The Restaurant Issue

In 2005, we discovered a few trends we love, young chefs who are heating up the Dallas dining scene, 10 outstanding new restaurants, and Dallas’ signature chef, Stephan Pyles, back in business. Dining in Dallas has never been finer.

SWEET BREADS: Save room for the peach-hazelnut bread pudding at Hector’s.

Yum!
We love food—everything about it. In 2005, we ate our way across the plains of North Texas, searching high and low for culinary highlights. Along the way we discovered a few trends we love and a few that drive us nuts. We also encountered some talented young chefs who are heating up the Dallas dining scene. Ten new restaurants won us over and have become haunts we’d go to on our own nickel. And we were thrilled to find Dallas’ signature chef, Stephan Pyles, back in the kitchen. The following pages tell the story: dining in Dallas has never been finer.

The 10 Best New Restaurants
Last year, we reviewed many new restaurants. Some we loved the first time around; others we didn’t. But we don’t let one good—or bad—experience carve our opinion. As the year came to a close, we reconsidered the restaurants we wrote about in 2005. These 10 take top honors.

1 HECTOR’S ON HENDERSON
Hector Garcia knows a thing or two about being a gracious host. He spent 18 years at the Riviera, once the grand dame of the Dallas dining scene. Garcia’s refined, well-mannered style is reflected in all aspects of his namesake restaurant. From the hostess stand to the busboy refilling the water glass, Hector’s treats the customer like royalty, which is unusual these days, especially in less formal dining rooms like this one.

Garcia has changed with the times. Instead of pulling in any number of qualified chefs in Dallas, he picked Todd Erickson (see “Young Guns;” scroll to the end of the page and click NEXT), a young whippersnapper who was more than ready to whip up a deliciously wacky menu. Erickson’s food is as fresh as his ideas, and he is innovative without being self-important. His “hey, I think I’ll take a whole candied apple and fill it with cinnamon crème brûlée” attitude reminds us of a young Dean Fearing who wasn’t afraid to put ancho chilies in a chocolate cake.

The atmosphere may be low-key—minimalist gray, black, and white accented with colorful paintings by Matt Sundermann—and you can actually hear your partner while you dine, but the real star here is the food. Individual chicken livers are dressed up for church with fancy hats made from bunches of wild salad mix, and Lord knows Erickson’s version of turkey and dumpling soup will save your soul. Meatloaf, licorice root-smoked venison loin, and tiger shrimp served on Anson Mill cheddar grits are also religious experiences.

Hector’s may not have the hottest buzz, but it has the warmest welcome in town. 2929 N. Henderson Ave. 214-821-0432.

2 HIBISCUS
Less than a foot away from Hector’s is the anti-Hector’s: Hibiscus. Consilient Restaurants owner Tristan Simon and executive chef Nick Badovinus, the Pied Pipers of Henderson Avenue, have created an upscale Pacific-influenced chophouse and grill for their devoted see-and-be-seen hipsters and celebrity followers. The lights are low, a fireplace warms the redwood bar, and chocolate brown high-backed booths line the dining room wall. It’s a perfect perch to watch Badovinus run his exhibition kitchen. The “wow” factor is in full force: huge portions of food spill across almost every dish, and a waiter carrying a foot-long plate filled with tuna tartare and honey soy-glazed foie gras turns as many heads as the well-endowed females who float between the bar and the ladies room.

The food is pure sex. Dungeness crab dip is hot bubbling sin on a platter, and the bungalow salad is not the type you’d take home to Mom. It’s a decadent mound of iceberg lettuce chopped with tomato, avocado, apple-smoked bacon, candied pecans, and crumbled blue cheese tossed in mustard vinaigrette, big enough to serve four. T. Boone’s Tenderloin & Tomato (named for investor T. Boone Pickens) is a glorious feast of beautiful meat, juicy tomatoes, and Pt. Reyes—oh, so trendy—blue cheese.

Hibiscus is hip, hopping, and happening. 2927 Henderson Ave. 214-827-2927.

Sea scallops with squid-ink angel hair pasta from Lanny’s.

3 LANNY’S ALTA COCINA MEXICANA
As part of the Joe T. Garcia’s dynasty, chef Lanny P. Lancarte II could have gotten by, dishing out fajitas and enchiladas. But instead he left Texas to travel and study with esteemed chefs such as Diana Kennedy and Rick Bayless. Armed with innovative ideas, he returned to Fort Worth to open his own place. And so we get Lanny’s Alta Cocina Mexicana, whose terrific Nuevo Mexican thrills both locals and foodies across the country, not to mention feeding a trend in the area for authentic and regional Mexican. Lancarte often pits high concepts against low, whether it’s carne asada made with Prime-grade beef, thick corn sopes topped with duck confit, or golden gnocchi made with butternut squash. Desserts such as a terrine made with ice cream and sheets of praline are a delight, and his tart-sweet pomegranate margarita beats the rest with its presentation over a bowl of crushed ice. He does all this in a soothing, understated room that seats 64. Service isn’t always up to the task, but the mix of foodies and Fort Worth’s finest makes for excellent people-watching. 3405 W. Seventh St., Fort Worth. 817-850-9996.

David McMillan takes a break at 62 Main.

4 62 MAIN RESTAURANT
When executive chef David McMillan announced that he was leaving his prestigious post at Nana to open his own place near his home in Colleyville, many Dallas restaurant insiders thought he’d lost his mind. A fine dining establishment on Tarrant County chain-gang turf? Could foraged mushroom and thyme soup sell in a ’burb where the garbage cans behind redbrick single-family homes are full of empty pizza boxes and disposable diapers? Apparently so. 62 Main is a stunning upscale (and upstairs) restaurant with sophisticated fare and a reasonably priced ($49 with wine) four-course chef tasting menu.

We’ll drive back if only for one more bite of the halibut lacquered with honey and mustard seeds. Or the pork tenderloin filets served with cabbage and celery root purée accented with currants, pine nuts, fresh apple cider, and violet mustard. If Outback Steakhouse is your regular haunt, you will be delighted to find that McMillan’s kitchen turns out a lovely tenderloin of beef surrounded by charred onions and shallot sauce for just a few dollars more than the Aussie chain.

62 Main would have topped this year’s list if the service we received on our first visit had matched any of our others. Our experiences ranged from well-mannered, knowledgeable, and efficient to unbelievably inefficient and rude. Perhaps the fine folks in Colleyville will set them straight. 62 Main St., Ste. 200, Colleyville. 817-605-0858.

5 DANIELE OSTERIA
Daniele Osteria is one of a wave of places enabling us finally to say ciao to red-sauce Italian. The food here is authentic Italian regional cuisine in the mode of Palermo, Sicily, where chef-owner Daniele Puleo grew up. That means pristine fish such as orange roughy, grilled and topped with a sharply flavored ragout of fresh tomatoes, olives, and capers. It means house-made pasta such as pappardelle, long ribbons that fold in the mouth, tossed with calamari, cherry tomatoes, olives, capers, onion, and arugula. It means filet with Gorgonzola sauce and radicchio, grilled until warm and soft. This is elegant Italian, served on colorful custom pottery that bears Daniele’s name. Puleo, who favors tailored European suits and chic designer sunglasses, has a grade-A resume, starting with the family restaurant in Italy, then on to Arizona, followed by Los Angeles, where he worked at famed Italian temples Rex Il Ristorante and Drago. His kitchen had some missteps when it first opened, and the complimentary house bread still isn’t worth the bother. But the place has found its footing, with a worldly mix of customers, not just from Dallas but all over, who know the real (Italian) deal when they taste it. 3300 Oak Lawn Ave., Ste. 110. 214-443-9420.

The lavish interior and talented sushi chefs of Nobu.

6 NOBU
“Egads! Another new sushi restaurant?” we cried upon learning that the famous Japanese restaurant was coming to Hotel Crescent Court. Not long ago, we referred to sushi as “bait.” Today, like donut shops in Canada, sushi spots have popped up on nearly every corner.

But Nobu is not just another bait shop. Sure, the menu offers just about every exotic creature available, but the heart of the dining experience lies in the sometimes subtle, sometimes subtle as a train wreck Peruvian accents, which chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa picked up while in Lima, Peru, running a restaurant catering to Japanese business travelers.

Not all of our dining experiences at Nobu lived up to our expectations. On our first trip, the signature broiled black cod with miso was wretched; the fishy scent hit our noses before the plate hit the table. The rest of the meal, however, was fabulous. A ranchero steak grilled to a cool pink center was accompanied by Peruvian chili paste called anti-cucho sauce and avocado garnish, and the customers at the table (six inches) to our left ordered the whole tempura sea bass. Before long, we were sharing.

Which is exactly what the staff encourages. Every time a new face appears, they shout a Japanese welcome. But once you’ve relaxed with a box of sake, the servers take a firm stance on how and what you order. Once our toro with fresh jalapeño was placed before us, our tiny waitress demanded, with the authority of a prison guard, that we eat each bite with two accompanying cilantro leaves. Daring her, we didn’t. Seconds later she returned to the table and stood there until we did it right. (It was delicious both ways.)

The vibe is cool, the drinks are creative (another Pisco Mora, please!), and the place is always packed. Most of the diners we interviewed didn’t love, love, love the food, but they sure loved being at Nobu. 400 Crescent Ct. 214-252-7000.

Joseph Gutierriz from Tutto.

7 TUTTO
Chef Joseph Gutierriz already had a notch in his belt with Rouge, which he opened in 2003. The Park Cities spot was instrumental in making Spanish food a major local trend. Not enough. Still hungry, Gutierriz, who’s a native of Spain’s Basque region, opened Tutto in early ’05 as a place to take his Spanish expertise and apply it to Italian food. The result is just as saucy and robust as you might expect. The menu has a bold, take-charge personality, full of strong ingredients that come together forcefully, such as house-made pasta with shrimp, basil, walnuts, and vodka, or the tender braised rabbit with olives, garlic, and potatoes. Whether a bright green salad with pine nuts and oranges, or plump mussels with roasted tomatoes, there’s an overly ripened, sensuous aspect to what he does, as if his ingredients had been plucked at their very peak. It’s probably true, because he goes to the market almost daily. But it’s not just the food. Tutto, which means “everything,” has a dark, intense energy that seems to radiate from the food, the wine, the vividly hued paintings on the wall. 2719 McKinney Ave. 214-220-0022.

Chef Abraham Salum (above) prepares a killer roasted rack of lamb (below).

8 SALUM
It’s not as if Abraham Salum wasn’t an established chef. He’d studied in New England, cooked in Europe, and oversaw the kitchen at Parigi for four years. But the luster on that Oak Lawn bistro had faded; it’s almost as if he were invisible. So when he opened his self-titled restaurant on the edge of Uptown, it came as a surprise. Maybe that was part of the price: that he toil in near obscurity before getting to shine with this jewel of a restaurant. And shine it does. It’s a sleek, sexy spot, thanks to designer Julio Quinones’ warm minimalism and amber-tan tones. Chef Salum presides over an open kitchen that eliminates all borders between diner and chef. Aside from delivering a certain voyeuristic thrill, it also conveys a sense of confidence so joyous that’s it’s contagious. If he’s that comfortable with what he’s doing, so are we. And justifiably so. Dijon and truffle-crusted rack of lamb with wild mushroom savory bread pudding, pork shank with grilled polenta, chicken galantine with goat cheese and chestnuts—this is food to be proud of, with its earthy, comforting pleasures. Salum is here, and we know who he is. 4152 Cole Ave., Ste. 13. 214-252-9604.

9 CAMPANIA PIZZA & MORE
Unlike contractors, not all lawyers are snakes. Especially when a lawyer is so passionate about food that he totes his wife all over Italy until he finds the perfect pizza. Then he uses his international lawyering skills to import the perfect pizza to Dallas. North Dallas attorney Dennis Reinhold, along with his partner, Miles Pennella, owner of a mortgage company, are not only shipping over almost all of their ingredients (cheese, flour, and tomato sauce) from their new partners in Naples, but they are also flying in, on a rotating basis, some of Italy’s finest pizza makers. Quality is key: everything from the extra virgin olive oil to the mosaic-tiled tables is top-of-the-line (and also from Naples). But the key ingredient at Campania is the finely milled Caputo pizza flour they use to create a perfect crust. It’s not too thick, not too thin, and never gooey, which is an amazing feat when said crust of one pizza, the quattro formaggi, is loaded with imported buffalo mozzarella, Groviera, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and Provolone. The calzone Luciano, filled with ricotta, basil, ham, mozzarella, and Parmigiano-Reggiano, is something Dallas has never tasted before. But save room for the simple, but sinfully delicious dessert pizza slathered with Nutella and dotted with whipped cream. Hopefully by the time you read this, the expansion of the tiny 1,000-square-foot space will be complete. 3800 McKinney Ave., Ste. 150. 214-780-0605.

Campania serves a dessert pizza made with Nutella and whipped cream.

10 GO FISH
Go Fish in Addison is the latest entry in chef Chris Svalesen’s Odyssean search for the perfect place to cook and serve fish. (Previous pit stops included 36 Degrees and, before that, the award-winning Fish.) This time around, he appears to have found a committed team that recognizes his mad-genius skills with fins and shells. When it comes to cooking fish, nobody has a better feel for when to apply heat and when to remove it, and for what approach or accompaniment brings out the best flavors. His seared ahi is pure as sushi, while his Diver scallops sport a sautéed-crisp Parmesan crust. A Northeastern native, Svalesen does a classic fish ’n’ chips that are as good as it gets, but the dish that’s become his signature is his green soup, a Mexican bouillabaisse stocked with seafood and laced with poblano peppers that inject a slow-building heat. Though the front-of-the-house staff has five-star experience, Go Fish can be manic, with occasional mood swings in both food and service. But for the fresh seafood cult, it doesn’t matter. This is where you go to eat fish. 4950 Belt Line Rd., Ste. 190, Addison. 972-980-1919.

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Trends on the Table
You eat out often. So you’ve probably noticed the same dishes and ingredients on menus all over town. (Pomegranates, anyone?) Food trends are like anything else: an ingredient shows up on a plate, it becomes hot, then it gets hugely popular, and eventually it shows up at Chili’s. Scan the list below to see which are hot and which are toast. —T.G.

FRESH
Authentic Italian cuisine. It started with Taverna, and the hits kept coming: Daniele Osteria, Campania, and the reborn Nicola’s in Plano.

Brisket. We found them in obvious places (brisket tacos at Manny’s) and not-so-obvious (pot stickers at Fuse).

Chandeliers. The bigger (Nicola’s), the more radical (Standard), the better.

Ganache. This la-dee-da word for chocolate cream makes a menu sound cool. Thus, “ganache fritters” at Nobu and “ganache wontons” at Fuse.

Pomegranate. As in the pom cocktail at Cafe San Miguel, the pom vinaigrette at Salum, and the pom margarita at Lanny’s.

Regional Mexican cuisine. Practitioners include Lanny’s Alta Cocina Mexicana, Cafe San Miguel, RJ Mexican Cuisine, and Tlaque.

Root beer. It’s on tap at Village Burger Bar, house-made at both Alligator Cafe and Dairy-Ette on Ferguson, and deconstructed in a dessert at Standard.

Second-gen molten chocolate cakes. Eat ’em with green tea ice cream at Nobu and pumped up with Oaxacan chocolate at Lanny’s.

Sweet potato fries. Get the sweet spuds at Village Burger Bar and Hattie’s.

STALE
Short ribs. Enough of this poor man’s osso buco. There’s never enough bone to gnaw.

Salads with candied nuts and fruit. First came salads with oranges and almonds. Then pears and walnuts. We always knew where we stood with iceberg lettuce.

Seared tuna. Don’t be surprised if McDonald’s comes out with a McTuna.

Seared tuna (heh).

Champagne cocktails. This is not a case of taking a sad song and making it better. Adding sugar and liquor to champagne is blasphemy.

Tall herb garnishes. Here’s some rosemary in your eye!

Tim Byres and Jeff Qualls

Young Guns
The last time Dallas had a chef cabal, it gave us Southwestern Cuisine and changed our culinary landscape. This year, we have a new wave of chefs whose commonality is not cuisine but youth. Most are under 30, and yet they’re already occupying top posts and winning raves—some at their very own places. Here’s a look at the new school of baby chefs.
by Teresa Gubbins

TODD ERICKSON
Station: Executive chef at Hector’s on Henderson, the upscale regional-cuisine hot spot
Age: 26
Signature dish: Venison loin with fire-roasted figs and root vegetables
School: CIA
First restaurant job: At age 19, at Thomaso’s, an Italian restaurant in Hudson, Ohio
Inspiration: Cooking dinner with his mother

Todd Erickson

TIM BYRES
Station: Executive chef and co-owner of Standard, the old-new kid on the block in Uptown
Age: 30
Signature dish: Short ribs with white bean purée
School: Johnson & Wales, Miami
First restaurant job: At age 16, at the Village South in Vero Beach, Florida
Inspiration: Mom’s blue-ribbon apple pie

JEFF QUALLS
Station: Chef at Poppy’s Garden Cafe, McKinney’s favorite new high-end haunt
Age: 26
Signature dish: Thai beef jerky with cilantro-chile sauce
School: CIA
First restaurant job: At age 13, at MG’s, a burger restaurant in Sherman
Inspiration: Making Duncan Hines brownies with his grandmother

Colleen O’Hare, Tre Wilcox, and Blaine Staniford

COLLEEN O’HARE
Station: Executive chef at the Green Room, the foodie temple in Deep Ellum
Age: 31
Signature dish: Quince-braised rabbit over chorizo and pumpkin fideos
School: Self-taught
First restaurant job: At age 14, Sugar Valley Country Club in Bellbrook, Ohio
Inspiration: Other successful chefs such as Traci Des Jardins

TRE WILCOX
Station: Chef de cuisine at Abacus, the award-winning fusion restaurant of national repute
Age: 29
Signature dish: Duck three ways: foie gras, duck breast, and confit crepe
School: Hard knocks
First restaurant job: At age 16, at a family restaurant in Duncanville
Inspiration: Food Network, celebrity chefs

BLAINE STANIFORD
Station: Executive chef and partner of Fuse, the Tex-Asian urban citizen
Age: 25
Signature dish: Brisket pot stickers
School: CIA
First restaurant job: At age 10, at a summer cooking class at the Anatole
Inspiration: Grandparents’ down-home cooking

SHINY, HAPPY CHEF: At his new restaurant, Stephan Pyles serves Dallas favorites, such as bone-in ribeye (below), as well as new classics.

Command Performance
After five years away from the kitchen, Dallas super chef Stephan Pyles returns to the dining stage with a brilliant new namesake restaurant.
by Nancy Nichols

Rock stars do it all the time. They put out a great album, spin a few No. 1 hits, and then retreat to their mansions and count money.

Stephan Pyles did it, too. During a 22-year career, he banged out 14 restaurants, including smash singles such as Routh Street Cafe, Baby Routh, Star Canyon, and AquaKnox. He also jammed on menus for Dragonfly and Ama Lur. On the flip side, like many aging acts, he’s made the occasional mistake of giving in to crass commercialization. When he sold AquaKnox and Star Canyon to Carlson Restaurants Worldwide, it offended our sensibilities as badly as hearing Bob Dylan warbling as a pitchman for Victoria’s Secret.

With classic artists, though, you remember the hits, not the bombs. For every Taqueria Cañonita, Pyles has created dishes that are benchmarks for Dallas dining. Even the most casual Pyles fans still crave the beloved tamale tart, the bone-in ribeye stacked with onion rings, and his signature Heaven and Hell cake.

Dallas, it’s time to flick your Bics. Stephan Pyles is back on an oh-so-glamorous stage and ready for an encore. He’s not only belting out his golden oldies, but he’s also created a few new classics.

Most of Pyles’ original band is intact. What would a Stephan Pyles restaurant be without his business partner George Majdalani? Majdalani’s graciousness and charm—he greets every table—adds resonance to the production. The service staff provides the perfect backup: many of them started out at Routh Street and have loyally followed Pyles during the years. As soon as they learned that Pyles was back in production in the Dallas Arts District, they quit their gigs and headed downtown to join the show.

Smartly, Pyles handpicked two new talents: Dan Landsberg, from Seventeen Seventeen, is the kitchen’s executive chef, and Mark LaRocca, a most accommodating gent during his tenure at York Street, is the general manager. “We picked people who can work with the kind of intensity that Stephan and I like to get things done,” Majdalani says.

NO RESERVATIONS: The communal table at Stephan Pyles seats 18. You take your chances on getting a chair.

Intense? Stephan Pyles? He is an accomplished chef who could sit back and rest on his lobster tacos. But no. Pyles has thrown himself into every aspect of his new restaurant. One night he piddled around with the computerized music program until it was exactly what he wanted. The fact that it took him until 4 am was no big deal. “I had a blast,” he says. “It’s all part of the fun of being involved in a project like this. Plus, if this system breaks down, I want to be able to fix it.”

Everything from the food, music, kitchen setup, lighting, menu writing, and décor are personal statements. Pyles has long been known as a stickler for details, and, baby, this restaurant is fine-tuned right down to the hammered copper horny toads that adorn the walls.

His collaborator on those fabulous features is Marco French, an interior designer who has worked with Pyles on most of his past productions. The result is a sophisticated visual homage to Texas: stacked flagstone and terra cotta bricked walls, stained oak doors, mesquite wood floors, a woven paper Texas landscape by Dallas artist Rusty Scruby, and a backlit glass panel with desert cactus etched by Polly Gessell. Both artists also did work for Star Canyon and AquaKnox.

Pyles and French have created multiple dining choices, each with its own mood and price point. Once you pass the lighted waterfall cascading over a Santiago Peno sculpture by the front door, you can mosey over to the bar for drinking and noshing. If the weather is right, an outdoor dining terrace overlooks the landscaped grounds and water garden of Henry C. Beck Jr. Park. If you don’t have a reservation, grab a stool front and center at the 18-seat communal table. Looking for a meal that is light on the plate and the pocketbook? The 20-seat tapas-ceviche bar has a lengthy list of flatbreads, pizzas, tapas, and meze, with prices that hover around $10 a plate.

For fine dining, Pyles offers three unique dining spaces. All, of course, command a view of the 1,500-square-foot display kitchen equipped with a rotisserie and a wood-burning oven. It’s a glass box, if you will, where the chefs face inward, line three sides, and work madly. If you didn’t know it was a kitchen, you might think you’d stumbled upon a giant foosball tournament.

There is also an intimate 10-seat wine room and a 36-seat private dining room that is accessed through three floor-to-ceiling pivoting door panels.

The most stunning feature of the restaurant is the lighting, and everyone looks stunning because of it. A computerized system slowly changes the color as the evening progresses, affecting the glow of a Texas sunset. It’s subtle and refined.

However, the name of the cuisine—New Millennium Southwestern Cuisine—is confusing. Pyles, who has spent the last few years traveling and studying the cuisines of Spain, Morocco, South America, and the Mediterranean, seems to have stretched for a term to incorporate his new ideas with his Southwestern roots. But what’s in a name? In the end, it’s the resulting tastes that tell the story.

Don’t let the words “New Millennium” scare you into thinking you might be ordering Cryovaced spaceman food and a Tang margarita. The main menu is mostly a compilation of Pyles’ classics: the aforementioned tamale tart with roasted garlic custard from Baby Routh, the bone-in ribeye from Star Canyon, and the tres ceviches from AquaKnox anchor the lineup. Pyles has “crossdressed” a few new dishes successfully, particularly the foie gras, which he prepares Tacu Tacu-style—a colonial Peruvian dish that combines rice, beans, and fruit. Pyles sears the foie gras, then makes a little cake out of rice and lentils and finishes off the dish with caramelized bananas. The finicky foie gras lover in our group, who just returned from his third gastronomic tour de France, ordered it twice.

Each night Pyles offers a different whole fish cooked over the wood-burning grill. One evening an 18-inch, mesquite-scented red snapper with vanilla-roasted fennel, warm couscous, and pine nut salad melted in my mouth like whipped butter. The kitchen staff makes eating a cumbersome big fish easy by filleting the backside, turning it over, and setting the fillet on top of the pretty side. You still have the thrill of eating off the bone, but you don’t have to flip the fish over and ruin your French manicure to get to the good stuff.

However, a simple garden green salad is anything but. It’s a gimmicky make-your-own, mix-and-match mess and would certainly chip your nails if you attempted to hand toss it. A plate piled high with greens comes with two salt-filled shot glasses with plastic pipettes of various oils and vinegars protruding like hairpins. (Could this be what he means by New Millennium?) The accompanying designer salts—fleur de sel, hickory-smoked sea salt, and Hawaiian lava salt—make the taste task impossible. Dressing a salad becomes a mad scientist’s experiment. If I’m dressed up for dinner, I prefer to have my salad dressed up for me.

But, a dramatic drum roll, please: the bone-in cowboy ribeye with red chile onion rings and pinto wild mushroom ragout is exactly the same as it was at Star Canyon. But now, try something completely different. Our 16-year-old salmon junkie, born with a silver fish fork in her mouth, downed a huge portion of salmon wrapped in spicy hojo santa leaves that was served on golden, creamy paella laced with crabmeat. Let us not forget the raw bar and ceviche menu, where AquaKnox fans can get their shellfish fix with build-your-own oyster, shrimp, clam, and lobster platters. The ceviche menu offers six varieties, including Chilean sea bass with avocado, tomatillo, and serrano.

But the heart of “New Millennium Stephan” lies in his tapas, or small plates, menu. Here the fusion isn’t forced; geography plays a part in his creations. It’s logical for the vibrant tastes of Spain to blend with exotic Moroccan flavors. Killer dishes include pappas con huevos estrellado y foie gras, which is just a fancy way of saying fried potatoes and foie gras with a smashed egg on top—a deal of a meal at $10. Spiced almonds with marinated olives and manchego cheese or freshly baked pitas with three dipping sauces—baba ghanoush, portobello-goat cheese hummus, and cucumber yogurt with mint—are perfect pre-theater, post-New Millennium noshes.

These dishes are indicative of the new Stephan Pyles: a more relaxed, mature chef with a toned-down approach. “I’m tired of writing poetry and using all those adjectives,” he says, referring to the simple entrée descriptors like “really good olive oil” and “coffee and donuts.” Yes, you read that correctly, for after Heaven and Hell cake you can have three small powdered-sugar donuts and a cup of coffee.

Pyles at his prime still has a healthy sense of adventure about food. He has absorbed the flavors of many places. But he also has a traveler’s appreciation of coming home. Pyles’ soul is Southwestern, and, in the end, that’s what his food is—bold, even risky sometimes, but always with a welcome taste of Texas roots. He’s kind of like Willie Nelson. He can sing a duet with just about any flavor and have another hit on the charts. 1807 Ross Ave. 214-580-7000.

Main Photography by Kevin Hunter Marple

Other Photos: Young Guns: Dan Sellers; Erickson: Elizabeth Lavin

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