Find a back issue

These Are a Few of My Favorite Restaurants: The Grape in Dallas

The cheese and charcuterie plate at The Grape is my favorite meal in Dallas. (Stock photo from The Grape.)

If you ever decide to become a restaurant critic be prepared for the inevitable question: “What is your favorite restaurant in Dallas?” It’s a hard question for me to answer. Not because I’m evasive, it’s because I feel like I have to quantify my choice by answering “well, if I’m in the mood for Mexican then I would consider this place or that place. If I want casual then I head here.” And so on and so forth. Pick one out of 6,200? That’s tough.

Ten days ago I took my mother, brother, and sister-in-law to dinner at The Grape. I wasn’t going to do a review. I wasn’t even hungry. I’d just spent a long week and a half eating tricked up fancy food at a new restaurant in Dallas and I just wanted to kick back and enjoy time with my family. Two and a half hours later, I emerged renewed. Just when I thought I couldn’t be impressed, I was impressed. I can now say, without hesitation, that The Grape is currently my favorite restaurant in Dallas.

I decided to call chef/owner Brian Luscher, who I’ve never met in person, and talk to him about my experience at his restaurant and discuss some of the details he pursues in his kitchen. I combined the interview with a quick review.

Jump for the glory of The Grape.

I remember when The Grape opened in 1972. I half remember the meals I’ve eaten in the dark, sexy dining room over the years. The Grape has always been like an great old friend, the kind you don’t have to talk to every year but when you finally do, you pick your relationship up right where you left off.

That’s how I felt when the waiter handed me a menu filled with a list of classic bistro dishes combined with a few modern preparations. I felt centered when my eyes passed over “Sautéed Veal Noisettes.” I had flashbacks to meals made with Cognac, peppercorns, and cream at Ewald’s. I’m a sucker for what we used to call “Continental” dishes. Chefs didn’t have time to fiddle around with deconstructing a mole or turning a lamb into a lollipop; they tossed a piece of meat into a copper sauté pan and finished the dish off with a pan-made sauce.

Culinary tradition runs deep at The Grape. The kitchen’s signature mushroom soup has been tinkered with a few times, but the original recipe is the same as it ever was. “The mushroom soup is the Siren that lured many chefs here into the rocks,” said chef/owner Brian Luscher. “Yeah, I tried to tinker with it, but there has been three generations of brothers in this kitchen who have made this soup. No way I am changing that.”

My brother proposed to his wife over this soup, so naturally we ordered a bowl to share. Tasting it as a family sparked a wonderful conversation about their wedding and how fast years slip away. By the time the next course arrived, I was as relaxed and happy as I can remember being in a restaurant. How many times have you said that about your office?

Then the real showstopper was set before us: A cheese and charcuterie plate filled with rabbit mortadella, chicken and caramelized mushroom terrine, pork rillettes, manchego cheese, and house-made Boursin was delivered with fresh hot bread and crackers. Chef Luscher makes all of the cured meats. The rabbit mortadella is more like a terrine, but instead of molding the mixture in a pan, Luscher wraps the meat with a thin layer of his smoked bacon which acts like an edible casing. The tender rabbit meat receives a gentle hint of smokiness from the bacon. The more traditional and robust chicken and caramelized mushroom terrine stands up to Luscher’s house-made grainy mustard.

I love to eat this way. It’s fun to pick around a plate of cured meats and cheeses and compose different bites, each with its own peculiarities. A little cheese,  a chunk of chicken terrine topped with cornichon, capers, and grainy mustard on a cracker followed by a slice of rabbit mortadella, smooth mustard, and pickled red onions on warm bread. The possibilities are endless. We paired this course with a nice bottle of 2006 Bouchard Pere & Fils ‘Beaune du Chateau’ Beaune Premier Cru.

Luscher admits he’s a freak for cured meat. “Yeah, I make it all, every single cured, smoked, or potted meat,” he said. “I even make all of the bacon that goes on all of those burgers we serve at brunch.”

Meat aside, Luscher made my mother happy with a spectacularly simple, yet elegant dish of grilled Texas red fish covered with a composition of the clean,  fresh flavors of a crab, avocado, and heirloom cherry tomato salad. He charmed my sister-in-law with a straightforward version moules frites: Large PEI mussels were steeped in white wine seasoned with lemon, garlic, thyme, and crushed red pepper and served in a bowl beside two handfuls of thick-ish cut firm and reasonably salted fries. My veal, surrounded by a peppercorn cream sauce scented with Cognac, was a lovely Old World taste sensation sexed up with earthy Hen-of-the-Woods mushrooms. When the waiter placed a plate of dry-rube Kobe flank steak in front of my brother, I gasped. The meat was sliced as thin as sashimi. Each strip almost melted on the tongue and needed only a chew or two before swallowing. This dish would have been a completely different experience if it hadn’t been served as a traditional steak. I had to ask chef Luscher how he did it.

“I have one knife that is dedicated only to cutting that meat,” said Luscher. “I don’t let anyone touch it. I don’t want anyone to even look at it. It’s my secret, private knife for the Kobe beef.” For those of you scoring at home, it is a Forschner with a thin point and a shallow serrated edge.

I forgot to mention that I’d managed to sneak into The Grape without being recognized, a fact confirmed by Brian and his wife Courtney who runs the front of the house and is The Grape’s sommelier. (I have met Courtney.) At one point in the meal I wondered if I had been recognized because the service was so unobtrusive and efficient. Our waiter was delightful without joining our conversation and managed to pair us with wine without summoning Courtney, which was nice because she would have recognized me.

“Yes, Courtney manages to spread our general concern and caring for our guests to our servers,” said Luscher. “She has the hearts of the staff won over. They kidnapped her on her birthday and took her to dinner. When they see our [phone] number on caller id, they actually pick up the phone.” In other words, the staff at The Grape is happy to work there and that translates to the table.

29 comments on “These Are a Few of My Favorite Restaurants: The Grape in Dallas

  1. What a great review! I thought I was going to cry at one point. I need to go for dinner soon. The charcuterie plate sounds delicious!

  2. I agree with everything you said. The Grape was never that bad or anything before Luscher took the helm, but it has really soared since. And you’re right: I’m so happy when I get done eating there. We’ve been three times in four months and it’s always great, no false notes anywhere. And the charcuterie plate is a must every time!
    I would easily say this is one of my favorite Dallas restaurants right now.

  3. Couldn’t agree more. It’s our regular “go to” spot–either for a special occasions, or “because it’s Wednesday and I’m hungry.” They do a wonderful job with catering also–I’ve used them for a couple of events and everything turned out perfectly.

  4. I couldn’t agree more with Ms Nichols!! In a culinary town such as Dallas, the inevitable prima donnas of austerity (Fearings, Palmers, Pucks, & Pyles) are more than happy to gouge ones wallet and deliver what sadly, albeit consistently, amounts to an underwhelming and anti-climactic overall experience. Sometimes the food is passable (never worth the exorbitant asking price) and the service is atrocious, or vice-versa. The Grape, however, well in two words…”get’s it!!” The service is always attentive, yet never intrusive. The food, damn, when one employs the tired phrase “bang for your buck” it almost becomes an understatement. Delicious cuisine without pretension. Far and away te best restaurant in Dallas!! Now if the rest of the culinary knuckle-heads could jump on board, Dallas would soon be giving the likes of San Fran, and New York a run for their money!

  5. Went there the first time for my Key Club Prom in High School…so, its been one of my favorites for a very long time:) Just made reservations for restaurant week- can’t wait!

  6. Brilliant review Nancy. Really rings through the crap served around town. I’m with Margie. I almost cried. Thank you for recognizing such a lovely place.

  7. Love the Grape! And what a treat when a great restaurant is run by two of the nicest, most sincere, humble people in the industry?!

  8. I agree wholeheartedly. Have always loved the GRAPE but Brian and Courtney take it to the next level of excellence!

  9. I couldn’t agree more with this! We think of the Grape as our little home away from home..the atmosphere wine and food selection are above all we could imagine. What a great write up and GREAT WORK Courtney and Brian!!

  10. So old Bren Bren’s doing a review on the Grape this week…she doesn’t love it :(

  11. Great review…Brian and Courtney are truly passionate about the business and it shows. It sucks that Brenner just crucified them in her 2 star review today!!! 1970′s decor? If they changed it too much, people in this overly critical town would flip out on them because it’s not the same anymore. Cut them some slack.

  12. Love the charcuterie! Brian’s ‘Country-Style Duck Terrine with Dried Fruit, Pistachios and Foie Gras’ was my pick to win best dish at TACA’s Party on the Green at The Mansion this year – but I was overruled by my illustrious co-judges… check it out: https://bitly.com/TACA2011

  13. Leslie Brenner just reviewed Grape and gave it 2 stars! She is on such a power trip. She has to show Texas Monthly and D Magazine that she is superior to them. She is so snotty about the place and her wine was too warm. Really lady, go back to LA. Love The Grape!

  14. the Brenner reviews are getting a little ridiculous. I’ve never commented on either this site or the Eats blog about her writing, but she really does just seem to be simply missing the point of many places she reviews. She’s desperate for Klitschko while overlooking Pacquiao. The Grape is one of our favorite restaurants as well. We look forward to many more meals there in the coming years.

    Here’s to cooking for the people, not the critics. Cheers!

  15. I can’t read the review. Nancy can you copy and paste it? She gave the Grape 2stars? Did she get sick or something? My husband took me there last month and we loved the food. Mussells and fries were perfect and Cortney even remembered us from another time. Leslie Brenner does not understand Dallas. This is horrible news. Please eat at the Grape and show her what we think of her!!

  16. Sorry folks, many of us agree with La Brenner. Ridiculously over-laden dishes.

  17. @Vincent – what are you smoking? While the Grape is a good restaurant, it’s hardly in the same league as the better restaurants in New York or San Francisco.

  18. Thrilled to see this post about The Grape. I recently had one of the best meals of my life there. Perfectly prepared, perfectly balanced. Well deserved praise for Chef Brian and Courtney, two of the loveliest (and hardest working) people I know.

  19. So was this review published with the purpose of getting commenters to slam the DMN reviewer? That’s weak.

  20. The timing of Nancy’s post is certainly suspicious. As for the Grape, my wife and I used to love it, but refuse to eat there again after a bad Valentine’s Day experience a couple of years ago. We had a reservation, but the host gave our table away to some douchebag who slipped him a $20. Our choice was to wait 45 minutes for another table or leave. We left.

  21. Nancy can correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m fairly certain that she’s not privy to which restaurant review comes out from Leslie Brenner each Wednesday.

    And, Nancy posted this at 12:00 on Wednesday and Brenner’s review didn’t hit the DMN website until 6ish. I highly doubt it was created with the purpose of getting commenters to slam the DMN review.

  22. Pingback: Star System Fails Again: Leslie Brenner Hands The Grape Two | SideDish

  23. Me, the $20 experience is unacceptable although it kinda made me laugh because it used to be so common! That would irk me as well.

    A.D., I didn’t know Brenner was going to review the Grape this week. I happened to eat there last week and felt moved to write.

  24. show me a person who doesnt like the Grape and i will show you a fool…or a dolt…or an ignoramus.

  25. So if you ever want to see a review from the dmn have an opposite effect, come to the grape.. It’s packed. :)