In October 2012, Cook Hall unveiled itself to Dallas as a nouveau-American upscale gastropub, meticulously situated within the W Dallas Victory hotel. The contract with Tom Colicchio’s Craft had run its course and the hotel, encouraged by the vast majority of Dallasites, opted for a strategic change.
Indeed, a lot of changes have occurred during Cook Hall’s one-year existence.
This fall, Douglas Wagenhauser replaced Richard Graff as chef de cuisine and he’s taken command of the new fall menu, set to debut on October 19. Wagenhauser has worked with his team of skilled artisans to assemble a diverse craft beer selection (in addition to fine wines and made-from-scratch cocktails) to pair with fresh, locally sourced ingredients.
As if cued by chef Wagenhauser himself, a brisk, rainy fall evening set the scene as we settled in under Edison-esque light bulbs, glowing mahogany and dark leather at a media dinner on Tuesday. A bevy of seasonal snacks were presented to discerning foodies, paired with an innovative “cocktail kit,” complete with bitters made in-house, fresh fruit, seasonal herbs, and a myriad of syrups selected to complement your bourbon, gin, or vodka. If you think others will enjoy your bespoke concoction, you can add it to the black sketchpad: Cook Hall’s “Guest Book” for aspiring mixologists.
The chef’s “snacks” were exactly what one would expect from a guy who spent a number of years “conducting research” in high-end gastropubs in London. My personal favorite was the flatbread with Maitake mushrooms, caramelized onions, green beans, pureed cauliflower, Maytag blue cheese, fresh cilantro, and fleur de sel. Next time, I would opt to save the green beans for brown butter and almonds, but that’s merely personal preference. Also, feel free to dive into the heavily battered (in a good way) fried okra fingers, complete with a dill sour cream dressing or the toasted sourdough topped with a house-made ricotta spread, butternut squash, toasted pumpkin seeds, and fried sage.
Chef Wagenhauser opened the official meal by preparing a butternut squash soup, complete with roasted barley, chestnuts, and smoked bacon with a drizzle of lemon oil. If it wasn’t fall before, it is now.
Entrees came flying out of the kitchen, each selectively paired with variety of accentuating brews, including a Franconia Lager, Real Ale Fireman’s #4, a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and Dallas’s own Deep Ellum IPA. The highlight of the night was a plate of perfectly seared scallops, topped with apple-bacon jam, endive, and parsnip puree. Even though I’m biased against red meat, my second favorite bite was a beautifully grilled filet of beef, resting aside Swiss chard potato confit, topped with Madeira demi-glace.
Admittedly, the sides accompanying said entrees were not for the diet-conscious, but that’s not why we were there. Collard greens were braised in maple syrup, bacon, and beer. Just as good as it sounds and a perfect accompaniment for the filet. The mac and cheese was properly served al dente, blended with copious amounts of white, yellow, and Irish cheddar. The perfectly seasoned piquillo peppers not only added a unique flavor, they were also visually stunning.
Best bite-brew combination of the evening was a toss up between the Deep Ellum IPA and filet, and the Breckenridge Vanilla Porter with the orange bundt cake with sugar frosting and blackberry jam. I admit, I’m not particularly fond of sweets, but the symbiotic nature of the velvety cake, the tartness of the blackberry jam, and the creamy smoothness of the Vanilla Porter just worked.
Douglas Wagenhauser may be new to Cook Hall, but as a local veteran, he has proven that he knows what Dallas patrons want on their plate and in their glasses.