I know summer has arrived when the temperature goes higher than my IQ and restaurants announce their summer menus. This week, one of my favorites, The Pyramid Restaurant and Bar at The Fairmont Dallas, held a media event to showcase their summer menu and I was fortunate to be among the guests.
Many local restaurants are creating summer menus with an emphasis on the abundance of local produce. However, The Fairmont holds an advantage over other restaurants because they have a large and extensive garden on the hotel’s rooftop. You can actually go up to the sixth floor and walk past the beds where the plants grow. At the dinner, execuchef André Natera exploited this advantage right out of the starting gate. He picked the blackberries that he included in his amuse-bouche, of grilled apricot, foie gras torchon with apricot marmalade, pickled blackberry, and brioche.
Cold soups are synonymous with summer and Natera’s crab and avocado soup with avocado crab sphere, cucumber, and lemongrass goes down as my favorite dish of the night. The soup included coconut milk as an uncredited ingredient as there was just a hint of its flavor. Maybe it also lightened the body. Too often I find avocado soup to be heavy, like goopy guacamole. By contrast, the airy texture here makes for an ethereal mouth feel and might only be under appreciated because of the Champagne gelée cubes. In the center of the bowl stands a sphere formed of concentric rings of avocado encapsulating flaked crab meat. It was a succulent bite but it was also visually as spectacular as anything by designed by architect Frank Gehry. This was a good example of fresh ingredients and great technique.
My request for seconds of the soup was declined so we moved on to salads. The three we tried illustrated strikingly different styles. Heirloom tomato salad with celery ice, tomato water gelée, Kalamata olives and Brazos Valley blue cheese was, in Natera’s words, his interpretation of summer. It was based around fresh heirloom tomatoes dressed with the tomato water gelée, olive spheres and olive purée accompanied by celery salad. The watermelon salad was a sous vide magical mystery tour: it was comprised of a tranche of fresh watermelon compressed withRatifia, honeydew spheres compressed with ouzo, and cantaloupe spheres compressed with St. Germain elderflower liqueur. Those are dots of mint gels on the side and crumbled Brazos Valley feta cheese on top. Beet and peach salad was a knockout. A high tech. sensory contortion masquerading as a rustic salad on a slab of slate. Natera, delighted with the color combination of red and golden beets, was chagrined to discover he could not find the same color contrast in Texas peaches – so he made his own. He compressed some of the peaches with beet juice, producing beet-colored peaches. He decked the whole thing on a golden beet and Champagne purée and topped it with arugula and housemade ricotta cheese. Light, tasty, and innovative.
Now I know what you are asking: Where did he get the Ratafia for the watermelon? From sommelier Hunter Hammett, who makes it in house. Somewhere, deep in the bowels of The Fairmont Dallas, are carboys of fruits and vodka infusing for weeks at a time. The result is so good he served it as one of the cocktails accompanying the salad course.
Another appetizer took a more Italian turn. Corn ravioli was stuffed with corn and mascarpone and served with morel sauce and creamed corn with a strip of crisp chicken skin on top to add a contrasting texture. Think of the creamy textures from corn and mascarpone and umami rich flavors from the morels as making this Italian comfort food.
Our first main course was lamb cooked sous vide and served atop a roasted onion purée and chimichurri sauce. Pickled pearl onions and smoked mushrooms also figured in this. It was a fairly mainstream combination of ingredients and methods of preparation compared with the other main course: a steak of Loch Duart salmon wrapped in leak and served in miso broth with enoki mushrooms. Like the soup, this was one of those profound ingredient combinations that demanded to be eaten slowly and with due contemplation. It should also not be lost that the menu has now moved over to food with Asian facets. Thus far we have gone through New American, molecular gastronomy, French, Italian, and Asian influences, all in one meal and that is just one subset of the new menu. The Pyramid kitchen must be one hell of an inspiring place for a young chef to work.
Pastry chef Maggie Huff did not disappoint with desserts. The panna cotta was especially light yet rich in flavor and the ‘raspberry ripple’ ice cream loaded with fruit.
Each course was accompanied by wines or cocktails chosen by Hammett. The selections came from as far apart as Texas (Brennan Viognier, Fall Creek ‘Super Texan’ Sangiovese/Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend and Red caboose ‘Some of That Red’ dessert wine). France (Cabernet d’Anjou, a rosé from the Loire and a Uroulat dessert wine, made from a rare grape named Petit Manseng, from the Jurancon region). The Basque region of Spain (Txomin Etxiniz made from native Basque region grapes Hondarrabi Zuri 90% and Hondarrabi Beltza 10%). This was a well-chosen selection. Without splurging on any marquee names, Hammett found well-made, unusual wines that synergized with the food. The Pyramid also has, and check this out, one of the most dramatic cellars in Dallas.
So what’s the take away with the Pyramid? This is one of the best restaurants in Dallas and just does not rest on its heels. Each menu is truly new, not a re-hash of last year’s recipes. The chef
keeps abreast of the latest trends and sweats the details. The wine list is medium-sized (about 240 selections) but well chosen. The servers are capable and professional. The hotel guests patronize the hotel during the week. Let’s just hope that Dallas locals patronize it sufficiently at weekends to allow its promising upward trajectory over the past three years to continue.