Dallas-Fort Worth does not lack for steakhouses, but with the opening of Knife Dallas, the new restaurant at the Highland Dallas (formerly Hotel Palomar), the rest seem moot.
With an edgy menu, a meat-aging room on display and celebrity chef John Tesar in the kitchen, Knife brings sex appeal to a genre known for staid, expense-account sameness.
The dining dynamic is different. Instead of choosing an entree for yourself, you order a couple of steaks to share and compare. Close your eyes with your friends and chew slowly as you try to decide which you like better, the firm, taut sirloin ($25) or the Akaushi rib-eye ($95 for two), fatty and rich.
In a city that already adores beef, Knife transforms the experience of eating steak into a foodie frenzy. Tesar has created a steakhouse for the shameless carnivore; he’s created a steakhouse that’s hip.
Though known for his social media and reality show antics, Tesar is a smart and intuitive chef with his finger on the pulse of culinary trends. That means alternative cuts of meat, mac-and-cheese, house-made pickles, charcuterie and bacon.
But Knife has options for those who don’t need novelty and just want a classic filet mignon.
Dinner begins with a unique freebie: a crudité sampler of raw veggies on ice with house-made green goddess dip, including radishes, carrots, Belgian endive, plus a sheet of beef jerky. There is also complimentary bread from Empire Baking Co.
Salads are large enough to share, or to serve as an entree. Tesar, a onetime Top Chef contestant (Season 10), shows a rare understanding of, and respect for, salads, and the five at Knife were stellar.
Garden salad ($14) had butter lettuce, sliced radishes, boiled eggs and baby root vegetables.
Teresa’s watercress salad ($16) had roughly cut watercress and Belgian endive, dabs of goat cheese and lots of crunchy walnuts. The salad’s name is a nod to a certain local food critic named Teresa who, in past reviews, had praised a similar salad he did at the Commissary (his now-closed burger joint at Dallas’ One Arts Plaza).
Pea shoot salad ($15) was a nifty novelty with pea shoots — little stems and green leaves, like stiff sprouts — combined with slices of ham, with a quenelle of cool pea sorbet, an unexpected touch.
Appetizers include steak tartare ($19) and yellowtail crudo ($18), but everyone gets the bacon tasting ($12): five bacon slices oozing grease on a slab of wood, with a spoon of bacon jam. Twice, the waiter began to recite their provenance — two from Nueske’s, one from Tennessee — but the differences were minor, and the dish seemed like a tongue-in-cheek response to the bacon mania gripping our land.
Of the dozen steaks, five were bargain cuts at $25, whose cheaper status was masked by cooking over a red oak fire. Most of the steaks sampled — from the 8-ounce filet ($44), two inches high, to the dry-aged 28-ounce bone-in rib-eye for two ($80), to the blackened sirloin ($25) — were crusted in salt and roughly cracked pepper, and cooked with care. The open kitchen was exciting to watch, with chefs in white lab coats tending fires against a backdrop of green tile.
“Extreme” items such as a pig’s head appease the thrill-seekers, but one such dish, the Sriracha pork belly ($19), was a disappointment, with three chunks of sauced-over fat stacked on a single steamed bun; smaller chunks and more buns would make it right. Sliced beef tongue ($21) was incredibly tender; Tesar first cooked it via sous vide, then fried it until dark and crisp.
My wine snob friends clucked over the price markups of 100 percent and more, before consulting with sommelier Sabrina Snodderly on a Napa Valley Cabernet Franc by Relic they loved for a “mere” $92 that met the parade of meat.
All steak aside, the dish we loved best was the burger ($12), with American cheese and red onions on a squooshy bun. Red in the center, the patty had a well-salted crust, which Tesar achieved by cooking it on a fiery-hot stainless steel grill — and it’s hard to find better. It came with pickles and thick, skin-on french fries. Other sides such as the wedgy avocado fries ($10) and greasy onion rings ($7) were not as strong; stick to the salads instead.
The Hotel Palomar became the Highland Dallas in August when it was acquired by Hilton. Tesar, who is also still involved with his seafood restaurant Spoon, promises that the new ownership won’t change things at Knife. Hopefully that’s true, but for those seeking an extreme steak experience, now’s the time.