Dallas chef John Tesar is known for a few things: appearing on the Seattle season of Top Chef ; running the respected seafood restaurant Spoon Bar & Kitchen; a September 2011 D Magazine cover story that dubbed him “The Most Hated Chef in Dallas,” although it was hard to dislike him Thursday night, when he invited some media members to an early sneak preview of Knife, his upcoming “new breed” steakhouse in the old Central 214 space at the Hotel Palomar in Dallas.
And by early, we mean that much of the restaurant is still in the construction phase, although the bar was in pretty full swing. The target date for opening is May 15, with the caveat that restaurant’s target opening dates often change.
Tesar told reporters that although the restaurant is in a hotel, he wanted to emphasize that it’s a neighborhood restaurant for Highland Park and other nearby areas of Dallas. It will have its own valet parking, separate from the hotel’s, and its entrance is accessible without going through the hotel lobby.
“It’s more than just a steakhouse,” Tesar told reporters. “We want to make this a very social place. You can come here and get a hot dog, but the hot dog will blow your mind. Or you can get a 240-day dry-aged steak. There’s something for everybody. We have a couple of vegan options, some of them pasta, some of them salad.”
One of the salads, Tesar said, will be named Teresa’s salad -- in honor of DFW.com contributor Teresa Gubbins (it’s modeled after a salad that Gubbins loved at one of Tesar’s old restaurants, the Commissary, Tesar said; in her DFW.com review of the now-closed burger place, she raved about several salads, calling them “positively fearless.”).
And yes, there will be lots of other meat: bison, lamb, pork, chicken, seasonal game birds, house-made sausages and brats, Tesar’s C-Vap-cooked burgers.
Tesar says he wants the restaurant to be a social experience. “You can share an intimate dinner for two, or you can come with 10 friends,” he said. “You can spend a thousand dollars, or you can spend $50.”
There wasn’t a lot of food to sample at the preview: a piece of flatbread with some steak tartare, steamed buns with pork belly.
But Tesar did bring out a huge 240-day dry-aged ribeye that some reporters got to taste (alas, I didn’t get close enough). This was an example of the restaurant’s “slabs” -- larger portions for sharing.
“This is the high end ... the heart and soul of what we’re doing,” Tesar said. “All the other steaks will be $25 to $28. Or you can come and buy this steak for $100. But see, this is a steak you can have, and 10 people can share it and experience the flavors, and then order one of the $28 steaks.”
There will also be “interactive” dishes, such as pork-belly brisket, house-cured pastrami and pig’s head served with international breads and sauces.
“When you come and get one of those things on the menu, those slabs like pork belly, pig’s head, you’ll get rye bread, you’ll get steamed buns, you’ll get tortillas,” Tesar said. “You’ll be able to sit down and graze and create your own international flavors for each slab that you buy.”
The preview included samples of a couple of desserts, including a clever and tasty “Cheesecake 2.0”: cheesecake mousse, raspberry fluid gel and “liquid” graham cracker. (executive pastry chef David Collier, whose background includes the Mansion on Turtle Creek and Spoon, has a lot of inventive desserts up his sleeve -- can’t wait to try the caramel pretzel with Valrhona dulcey panna cotta.)
There were also a couple of cocktails, including a “Rockin’ Rye”: rye with rock candy, cinnamon, clove and the zests of four citrus fruits. As advertised, it rocked.
Tesar said that because the restaurant is in a hotel, it can stay open later, till midnight most nights and till 1 a.m. on weekends. The restaurant has a patio on the east side of the hotel, which is right off of Central Expressway. The restaurant will also offer daily breakfasts from 6:30 to 11 a.m., with a bar menu from 2 to 5 p.m. and full dinner menu from 5 p.m. till midnight. The bar will be open till 2 a.m. with late-night dining till 1; there will eventually be an 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday brunch.