It used to be that as long as you added mesquite chips in the barbecue pit, mas tequila in the Margaritas and kept the beans out of the chili, you'd do well as a restaurateur in Texas. That may still hold true for the rest of the state, but in Dallas, palates are becoming more refined--due in no small part to The Mansion on Turtle Creek and its media darling of a chef, Dean Fearing, who continues to wow the restaurant community and its patrons with his daring approach to regional cuisine.
The restaurant is located in the restored 1925 Sheppard King Mansion, which is adjacent to a 141-room hotel tower. Diners eat in the same cozy opulence that once served as the living room. Situated in the wealthy hamlet of Turtle Creek, the complex is a short drive from the exclusive University Park and Highland Park communities of Dallas. In 1979, Rosewood Hotels & Resorts spent $21 million to refurbish the mansion--its flagship holding--open the restaurant and build the hotel tower. The Historic Preservation League of Dallas recognized Rosewood with a Keystone Award for "renovation and adaptive use" in 1981.
A nineteenth-century Spanish cathedral door with hand-carved helmeted faces guards the entrance to the restaurant. The door opens into a marbled anteroom that leads to the original King dining room (now the lower bar) and the main dining room. Past the slight, yet decently stocked humidor is the old library, where guests may dine beneath an original, intricately carved plaster ceiling. Perhaps the best place to eat, however, is the 125-square-foot, glassed-in veranda that overlooks the lush garden and patio. Private rooms are also available upstairs for dinner parties or meetings.
Fearing has established himself as the most innovative Southwest chef in America. His creativity is reflected in his dishes, such as his famous lobster tacos with yellow tomato salsa and jicama salad, or soft shell crab "relleno" on Mexican coleslaw with barbecue mango salsa and roasted corn-poblano relish. Fearing's interpretations of Southwest meat dishes are a mainstay at the Mansion.
There's a Texas steak Diane and chorizo nacho for $42, and a winter game trio of venison chop and sugarcane cider, an ostrich fillet with cranberry chipotle molé, and pheasant breast on chestnut tortilla sauce with pumpkin spoonbread for $45. Or try an Abilene mopped grilled veal chop with garlic baked potato, corn tamale and beer-battered onion, also for $45. The $85 four-course tasting menu rotates weekly.
The wine cellar was assembled, and is still maintained, by French-born and -trained sommelier Pierre Beloeil and Texan Kent Rice. A 1995 and 1999 Wine Spectator Grand Award winner, the Mansion boasts a wine list of more than 700 selections that is backed up by a 12,000-bottle cellar. A Bordeaux lover's Shangri-La, the cellar offers plenty of benchmark bottlings but few bargains. A bottle of '29 Château Latour can be had for $6,000 and a '45 Château Lafite-Rothschild will run you $5,000. Staying within the Southwest spirit, the Mansion also offers a smattering of Texan wines, including a Llano Estacado Viviano Noble Cepage for $75.
The humidor doesn't stock a wide variety of cigars, but does offer some good smokes (at typically inflated restaurant prices). Davidoff 4000s cost $40, Dunhill Cabreras are $30 and Macanudo Prince Phillips sell for $15. The lower bar, which plays host to a small jazz ensemble on weekends, features low leather sofas and chairs. There you can enjoy your cigar and sip a Rémy Martin Louis XIII for $125 or a Hennessey Paradis for $35. If Scotch is your pleasure, the Mansion has 21 brands from which to choose. Take your time selecting.
Donnie Snow is the performing arts critic for The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.
THE MANSION ON TURTLE CREEK
2821 Turtle Creek Boulevard
Phone (214) 559-2100; Fax (214) 528-4187
Rates Dinner for two about $250, with wine