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The Gastronomic Gaylord

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By Dotty Griffith
A culinary destination has arisen in a surprising place: the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center. The massive complex, on a peninsula that juts into Lake Grapevine just minutes northwest of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, includes a 1,511-room hotel, four-and-a-half acres of indoor gardens, and five full-scale restaurants.

A popular site for conventions and meetings (and with locals), the Gaylord is designed to entertain visitors for several days with a variety of restaurants, shopping, and recreational options. It can also be a weekend getaway in a mini-state of gourmet euphoria. The five restaurants in combination could keep guests busy for a couple of days; however, it’s possible to hit three of the venues in one spectacular evening of wining and dining. Here’s how my friends and I did it.

Begin at Ama Lur

This is a great spot to unwind after a long day or in preparation for a long weekend. From the hotel entrance, you’ll wander through the lobby (which resembles a cattle baron’s home with posh Texana furnishings) to the atria with acres of temperature-controlled “outdoor” space. Stroll among massive faux rock formations that recall Palo Duro Canyon and winding waterways that mimic the beauty of San Antonio’s River Walk. Lush plantings of trees and flowering plants require a full-time horticultural staff.

Follow the sound of salsa music around a bend and find yourself in the festive atmosphere of Ama Lur’s margarita bar. Take a seat on the patio (it’s indoors, but you’ll swear you’re outside) and enjoy a mango margarita, an ice-cold cerveza, or one of the sipping tequilas. Or go Texan and chase a tequila shot with a Mexican beer.

Ama Lur has become chef David Woodward’s Southwestern palette from which he paints a mosaic of flavors drawn from Mexican, Latin American, and Native American cuisines. Although superstar chef Stephan Pyles, a mentor to Woodward, was consulting chef when the Gaylord opened in 2004, the menu has since become distinctly Woodward’s own.

Flatbread pizzas with toppings such as honey-marinated organic Portobello mushrooms and buttermilk blue cheese are great for starters. So are barbecued-pork empanadas. Or enjoy a first course of crabcakes in the dining room, where gauzy drapes soften bright colors on the walls. The crabcakes are mostly chunks of jumbo lump meat held together with the tiniest amount of bread crumbs.

Mark my words: You’ll be tempted to remain and check out entrées such as coriander-cured beef tenderloin. (Desserts include dreamy options such as banana-rum cheesecake and Key lime crème brûlée.) But we were on a mission, and we moved on.

To Old Hickory Steakhouse

If you’re in the mood to taste some fine wines, head to Old Hickory’s upstairs wine bar and check out the Enomatic wine-serving system. This nifty, computerized machine allows wine-drinkers to sample 1-, 2-, or 3-ounce pours of any of 48 wines. Overwhelmed? So were we, but Old Hickory’s sommeliers can help you choose.

Time for dinner. A winding staircase leads down a level to the wine-cellar atmosphere of the steakhouse’s dining room. A relaxed but glimmering setting in subdued light creates an aura of casual luxury. Old Hickory’s menu has a distinct Lone Star touch, as do those of the other dining venues, thanks to a team of talented chefs who’ve been lured from top kitchens in nearby Dallas.

Executive chef Joanne Bondy, who made a national name for herself at Mexico City-inspired Ciudad in Dallas, commands the steakhouse kitchen, adding a culinarian’s flair with specialties such as sautéed lemon-scented Atlantic scallops; an artisanal cheese plate; and sorrel potatoes au gratin.

Service here proves nothing short of excellent. When it comes to wine, let the steward give you some suggestions; you’ll find a wide range of prices. Old Hickory has vintages from California and other West Coast wine-making areas, a great selection from Texas’ growing wine industry, as well as a venerable collection of French and Old World wines.

Or splurge on a bottle of M. Chapoutier La Bernadine Chateauneuf du Pape 2004 ($98) for a velvety mouthful of berries and cocoa with a tight finish. Chef Bondy recommends her Niman Ranch-raised natural Angus sirloin strip au poivre. The pepper-seasoned meat pairs delightfully with the rich red wine.

A hint of lemon comes through in the sorrel-laced potatoes au gratin. The leafy sorrel conveys just a touch of citrus to cut through the backdrop of cream and butter that gives the dish its characteristic luxury.

Chef Bondy is justly proud of her cheese plate. Servers roll a cart around allowing diners to choose from among an assortment of artisan cheeses. Have a taste at the start of the meal or take your cheese European style, after the main course and before—or instead of—dessert. What a fabulous way to finish off the last sip of a big red wine.

Don’t miss classics like soufflés made with Grand Marnier or chocolate, light and airy, but requiring some time to make. Remember to order in advance or be prepared to give the kitchen the 20 minutes required. Yes, that’s another chance to finish that bottle of cabernet sauvignon or sip some Cognac. If you can’t wait, check out the dense, chocolaty Guinness Stout cake instead. But remember, you’ve still got one stop.

Glass Cactus Awaits

The resort’s nightclub has become a studio for executive resort chef Ty Thoren. There’s live music Tuesday through Saturday nights, and Chef Thoren’s menu features delightful “club cuisine” for sharing either as appetizers early in the evening or as a late-night snack to keep the party alive.

The lake views from the nightclub’s multi-tiered outdoor decks are intoxicating, but there’s plenty of spirit here in the form of signature cocktails or any of the 125 premium tequilas (touted as the largest selection in Texas). In the kitchen, the culinary team produces dazzling appetizers such as flatbread with melted gorgonzola and asiago cheeses, and miniature Kobe-beef burgers.

Chef Thoren is also the barbecue master at the Gaylord Texan, where his new outdoor grill at the Glass Cactus overlooks Lake Grapevine.

If you’re thinking this sounds like a lot of wining and dining for one evening, consider making a room reservation at the same time you make your restaurant reservations. Then it’s a weekend getaway to the mini-gourmet state known as the Gaylord Texan.

Other Gaylord dining options include Texan Station, a sports bar with burgers and barbecue (and a 52-foot big-screen TV), as well as Riverwalk Café, situated near a façade of the Alamo in a setting that recalls San Antonio’s meandering river. The latter serves a variety of regional Texas dishes such as chicken tortilla soup, tequila rotisserie chicken, shrimp jambalaya, fajitas, and bread pudding. Riverwalk Café also hosts a Sunday brunch.

For more information (including hours), or to make reservations at any of the five Gaylord Texan restaurants, call 817/778-1000; www.gaylordhotels.com.

Read 19702 times Last modified on Friday, 13 July 2012 13:06

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