This week’s biggest dining scene news was that following the closing of Smoke, Tim Byres has joined Stephan Pyles at the Arts District’s Flora Street Café as managing director of Stephan Pyles Concepts. For those who know both Pyles and Byres, it will seem no surprise, in some ways. They will draw lines between both chefs’ approaches to regional cooking, the insinuations of smoke, the idea of cooking over live fire.
Byres was executive chef at the now-closed Stephan Pyles. (Chefs J Chastain, of The Charles, and Matt McCallister, of now-closed FT-33, have also gone through that kitchen.) He left to open Smoke. But in the recent years, his focus has turned increasingly towards a desire for storytelling with food. Less time on the line, more time curating experiences. Byres has worked on a dude ranch in Montana, creating intimate dining scenarios for 150 guests. These were the experiences he kept coming back to.
“I was telling Stephan, we’re gonna close [Smoke], and this is where I’m going to head,” Byres says. “I’m thinking about purposefully curating experiences for guests.” Pyles offered him the position. For Byres, a chef who has reinvented himself numerous times, this time it will be more about re-imagining Flora Street Café.
Every time I walk by the glittering dining room with its floor-to-ceiling windows on my way to the Wyly or the Winspear, it’s the fine crystal I note, the white tablecloths. There are few places where you can look in from the outside and see such splendor. That, apparently, is not the impression Pyles wants to continue to create.
The theatrical décor—the shimmering silk wall that is a commissioned art piece; the flouncing “Shylight” sculpture about which we’ve written—all of that will stay. But the jewel-box restaurant will be the setting for less fussy service. The most rarified service, it seems, will now be the province of another downtown restaurant, The French Room, under new executive chef Anthony Dispensa. Flora Street is going slightly more casual.
“The directive of service [at Flora Street] has been very formal. I know for myself, I enjoy the formal experience. But I won’t enjoy it on a once-a-week basis,” Byres says. “So, if you’re out and about, we want you to be able to say, ‘Let’s swing by Flora Street, and let’s look at the opera house.’ And it’s not the kind of thing where you have to go home and change first.”
What will more approachable mean? “Just calm some stuff down,” Byres says. “Just take a little starch out of the shirt. Underneath those tablecloths are beautiful handmade tables,” he adds, with a wink in his voice. “I’d love to see a spring day with people with wine out on the patio.”
If anything, I suspect it may mean a menu that’s easier to read, and perhaps doing away with or reconfiguring the tasting menu, priced at $150. (Even The French Room recently revamped its tasting menu, decreasing it from a set seven to a more flexible volley of courses.) In April, I wrote about the high-flying vegetarian tasting menu: “A winter salad composed of hibiscus leaves from a farm in Ohio and crimson-veined baby radicchio is topped with burrata, yogurt sorbet, pickled beets, pomegranate seeds, and cocoa ‘soil.’ It feels like a walk in the woods.” But if a tasting menu is not a symphony and stupendous, it’s not a thing that Dallas is into. And it can’t command that price on an average Tuesday night.
In his recent reveal entitled the “10 Biggest Snubs” in the Dallas Observer‘s list of 100 best restaurants, the Observer’s dining critic Brian Reinhardt mentioned failings in service and execution.
The overarching question remains: “How do we make it an innovative and exciting place that’s a beacon for the Arts District and a representation of the city at a high level?” Byres says.
Cody Sharp and Evan Pemberton will continue to lead the kitchen. Byres will be involved in catering and brand development outside the restaurant.
And they will add brunch. So, I asked: is that where Smoke’s lemon ricotta pancakes will show up? It sounds likely that they will.