Best French Food in Dallas: Leslie Brenner is Off Her Rocker

French Chefs: Be on the lookout for Leslie.

OMG. I mean, oh mon dieu! DMN dining critic Leslie “Caron” Brenner has lost more than weight on her Restaurant Critics Diet. She has lost a large portion of her cerebellum.

This morning La Brenner reveals Best in DFW: French Restaurants along with a little essay on French food in Dallas.

Her top picks are Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek, Toulouse Cafe & Bar, St. Martin’s Wine Bistro, Bijoux, Rise No. 1, Saint-Emilion, and The French Room.

Excuse my probable overreaction to her words but I am on Day 3 of pancake withdrawal and this article really pissaladière-ed me off.

I would like to go into a short back story on French food in Dallas and then talk a little about the endangered status of French food in Dallas and the U.S. Then I will do a Q&A with La Brenner’s text. Okay? Let’s get this party started.

Earlier this morning, I spoke with Mercury chef Chris Ward. He knows a lot about French food. He worked as an apprentice at Taillevent in Paris four times. “When I came to Dallas everything was French including the chefs,” he said. “Now there aren’t even real French restaurants left in New York, except maybe La Grenouille. Lutèce and La Caravelle are closed, Joel Robuchon has a Japanese chef, Daniel Boulud may be French but his menu is all over the place.” Jean-Georges Vongerichten is doing Asian street food.

Update: Please note I have changed Chris Ward’s quote above. The last line re: JGV is my statement.

Q&A (Text from Brenner’s article.)

La Brenner: “When I came to Dallas one year ago, I was amazed at the number of French restaurants the city boasts. I couldn’t wait to dive in and start exploring them. Once I did, one thing became rapidly clear: Most of our French restaurants are old-fashioned French restaurants. Very old-fashioned.”

Moi: It took you a year of eating red-sauce Italian food and steak au poivre to come to the conclusion that the majority of Dallas diners do not have adventurous palates. (R.I.P Il Mulino) There was a time when formal French food ruled the upscale dining scene in Dallas. There was the Pyramid Room, The French Room, Patry’s, Jean Claude’s, Callaud’s, Mr. Peppe, and The Enclave. We ate sauce with butter. Then we got hooked on Jane Fonda’s workout tapes, went nouveaux, and never looked back. We heart olive oil. Sorry, I’m off task–why didn’t you call this list Best French-style Restaurants?

La Brenner: “For some reason I still have not understood, the kind of French cooking that continues to dominate the Dallas dining scene is the kind that was found all over America in the 1950s and ’60s. Dishes such as escargots, Dover sole meunière, roasted duck à l’orange, dessert soufflés and crêpes suzette celebrate a period of French cooking before nouvelle cuisine revolutionized dining in France in the 1970s. Other American cities have moved on to more modern French cooking, but curiously, not Dallas.”

Moi: Perhaps you should have widened your search—oh wait, we don’t know which or how many restaurants you considered before determining the best. Were you looking  for modern French or French cooking. or a combination of both.  I’ve seen “modern French.” Did you go to Aurora? Did you go to Lavendou? I’m curious of where you looked.

La Brenner: “In the past 12 months, I’m pretty sure I’ve dined in every French restaurant in Dallas, as well as most of the French restaurants in the rest of the D-FW area.”

Moi: Name them please.

La Brenner: “While I did taste duck confit and so-called “coq au vin,” I don’t think I’ve come across a real coq au vin – meaning a bird marinated in wine and aromatics overnight, then simmered in wine for hours. Nor have I seen pissaladière, a boeuf bourguignon, a daube, petit salé aux lentilles, or a clafoutis. In other words, the kinds of dishes that people cook and eat in France.”

Moi: Hmm. I am confused. I thought you didn’t want to see those old dishes? Did you find a boeuf  bourguignon at the Mansion? You “don’t think” you’re come across “a real coq au vin.” Jeezy Pete, I would hope you would know one when you tasted one. I mean you are proclaiming to know the best French food. Curious.

La Brenner: “Happily, there are a few fabulous French restaurants in and around Dallas. Some of them even serve escargots and soufflés. And a couple of them are very modern. I’ve listed the best of them, in no particular order.”

Moi: Happily, I’ll give you Saint-Emilion, Rise No. 1 and, with some hesitation, St. Martin’s “the menu is written in French” Wine Bistro. I haven’t experienced The Mansion (waiting for season to change) but I suspect Bruno Davaillon hits your “modern French” G-spot. (The breakfast menu offers French toast.) However, let’s talk about what you consider French at The French Room.

La Brenner: “Quality may have slipped a bit since the hotel’s executive chef, Jason Weaver, left in the spring to be replaced by Marcus Strietzel, but the jury’s still out. (Marcos Segovia continues to head up the French Room kitchen.) In any case, one bite of the cauliflower panna cotta with American hackle-fish caviar makes it clear that it’s still one of the best French restaurants in the city.”

Moi: Murmur. “Cauliflower panna cotta with American hackle-fish caviar makes it clear that it’s still one of the best French restaurants in the city.” Huh?  Is that French modern? Also, if you named The French Room a “best,” how come “the jury is still out” on Marcos Segova? While we’re at it, let’s dissect the French-ness of one of the French Room’s tasting menus.

1. Hamachi Sashimi, Watermelon Radishes, Parmesan Crostini, Yuzu Vinaigrette  (Japanese) Chateau De La Tuilerie, Costieres De Nimes 2007 (French) Works for me. 2.   Intermezzo (Italian)
3.   Tenderloin of Veal, Pancetta Wrapped Prawn, Avocado Whipped Potato,
Marsala Wine Sauce paired with Twenty Bench Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2007 (Jump ball)
4. Mango Custard, Prickly Pear Sorbet, Candied Red Chiles (whatever) Saracco Moscatto d’Asti, Piedmont 2008 (si pas français?)

Leslie, I know you speak French so you can scold me on my translations, but please tell me why L’Ancestral, with a lovely all-French wine list didn’t steal your heart. Or Lavendou, where Pascal Cayet  offers Coquilles Saint Jacques aux Tomates et Basilic and Entrecôte Grillée des Halles alongside seasonal French dishes such as Choucroute Garni à l’Alsacienne  and Mirabelle plum tarts?

L’Ancestral has operated in Dallas for 27 years for a reason. I spoke with owner Alain-Pierre Vuilleret who was busy seating customers. “There are not many French restaurants any more,” he said. “As Stanley Marcus would say ‘this (L’Ancestral) is the best kept secret in Dallas.” Vuilleret runs a French country restaurant. “I went to Paris in January and found that chefs were using guacamole,” he said. “It is sad that when Cadot opened that they didn’t want to be French, they wanted to be French American,” he said. “I ate at the Mansion on Sunday and it is not French nouvelle, it is American French. He (new execuchef Bruno Davaillon) was using poblano peppers instead of bell peppers. You would not find that in France.”

Leslie, Vuilleret’s wine list alone should have stolen your heart. No he doesn’t list vintages because it is too expensive to reprint the ever-changing list. Vuilleret scours the French wine market for unusual wines like a red Sancerre which he offers as specials. “I don’t want a dictionary sized wine list,” he says. “I like introducing my customers to a red from Loire valley or a Pinot Noir from Alsace, but I have a small list of 35-40 wines and promote every region of France.”

Call me a le vieux sac sentimental, but I consider that modern and French. Now, I’m off to Mecca. Somebody pass me the syrup.

59 comments on “Best French Food in Dallas: Leslie Brenner is Off Her Rocker

  1. The point was that it is a gross misrepresentation to say that Jean-Georges cooks Asian street food now. Since you’ve been to his flagship restaurant at least ten times, you should know that. You don’t need to snap at me, if you misspeak or are misquoted.

  2. Hello, I made the statement about Jean-Georges. The point is he isn’t just doing French. Please note where Chris Ward’s quotes end.

  3. Whether it was Ward or Nancy that said Jean-Georges was doing Asian street food, they said it in support of Ward’s claim that “Now there aren’t even real French restaurants left in New York”. But Jean-Georges is a French restaurant, and a damned good one. Bad example.

  4. CJ, Have you looked at Jean-Georges menu lately? It” s not too French. All spice and star anise are used frequently. It has a lot of Asian overtones. Maybe you are like Leslie and do not know what “Claasic French” food is.

  5. I try to look at the menu whenever I eat there, Jamie. And every time I’ve looked at the menu, it was modern French. Modern French is not the same thing as what you’re calling “Claasic French.” Does Ward think that only “Claasic French” restaurants are “real French” restaurants? If so, he may have noticed that “real French” restaurants are on the decline in France, too.