The Second Floor is a handy name in that it identifies the restaurant’s location: on the second floor of the Westin Galleria Dallas Hotel, where a year-long renovation is about to end. The redo meant closing Options, the former in-house restaurant. Remember Options? No? To guarantee that things will be different with The Second Floor, Westin management hired a Known Chef to catch the eye of the locals.
Enter Scott Gottlich and his wife Gina, whose Inwood Village restaurant, Bijoux, has earned local raves as well as notice from national authorities such as Bon Appetit, which in June 2007 named it one of the “10 Hottest New Restaurants.” Bijoux is a foodie spot, and that’s the audience Westin hopes to attract. But hotel restaurants must also fill a more utilitarian role. They must be open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and offer items with enough mainstream appeal to satisfy a broad audience.
Gottlich and executive chef J. Chastain (aka “Jeremy”) get that. They’re not above serving a burger. But theirs was no ordinary burger. It was a large, thick patty with irregular edges, covered with blue cheese, too much almost, just starting to melt. French fries were thick matchsticks, crunchy at the tips, soft in the middle, and dusted with thyme.
This is how much of the menu goes: balancing the restaurant’s need for basic, familiar dishes with Gottlich’s desire to keep things interesting. Basically, it’s a hotel restaurant with a secret French bistro at its core. Entrees include pork chop, New York strip, and roast chicken, but often served with unique sides. Filet mignon came with Vidalia onion bread pudding, for example, and the trout came with pureed celeriac.
Sandwiches followed the same drill. The BLT was super-upscale, with a slab of firm, smoky house-cured salmon; watercress instead of iceberg lettuce; and brand-name Nueske’s bacon, an applewood-smoked variety from Wisconsin.
Pasta was house-made, and again with the brand names: gnocchi made with Kennebac potatoes, a super-white spud with an extra-fluffy texture. The dumplings were impeccably soft and in a goat-cheese cream with wilted fresh spinach and toasted walnuts. Awesome dish.
Grilled chicken pappardelle was created to please the healthy-minded customer, but, boy, did it turn off the traditional diner at my table. He was right about the funky, watery texture of the cubed chicken, but the whole-wheat pappardelle had a neat stiff texture that folded and broke into pieces. Well, health nuts would like it.
House breads came from LaBrea Bakery in California, but the pizza dough was made on-site. It was pale and light and more soft than crisp. Risk-takers could choose from truffles and goat cheese or duck confit, while a classic margherita offered a safer choice.
Appetizers included everybody’s favorite, calamari, but the list also included Gottlich trademarks such as sliced raw tuna with sheets of fresh watermelon, and Hudson Valley foie gras with figs and peppered brioche. Grilled prawns went crazy with components: arugula, sliced peaches, and a brown-buttered peach vinaigrette; a fried-green tomato slice, possibly included to add a sharp note, was flavorless and quickly forgotten.
Gottlich favors charcuterie plates and here offered a trio with duck prosciutto, trotter sausage with truffles, and an excellent venison terrine. The cheese plate features three cheeses that vary, partnered with almonds, fruit, baby greens, and a smear of honeycomb. Good, but needed crackers.
Breakfast, predictably, did not stop at traditional bacon and eggs. The B&E here combined overeasy eggs with crispy pork belly and soft sautéed apples. Granola French toast came with fresh raspberries and a spoonful of lush mascarpone. It’s a pity they don’t serve the Belgian waffle at all hours; topped with cinnamon raisins, molasses, and a shot of Bailey’s crème, it’d make a great midnight splurge.
The staff, likeable and sincere but exceedingly inexperienced, may advise otherwise, but among desserts, the standout was the banana split. A banana was sliced lengthwise then brûléed and paired with excellent house-made ice cream, drizzled with chocolate and caramel sauce.
At the bar, Gina Gottlich has instituted a serious Scotch program with more than 60 bottles from all over Scotland. It surpasses the somewhat limited wine list. There are flights of Scotches from $15 and even imported Speyside Glenlivet sparkling water, made to be paired with Glenlivet Scotch.
Gina is also responsible for the ultra-chic décor, done in pale tones of beige and sage. Fans of minimalism will love it, but the traditionalist is likely to call it sterile or, to quote my dining partner, “like a hotel restaurant.” Well, yeah.
Get contact information for The Second Floor.