We can bicker endlessly about which Dallas restaurant is best at this or that but I have little doubt which one is the most underrated. Asador at the The Renaissance Dallas Hotel (aka the ‘Lipstick Building’ on I-35, just north of town). Despite the iconic location it just cannot get anybody to notice it. Before 2011, anonymity was deserved. The restaurant in the space that became Asador was a JAHR (Just Another Hotel Restaurant), without distinction or ambition, serving a captive market of Market Center trade show visitors. In January of that year, Marriott came to an agreement with Chef Dean Max to reconceptualize the space and make it a destination. After all, if the Hilton Anatole could do it (and they were just over the road), so could they. David Trubenbach was brought in as chef and proceeded to implement Max’s concept of farm-to-fire with such gusto the menu had to be laser printed on what appeared to be bathroom tissue, so quickly did it change. I loved it. Trubenbach hankered to return to Florida and, when he did, Marriott brought in Culinary Institute of America graduate Brad Phillips in fall 2012. I went to his new menu announcement and summer harvest dinner series in 2014 and confirmed that he was maintaining the adventurousness and authenticity of Asador. Then, nothing. I thought the accountants had descended on the space (“let’s keep food costs below 4% here…”), essentially euthanizing a promising concept. Luckily, it appears that I was wrong.
Marriott just held a media dinner to highlight the return of the Chef’s Fall Harvest Dinners. I attended, not certain what to expect. I am pleased to say that the Farm to Fire journey continues. The kitchen is turning out great work, and they are making chutney, pickles, and mustard in house. If I were a young chef, I think this would be a fun and instructive place to apprentice.
A refreshing start is snapper crudo, squirted with fennel aioli, dotted with pomegranate seeds, and enlivened with crispy cilantro (deep fried for 30 seconds in vegetable oil) for textural modulation. I first saw pomegranate garnish fish at Abacus, where Kent Rathbun sprinkled them on pike. It is a way of adding visual effect and fruit without too much sugar.
Kale gets more airplay in restaurants than at any time I can remember. Its bitter bite and chewy texture seems to be meeting greater acceptance as diners search for the new and unusual. Phillips’ rendition is kale in a salad of pepitas (pumpkin seeds to monoglots), goat cheese for zest, roasted squash for earthy comfort notes, all kissed with apple vinaigrette to bring out the flavors.
While your vegetarian friends are savoring the above, check out a soup dish, bone broth. Hudspeth Farms chicken bones are simmered for 48 hours at 1750 and then combined with mustard greens and radish to create a rich and flavorful broth. Just the ticket for autumn.
Main courses also bring well-executed New American favorites accented with special touches. Thus, swordfish is accompanied by farro as its starch side and carrots which are puréed with brown butter. Most restaurants would settle for simpler representation of sides but Phillips is like Richard Blankenship at CBD provisions in elevating vegetables to first class members of the dish. Likewise, Kansas City strip steak comes with an inventive selection of roasted pink lady apples, brûléed figs, quail egg, baby greens and caramelized onion purée.
The wine list is lamentable and in need of an informed overhaul, including local contributions. The impressive beverage category here is tequila/mezcal which is represented by over 100 examples showcased in an imposing backlit bar at one end of the restaurant. Local beer is available, but the selection could be beefed up.
Location is superb for both Dallas airports and most residents. With a strong concept in line with popular dispositions, a strong culinary team, and improved front-of-house staff, Asador is beating on the door of the top tier of farm-to-table restaurants, so don’t make the mistake of so many media outlets here and ignore it.