurants. Two dependable choices for a business lunch. Case closed and pass the Himalayan sea salt, right? Happily, no. New additions to the kitchens at both restaurants have reinvigorated what had become tasty yet predictable menus. Now, both places teem with a renewed sense of discovery.
Let’s start with Stephan Pyles, a dining room regularly populated by the Dallas business elite. New executive chef Joel Harrington, formerly of Fearing’s, has taken chef Pyles’ Southwestern cuisine and lightened it without sacrificing its zest. Smoked heirloom tomato gazpacho was a perfect starter, both sharp and soothing and anchored with plump shrimp and fried green tomatillos. Grilled Parker County peaches were wrapped with thin strips of Serrano ham. Resting on a bed of baby lettuces and pecans, this appetizer eats more like a large salad.
As for entrées, yes, you can still get chicken-fried venison steak. With its chorizo cream gravy, it was as delicious as ever. But I preferred the pan-roasted gulf snapper with shrimp and grits surrounded by a delicate sweet onion broth, as well as the basil poached lobster salad with tempura sweet pea shoots. I still dream of that salad.
Over at the W Hotel, Craft Dallas is a different experience. While Pyles’ dining room is packed with a suit-and-tie buzz, the handsome Craft is sedate with only a handful of diners. That’s a shame because chef de cuisine Tim Bevins’ suave business lunch deserves a larger audience. Each entrée is accompanied by arancini (a lightly fried risotto ball stuffed with mozzarella), a small house salad, and a plate of warm olives. Entrées are $8-$16 each, and the list changes daily. It’s the best deal in Dallas.
On one visit, I swooned over chicken liver stuffed tortelloni with beech mushrooms and fava beans. On another, Bevins’ sirloin with gnocchi and horseradish puree changed my mind on grass-fed beef. Here it was well-seasoned and full of flavor. Don’t skip dessert. Pastry chef Laurel Wimberg is one of the city’s finest, and her devil’s food cake with vanilla malt ice cream is the stuff of decadent, sweet legend.
Southwestern (Pyles) and New American (Craft)
The Cost: Average lunch entrée price $14 (Pyles) and $12 (Craft)
Full Bar: Yes
The Power Table: At Pyles, the 10-seat wine room is intimate yet still looks out onto the main dining room. At Craft, any of the curvy booths lining the west wall provide both privacy and the best views in the house.