Back in the day, The Pyramid Room at the Fairmont Hotel was a top destination restaurant for Dallas diners. Over the years, corporate priorities changed at the hotel and the restaurant turned into a JAHR (Just Another Hotel Restaurant). However, in the last two years, and somewhat under the radar, the pendulum has swung back. The restaurant underwent a major remodel to keep the class but remove the starch. The last chef, J.W. Foster, left a large herb garden growing on the rooftop patio. Now André Natera, an experienced hand in Fairmont circles, is the executive chef and he has performed a major shakeup in the kitchen. Incoming sommelier, Hunter Hammett, has vastly increased the number and quality of wine selections. There are now 235 selections and the list has a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.
The interior of the restaurant is accented the dramatic wine cellar that line the walls at each end of the main dining room. Hundreds of bottles lay behind glass partitions in a climate-controlled environment. These are all the signs of an establishment on the move. It is clear that the Pyramid Restaurant and Bar (as it is now called) is aiming to rejoin the top flight of Dallas restaurants as a destination for Dallasites and visitors alike. At a media event last week, I was fortunate to try the best and certainly the most unusual experience one can have at the Pyramid (as I will shorten its lengthy name to from now on): Dining in the garden on the terrace, several floors above street level.
Sure, they have the seven-course menu (plus an amuse) and wine pairings with each course. I will come back to these shortly. But the most special part of this experience is dining al fresco on the patio in the heart of downtown Dallas in the delightful temperatures that we get in the fall. There is only one garden dining table and it can be expanded from two to eight people. It is surrounded by the shrubs and the herb garden. A short distance from the garden are the beehives that produce the Fairmont’s honey (this undertaking is in conjunction with the
Texas Honeybee Guild which works to foster healthy bee colonies). The roof is also home to a watermelon patch, a fig tree, and bay tree. Soft lights make the experience homely. However, the view of the nighttime Dallas skyline is almost indescribable. The buildings look even more massive than they are during the day. But in the cloak of night they assume an air of mystery and drama, as though there is a story of intrigue behind each one. It all adds up to a special experience and one I think is best shared by two people.
On to the food! We started out with an amuse bouche of Foie Gras Torchon, Pickled Grapes and Pumpkin Brioche. The picture shows the pickled grapes on top of the foie gras, indicating the classic combination of fruit and foie. What it cannot convey is the sheer richness of the foie gras. Absolute heaven on a plate. Sommelier Hunter Hammett did the wine pairings and for this course chose a sparklng wine, the 2008 Schramsberg, Blanc de Blancs, North Coast, California.
Our first course was a suitably seasonal soup. Celery Root Velouté, Spanish Chorizo, Smoked Olive Oil. This was one of my favorite dishes of the evening and, for a soup to be so memorable that it still ranks as a favorite seven courses later, must make it remarkable. The velouté’s texture was as smooth as velvet and each chunk of chorizo a spike of spicy pork. The picture really don’t do it justice to the soup because the bowl is the same color as the soup. Maybe the Pyramid can use the slowdown in the F-35 program in Fort Worth to commission Lockheed to do some matt black carbon fiber bowls, especially for this soup? That would help to convey the drama. Accompanying it was the most unusual wine of the night: 2010 Txomín Etxaníz, Hondarrabi Zuri, Getariako Txakolina. The surplus ‘x’s are a giveaway that the name is in the Basque language and, in this case, the wine is from the Spanish Basque Country. Txomín Etxaníz is the winery. Hondarrabi Zuri is the grape, a white vitis vinifera vine native to this area. If it sounds obscure it is because it is, truly obscure. However, the wine is easy to like. It is closest in style to a Sauvignon Blanc from northern France: High in acidity, rich in mineral flavors. In contrast to New World Sauvignons it is not citrusy. Its absence of fruit makes it definitely better with food (like this velouté, or shellfish) rather than on its own. Congratulations to Hammett on finding this wine and pairing it so appropriately.
Next was the salad course: Raw Root Vegetable Salad, Blood Orange Gelée.This is one of those menu names that drastically under states what you get. As the picture illustrates, someone went wild with the mandolin and shaved carrots, beets (golden and red) and radishes gossamer-thin for this dish. It was served on one of those brutish grey slabs. Juxtapositional genius. Tough as it usually is to pair wine with salad (on account of the vinegar), Hammett served the 2006 Henri Brunier, Le Pigeoulet Blanc, Vaucluse. This is one of those glorious southern Rhone white wines (that are made from
native grapes like Grenache Blanc, Clairette Blanche, Roussanne, and Marsanne) that will one day be discovered but, for now, remains the exclusive preserve of a coven of discerning palates who won’t let on that this guy also owns Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe in famed Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
In this respect, Hammett must be regarded as a fifth columnist, a two-timer, a whistleblower who must be snuffed out at the earliest possible opportunity for spilling the secret. This particular wine is a blend or Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Clairette. It is superb on its own, or with food like André Natera’s salad. Minerally, citrusy and complex.
The Alfredo Agnolotti will win a lot of people’s ‘Best Of Meal’ awards. However, consume these with care. The Alfredo sauce is inside each agnolotto. So, as you bite in, it spurts out! The effect is quite invigorating, but be ready for it (or bring your dry cleaner to dinner)! With this course we had the 2007 Nikolaihof, Grüner Veltliner, Hefeabzug, Wachau. The multi-faceted Grüner Veltliner grape has already caught on in other US cities. Hopefully, Dallas will soon follow. Several forward-looking restaurants carry one on their lists. Think of it as a substitute for Sauvignon Blanc, some Chardonnays, and all of those industrial-grade Pinot Grigios.
The smell of butter from the Butter Poached Lobster, Soy Braised Mushrooms and Salsify exuded opulence.. The richness of the lobster just kept on coming as we made our way through the ample helping. One thing that I found really interesting was how subtle the soy was in the mushrooms. Soy is a bruiser, but there was barely a hint in this mixture of beech, maitake and morels. Hammett went totally mainstream with the lobster, serving 2009 Bouchaine Chardonnay, Estate Vineyards, Carneros, Napa Valley. This is a classic, California Chardonnay, although it is lighter on the oak than many.
Braised Lamb Terrine, Roasted Lamb Loin, Braised Greens and Root Vegetables was exactly what this fall evening called for in terms of a main course. The terrine is at the back of the loin in the picture, supporting it on the plate. The terrine is a kind of homage to traditional peasant autumns when prime cuts like tenderloin were rarely seen. It exuded flavor and aromas that made one ready to embrace that older cuisine of stews and soups. Suitably, the wine pairing, 2008 Domaine Tempier, Cuvée Classique, Bandol has a similar heritage. From a peasant wine made from the (then) unsexy Mourvèdre grape, it has emerged on the world scene as a ‘must have’ brand. This moderately aged vintage went very well with the lamb.
Finally the dessert. Why have one when two will do? First, the Gorganzola Honey Mousse, Cassis Poached Pears, Brown Butter Shortbread, Rosemary Walnut Toffee speaks for itself in the photo. It came with 2005 Domaine des Baumard, Quarts de Chaume. A delightfully non-cloying dessert wine made in the Anjou-Saumur region of the Loire from 100% Chenin Blanc.
Then, the Chocolate-Pomegranate Pavé, Pomegranate Ice Cream, Mint Pomegranate Salad was a tour de force. The intense, dark chocolate taste offset by the tangy fruitiness of the pomegranate. It had real presence in the mouth and a long aftertaste. Fortunately, this
was served with NV Red Caboose Winery, Port-Style Red, Meridian, Texas. This is my first encounter with this winery, located just north of Waco, but this wine is promising. Hammett explained that they use the same grapes used to make Port in the Porto region of Portugal and that they will soon be distilling on
site to make the brandy to use in the port. This looks like a winery to watch.
The price of the Chef’s Tasting Menu is $95. Comparable with others across town and there was not a weak or incorrectly prepared dish in the bunch. The optional wine selections are $40 and I would choose them. Hammett matches wine and food well and has some unusual wines on the list that otherwise might be missed. That location on the balcony and the view are simply, as they say, priceless.