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It’s a Date…in Big D

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By Lisa Martin
WHILE awaiting dessert at The French Room following an impeccable meal, a young man bent down on one knee, took a diamond ring from his pocket, and proposed marriage to his dinner date. In an instant, a hush fell over the elegant, five-star establishment. The woman promptly said no.

When the rejected suitor retreated to the restroom, several couples seated nearby turned to his would-be bride and began lobbying her on the poor guy’s behalf. The gist of their argument: “He brought you to The French Room, honey, so he must really love you.” By the time her beau returned to the table, she had evidently reconsidered her response. As she said yes, The French Room erupted into applause.

A jewel in the crown of Big D’s thriving dining scene, The French Room, in downtown’s historic Adolphus Hotel, not only boasts exquisite cuisine but also radiates an atmosphere of unabashed romance and Old World formality. The New York Times has described the place as “a Louis XV fantasy on the prairie…indisputably the most striking and sumptuous restaurant in Dallas.” The decor alone elevates the dining experience. Reminiscent of an 18th-Century château, the restaurant’s rococo interior features an arched, hand-painted ceiling; eight pink faux-marble columns flanking the dining room; and a pair of massive, handblown crystal chandeliers crafted on the Italian island of Murano. Sparkling marble on the floor and gilt moldings overhead make The French Room a visual delight from every angle.

With its dark walnut paneling and handsome seating, the bar at The French Room resembles a posh 1930s men’s club. The fireplace overmantel, hand-carved from mahogany in the Chippendale style, proves a focal point with its Chinese-red finish. French and English antiques from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries lend additional warmth and depth to the space.

None of this would matter much were the restaurant’s food less than superlative. Executive chef Jason C. Weaver left the Mandarin Oriental New York in August 2005 to take command of The French Room’s kitchen. The 34-year-old decorated Marine learned the culinary trade at Schoolcraft College in Livonia, Michigan, and has worked in prestigious restaurants ever since. Weaver’s depth of experience, coupled with an almost preternatural understanding of fine American cuisine prepared with classical French techniques, has, if anything, enhanced the restaurant’s already impressive reputation.

On a recent visit, my husband, Chuck, and I found Chef Weaver’s nine-course tasting menu ($135 each with wine; $85 without) no less than a revelation. As parents of young children, we are more likely to eat PB&J sandwiches on the fly than to dine on poached lobster, roasted Colorado rack of lamb, or medallions of veal in a restaurant consistently awarded Zagat’s highest rating. On this rare date night, he and I indulged in some of the chef’s specialties, which included pecan-encrusted foie gras with brioche French toast, chocolate sauce, and rhubarb coulis; jumbo lump crab cake with ginger-infused lobster sauce and tomato jam; and for dessert, a warm mango cake with coconut cream, raspberry sauce, and mango sorbet. The superlative service and knowledgeable sommelier helped make the extravagant meal especially memorable.

“There is a real richness to The French Room,” says Tom Garcia, general manager of The Adolphus Hotel. “From the robust greeting the doormen give you as you enter the hotel to the grandeur of the property and the excellence of the food and wine, it’s a very special place.”

LESS than five miles away, in the thriving Lower Greenville neighborhood, a sublime bistro with its own indisputably amorous environment also reveals the rewards of hard work. Neither Kathy McDaniel nor Charlotte Parker had ever worked in a restaurant when, in 1972, they invested $9,000 to open The Grape in a building that had once housed an Italian eatery. Nearly 35 years later, the bistro continues to succeed, thanks to its ever-changing menu, extensive wine list, and intimate ambiance.

Says Charlotte of their venerable establishment, ranked year after year as one of the most romantic spots in the city: “Personally, I feel a responsibility to stay around for the sake of all the people who had their first dates here, got engaged here, and who come here to celebrate their anniversaries.” Over the last three decades, in fact, she knows of one patron who has taken all three of his wives to The Grape. “It’s a true story!” says Charlotte. “But seriously, we have grandchildren of our first customers bringing their dates here,” she says.

The famous fresh mushroom soup earns special acclaim as the lone item on the chalkboard menu that dates to the restaurant’s opening day. “That mushroom soup has helped pay the rent,” says Charlotte, who notes that a cup sold for 35 cents in the early days. (Today, the heavenly concoction costs $3.95.)

When they designed The Grape, Kathy and Charlotte drew upon the inviting Old World esthetic of bistros and European wine bars. Accordingly, the sidewalk café here provides year-round alfresco dining; in the evening, flickering candles cast a glamorous glow over the landscape, which includes a block filled with charming shops. At lunch and dinner, the restaurant’s interior remains dark, cozy, and captivating.

“Even when there are a lot of people around, the acoustics and the atmosphere allow you to have an intimate conversation inside,” says Kathy.

The cuisine earns raves, too. Michael Weinstein, a 38-year-old, third-generation Dallasite who began cooking as a kid in his parents’ kitchen, heads the innovative staff. Stints at local restaurants like Bay Leaf, Aurora, and City Café helped him hone his considerable skills. As executive chef at The Grape, he takes his cue from the freshest seasonal ingredients to design a whole new menu every few weeks.

Last year, for his first Valentine’s Day at The Grape, Chef Weinstein created a mouth-watering menu that included chilled asparagus with confit of black radish, lollo rosso lettuce, asparagus vinaigrette, and orange oil; seared sea scallops with black pepper couscous, crispy prosciutto, greens, and red pepper glaze; grilled beef tenderloin with Dauphinoise potatoes, sunburst squash, haricots verts, and mushroom demi-glace; and shallot-dusted Scottish salmon served with roasted fingerling potatoes, purple eggplant, and Béarnaise sauce.

The chef’s dreamy desserts sweeten the deal, with concoctions like crème brûlée and a dark-chocolate mousse with white chocolate sauce and mint syrup earning their first-rate reputations. After sampling superlative entrées like the Scottish salmon and the exceptional filet, I appreciated the satisfying finale of a decadent flourless almond cake.

For their part, wine aficionados prize The Grape’s extensive and varied cellar. The bistro was on the cutting edge of the wines-by-the-glass trend; patrons can choose from some 15 selections each night. In all, the restaurant offers more than 150 vintages from wineries in France, Australia, South Africa, South America, Italy, New Zealand, Texas, California, and Washington state.

While fine fare may win glowing reviews, few restaurants become institutions in the eyes of the community. The Grape enjoys such distinction. Says my friend Nancy Myers, a longtime fan who lives in the bistro’s neighborhood, “You could not replicate The Grape’s food or the feel if you tried. May it never see a change more radical than the daily updating of the chalkboard menu!”

Ardent admirers of both of these elegant establishments surely echo those sentiments—without reservation.

Wining and Dining

The French Room is in The Adolphus Hotel, at 1321 Commerce St. in downtown Dallas. Call 214/742-8200 or 800/221-9083; Restaurant hours: Tue-Sat 6 p.m.-10 p.m. Reservations required; jackets required for men.

The Grape is at 2808 Greenville Ave. in Dallas. Call 214/828-1981; Lunch hours: Mon-Fri 11:30-2. Dinner hours: Sun-Thu 5:30-10:30, Fri-Sat 5:30-11:30. Dinner reservations recommended.

Read 19276 times Last modified on Friday, 13 July 2012 13:06

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