In a downtown teeming with trendy haute cuisine, Lone Star State- sized steaks, and tourist-filled hot spots (with the souvenir t-shirts to match), lunch at the Dallas Museum of Art is a welcome respite of urbane civility. Picture it: a lunch break of tea-smoked chicken salad, Chardonnay, and Cézanne. Doesn’t that sound nice, almost tranquil?
It’s a shame then that Seventeen Seventeen, the DMA’s fine dining restaurant, is a spotty experience. That’s not to say there’s not much to enjoy. The Paul Draper gallery-like design is certainly serene. A sunny patio overlooking Ross Avenue provides just the right amount of street-life bustle. Likewise, the friendly and accommodating service lends the restaurant a welcome dash of personality. Even the crowd is a pleasant mix of the downtown business elite, ladies who lunch in their Talbots best, and art lovers. So, what’s to blame for Seventeen Seventeen’s disappointments? Surprisingly, it’s the much ballyhooed new menu from consulting celebrity chef Stephan Pyles.
Last summer, Pyles took the restaurant’s staid menu and injected it with some much-needed flair. That’s not to fault past chefs like the talented Dan Landsberg (now at Tillman’s Roadhouse) or David Uygur, who left the DMA for foodie darling Lola. But Pyles’ name garners instant press, something the buzz-deficient Seventeen Seventeen needed. With the help of Executive Chef Jason Ferraro, Pyles has created a Middle Eastern-influenced menu that looks great on paper. Some items are even quite memorable, like the East African sweet pea soup with cardamom lobster. It’s an earthy, creamy delight with punches of warm ginger-like spice. The soup alone warrants return visits. So do the perfectly cooked lamp chops with caper-raisin salsa and grilled figs. Another winner, a starter of crab fritters with Texas peaches, rested in a shallow broth of vanilla and Thai chili. The sauce enhanced the shellfish’s subtle sweetness.
Alas, another Pyles signature dish—the tamarind-cured beef—didn’t fare quite as well. The beef was quite flavorful. But the accompanying sides of cheeses, Marcona almonds, macerated fruit, and micro greens were strange pairings. Together they felt more like a fruit and cheese platter a party of four would share as a sampler. It simply overwhelmed the lovely beef. Both the southern-fried tuna sandwich (too dry, the breading too soggy) and soft-shell crab on garlic naan (all garlic, no crab flavor) suffered from too many competing flavors and poor execution. Two deconstructed desserts—a banana split and coconut cream pie—were sweet comfort but nothing special.
Perhaps Pyles and Ferraro should edit the menu further. Fewer competing ingredients, more clear flavors. After all, a visit to the DMA challenges the imagination and feeds the soul. Shouldn’t Seventeen Seventeen’s food do the same?
1717 N. Harwood St.
THE FOOD: World Cuisine
THE COST: Average lunch entrée price $18
WHO’S THERE: Laura Miller, KPMG and Oracle Group executives, art patrons
FULL BAR: Yes
THE POWER TABLE: For a private one-on-one meeting, any of the four two-tops near the patio doors.