The first time I perused the press release detailing the concept for Dish Restaurant and Lounge, I thought it was a joke. It certainly didn’t sound like a serious business. The mishmash of concepts behind Dish read like a pitch for a VH1-style reality TV show. Picture this: a self-described nightclub guru teams up with a successful catering chef to open a glitzy nightclub that serves modern comfort food in a gay neighborhood. The two lead characters hire cool kids to play the wacky waitstaff. They deck out the joint with a state-of-the-art sound system, a DJ platform, and groovy, color-changing LED lights. A 360-degree bar serves the outdoor patio and the inside dining room, where blue-haired patrons from Highland Park dine alongside miniskirted, buxom 22-year-old blondes. Gay men lock lips in cozy high-back booths as the latest remix of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” plays in the background.
On paper, Dish sounds terrible. It should not work. The surprise is, it absolutely does. The place still might make for a decent reality series, but somehow the nightlife guru, Tim McEneny (Obar, LIFT, Dragonfly), and the caterer, Doug Brown (Nana, Amuse, Beyond the Box), have created a storybook restaurant. And so far, it is a bestseller. According to those in the nightlife know, Dish is the place to go for late-night dinner and drinks, especially when DJs Jennifer Miller and Paul Paredes are spinning a mix of hip-hop, ’80s, and electro dance (see page 62). I will have to take the late-night authorities at their word. After all three of my visits to Dish, I was home in bed with a book by the time the DJs got started. The experiences I write about here occurred at Dish Restaurant, a bustling, fun dining room undisturbed by loud music. What goes on after 10 pm is another story.
The dining room is modern and garishly chic. White, lacquered, circle-back chairs that could use a cushion stand around darkly stained tables on a wood floor. A rectangular floor-to-ceiling installation of polycarbonate chain mail drapery backlit by multicolored LED lights glows in the center of the room. A huge, open kitchen runs along the back wall, and raised, purple-y silver crushed velvet banquettes line a side wall. Chandeliers hang overhead in mirrored recesses in the ceiling. The lighted white Corian bar is translucent, almost surreal. From a distance, liquor bottles of vivid amber, green, and orange, arranged in neat rows on glass shelves, appear to be floating. Your mouth waters for a fancy cocktail.
Dish does a Prairie pomegranate mojito made with Prairie vodka (a stiff pour), pomegranate juice, fresh lime juice, simple syrup, a splash of soda, and fresh mint. The Orient Express is a lovely concoction of Bombay Sapphire, sweet lavender leaves, white cranberry juice, ginger ale, and a fresh lychee garnish. For wine drinkers, Dish has a list with most bottles priced between $40 and $60, but it is short and pedestrian. We paid $48 for a bottle of Next Oregon Pinot Noir, which is inexpensive in the world of pricey Oregon Pinots. It retails for under $20.
The menu is also short and affordable (most entrées are priced around $18). Many of the items appear on paper to be predictable, upscale bar food: flatbreads, sliders, Caesar salad, and flat-iron steak. But chef Doug Brown’s execution of the dishes delights.
Take the flatbreads. Just when I thought I couldn’t bring myself to order another plate of this ubiquitous appetizer, our server delivered a hot-from-the-oven, crispy-crusted pizza lightly sprinkled with organic shiitake mushrooms grown in Denison, melted Texas goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, arugula, and pesto. On our second visit, we sampled one covered with mozzarella cheese and pepperoni from Jimmy’s Food Store in East Dallas. The pies are priced from $4 to $13, and they make a great cocktail nosh or a starter for four people.
And crab dip? Chef Brown elevates this local menu fixture above its peers. We were astonished by the abundance of lump crab swirled into a bowl of melted Reggiano, cream cheese, and mascarpone.
We drew the line at ordering another plate of sliders. It is time for us to move past sliders. The folks at the table next to us picked up the puffy little buns filled with bacon and cheddar and sent them back to the kitchen because they were cold.
Which brings us to chef Brown’s Caesar salad. In 2002, he won AIWF’s popular annual Dallas Caesar Salad Competition. Dish’s rendition is a spinoff of his winning recipe. Crunchy romaine hearts are grilled, rolled in a stiff garlic and anchovy dressing, topped with fresh Parmesan-Reggiano and cracked black pepper, and served on a chilled plate. The Cobb Martini Salad is gimmicky. A server shows up with a big plastic shaker full of ingredients and shakes it tableside before pouring the mixture of shredded lettuce, blue cheese, grapes, chicken, smoked bacon, and cucumbers into a white bowl. Why the grapes? Why not go full tilt with the martini idea and toss in olives?
I got my fill of martini condiments—olives and pearl onions—with a lovely plate of roasted free range chicken from Fran’s Fryers in Milford, Texas. Two generous pieces of crispy-skinned chicken ($18) are served in a shallow bowl filled with natural au jus scented with honey, lemon, and olive oil. The tender meat, which Brown brines for 24 hours before cooking, falls from the bone at the touch of a fork. The smothered pork chop was also a thing of beauty—and a bargain at $19. The 3-inch chop, marinated in bourbon, was slightly pink and juicy in the center and topped with a sweet and peppery compote of sautéed apples and wilted arugula. The accompanying yellow mashed potatoes appear to be equal parts butter and potatoes whipped like cream.
The nightly specials are priced higher than the regular menu. One evening we ordered almond-crusted halibut for $28. The portion of delicate, nutty white fish was huge, almost twice the size of the house-cured, pan-seared salmon ($19). It was enough for two, and I can still taste the accompanying faintly sweet, creamy jasmine rice.
Fans of Brown’s former restaurant, Amuse, will recognize black mussels steamed in white wine, clam juice, garlic, and roasted tomatoes. Chunks of spicy chorizo collide with mussel shells and compete for space in the earthy tomato broth. Why Dish does not offer bread to soak up this luscious juice is beyond me. Note: take your own bread.
Or pop over to Brown and partner Jason Foss’ newest outpost of their gourmet-to-go shop, Beyond the Box. The tiny space filled with goodies is a few doors down from Dish, which is nestled on the ground floor of the Ilume building on Cedar Springs. Hopefully the residents of the apartments upstairs will have left a few H&H Bagels imported from New York.
DJs Miller and Paredes may be the stars of the after-hours show, but Henry’s Homemade Ice Cream in Plano takes center stage on the dessert menu. See if you can resist two gooey chocolate brownies skewered with a tower of smoked pecan brittle and a generous scoop of Henry’s maple ice cream. Or a trio of Henry’s ice creams—maple, bourbon, and Mexican vanilla—served with tiny peanut butter and sea salt cookies. Lemon icebox pie is topped with a deconstructed meringue. Instead of a fluffy cloud of baked egg whites, the smooth white sauce is toasted and oozes over the side. Box up any leftover brownie or pie. That’s what this old gal did. Because what’s the use of beauty sleep if you can’t eat pie for breakfast?
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