There’s an old restaurant review joke: “Nobody goes there anymore—it’s too crowded.” That ironic fate befell Five Sixty, the revolving restaurant that until recently topped Dallas’ Reunion Tower. Because of its panoramic, 360-degree view of the city’s skyline, tourists and the eager-to-impress kept Five Sixty packed with celebrations and conference dinners. And yet Dallas foodies swore they didn’t go. Multiple diners told me that not only had they not been in years, but they didn’t know anybody else who had. Five Sixty, operated by the global Wolfgang Puck empire, was that rare thing: an uncool landmark.
When Reunion Tower announced that a new, Las Vegas-based group was taking over from Puck and reopening the restaurant as Crown Block, foodie snobbery intensified. Las Vegas? Who falls for that?
I’ll tell you who falls for that: people who want an unforgettable occasion. With the view, the Vegas glamour, and the global steakhouse theme, Crown Block has the ingredients to make a real escape from the ordinary. If done right, it can be a statewide destination.
But, more than ever before, the actual dining experience here matters. That’s because the restaurant no longer revolves. Crown Block’s leadership team wanted to install immovable features such as plumbing and a showpiece bar, but there’s another advantage to the stationary setup. One of my guests, who’d visited Five Sixty for her senior prom, said, “It’s so nice to be here and not feel motion sick.”
By fixing Crown Block in place, the restaurant’s operators have changed the reason for going. A restaurant with a great view is romantic; a restaurant that rotates is kitsch. Maybe you enjoy the kitsch even more because you know a snob is thinking ill of you for enjoying it. A revolving restaurant is to a nice-view restaurant what the WWE is to Olympic wrestling.
The new dining room is not campy. It is spectacular. Green marble tables are topped with green leather place-mats. Much of the restaurant’s china is specially made for it in England; the gold scalloped pattern is mirrored in the wallpaper. A geode collection is on display. Crown-shaped beams of light zigzag across the ceiling. Two guests who’d been to the old Five Sixty (I hadn’t) tell me that the new restaurant is much brighter and feels more spacious. The only possible flaw is if you’re seated with your eyes pointed directly at the setting sun.
The bar, which keeps watch over downtown Dallas, is framed by two other counter fixtures: a seafood bar and a pastry station. At the former, sushi chef Intae Kim’s team creates rolls and nigiri. At the latter, bread baskets, cake pops, and cookies are neatly set out for diners.
The new dining room is not campy. It is spectacular.
Arriving at Crown Block feels like an event with a capital E. When you step out of the elevator, you’ll walk between the seafood and pastry counters on your way to the bar and its showstopping view. The host—alerted by the crew downstairs—will already know your name. With the skyline ahead and sushi to the right, Crown Block makes the best first impression in Dallas.
Its best culinary tricks measure up to its design feats. My table was ready to be jaded by a $26 crudité platter called the “farmer’s market stand,” but instead we were delighted. The actual stand, featuring all manner of veggie preparations, becomes the table’s centerpiece, like a vegetable version of English high tea. In July, our stand featured tea-pickled green beans, roasted mini bell peppers, turmeric-pickled cauliflower, blanched asparagus, eggplant chips, radishes, raw and pickled carrots, snap peas, hummus, and smoked onion dip. We liked the roasted artichokes so much, we wished we could order them as a side dish with our steak.
The sushi bar is a neat trick, too. Sushi at a steakhouse is a longtime Dallas quirk, a testament to our city’s love of protein. Kim, a veteran of Nobu and Uchi, supervises a program that combines the solid basics of good rice, seafood, and technique with the kind of panache you need in a sky-high venue. We sampled aburi, pressed salmon sushi pieces torched until nearly cooked through and topped with togarashi aioli and serrano peppers for heat (nice, but crying out for ponzu), and tuna tartare served in little black sesame cones, topped with hackleback caviar.
More showpieces are served at dessert. There are doughnut holes covered in a gigantic cotton candy hat (perhaps in tribute to an ’80s Dallasite’s beehive hair), excellent sticky toffee pudding with bourbon and orange Chantilly cream, and a rich caramel corn-topped peanut butter bar. You might depart with a surprise, too. One night, our server held up the elevator until he could hand us a bag of mini chocolate chip cookies.
In between the memorable first and last courses, however, Crown Block stays middlebrow, trying to appeal to palates that demand more of everything. Caesar salad is overly creamy and overdressed by half. Wagyu croquettes are beef trimmings, balled up and fried, with a “hot mustard” sauce that lacks hot mustard. In an apparent homage to the State Fair of Texas, macaroni and cheese gets stuffed inside a crispy waffle and served with a not-spicy jalapeño dip. The precooked macaroni overcooks in the waffle iron, leading one of my guests to complain of the dense, hard crust: “I have a steak knife, and I can’t cut a waffle.”
Crown Block’s fries are triple-cooked in a laborious process that takes three days and involves brining and multiple trips to the freezer. I call shenanigans. Triple-cooked fries as served by English chefs Heston Blumenthal and Tom Kerridge are shatteringly crispy on the outside and practically molten within. Their techniques require only a few hours and no brine. My batch of Crown Block’s fries was so squishy my teeth pushed them down without tearing them.
The kitchen’s big attractions are endangered by a haphazard application of salt. One night, our Akaushi strip loin, from Texas’ HeartBrand Beef, was flawlessly cooked, pink from edge to edge, a tender joy to dip in chimichurri. But another night, our marbled rib cap was so oversalted it tasted bitter and metallic. I couldn’t tell you anything about the flavor of the beef.
Branzino is butterflied and plated with grilled lemons and an arugula-fennel salad, but the fish, too, is salty. Side carrots bathed in Dallas-made yogurt and then roasted with gently spicy harissa are, also, salty. A vegetarian cavatelli pasta comes loaded with produce—and salt. Oddly enough, the only undersalted dish we received was the fries. (To be fair, I searched the restaurant’s Yelp and Google reviews for the words “salt” and “salty” and found no results. Maybe I got repeatedly unlucky.)
“I have a steak knife, and I can’t cut a waffle.”
Another culinary mystery here is the bread service. One night, we were served scrumptious bread topped with Asiago cheese and caramelized onions. On our other visit, we were never served bread at all.
Crown Block tries to appeal to Texans by serving a tequila-heavy cocktail menu, but the Vegas management underestimates our tequila savvy. Almost every agave cocktail, ranging from $17 to $22, comes by default with either Casamigos or Casa Dragones, two overhyped, celebrity-endorsed brands. The longer agave list is equally unimpressive. Stick to Socorro tequila, a Dallas-rooted brand that is both respectful of traditional methods and more affordably priced. (If you’re looking for an agave spirit education, start elsewhere in town at Las Almas Rotas, Ruins, La Viuda Negra, El Carlos Elegante, or Ayahuasca Cantina.)
Wine is also marked up to sky-high prices, but the service is terrific. Look past the cheapest bottles, which include bad bargains such as Gruet bubbly ($14 if you bulk buy at Spec’s; $75 here), to find some delights in the next tier up. Jean-Noël Haton makes a refreshing Champagne. If you forgo steak for salmon or the burger, try a brightly fruity Oregon pinot noir from Colene Clemens.
Playing to the masses with a menu of celebrity tequilas, fairground foods, and fancy fries is probably the best way to operate a restaurant in a tourist landmark such as Reunion Tower. “You’ve got to remember this restaurant is not for locals,” one of my guests reminded me on a night when the private dining floor was booked by a Pepsi convention. He’s right. And if Crown Block can tighten the lid on its saltshaker, it will have a long run of success with steaks, sushi, rich sauces, gorgeous design, and unbeatable views.
But this review is for locals. The owners of Crown Block saw our steakhouses, fairgrounds, see-and-be-seen destinations, and tequila bars and decided to incorporate elements of each. Its view is tops, but everything else risks being a runner-up.
This story originally appeared in the September issue of D Magazine with the headline, “Round and Round.” Write to [email protected].