by Andrew Chalk
Asador is the flagship restaurant in the Dallas Renaissance Hotel (the distinctive lipstick building on I-35 next to Market Center). I was impressed when I dined there shortly after its opening in 2011 and again on two subsequent visits. I was there again recently at a media event where it was my first chance to sample the cooking of Paul Guatelara, the third executive chef, following in the footsteps of David Trubenbach (who lusted to return to his birthplace of Florida) and Brad Phillips( who also went to Florida, but opened his own restaurant). The culinary model “Farm to Fire”, developed by consulting chef Dean Max at several Marriott properties, lives on.
Execuchef Guatelara has decades of experience in both hotels and restaurant groups. A lot of that is with Marriott including the JW Marriott Grande Lakes - Orlando, Marriott O’Hare - Chicago, and the Gaylord Texan Resort. He is as inventive as his predecessors, sometimes treading on regulations. For example, his farmers pull a lot of vegetables ‘root on’. He wanted to create a hydroponic garden at the door of the restaurant where the vegetables could continue to grow until prepped for cooking. Everyone on the hotel staff loved the idea until it got up to a head Dilbert who asked ‘Hang on, aren’t there some code compliance issues here?’ A call to the City of Dallas established that they did not know of any compliance regulations either but they wanted to formulate some in case this idea took off. They figured Chef Paul may know how to safely operate a hydroponic farm in a restaurant, he had done it elsewhere, but other adoptees may not. The farm is currently on hold.
Talking about those farmers. They are all within 55 miles of the hotel. Only if something isn’t available, nor a substitute, will Asador source from outside, and then they use suppliers recommended by their regular farmers. Seafood, which has to come from outside the 55-mile perimeter is overwhelmingly sourced from the Gulf.
Chef Paul and Social Media Activator (for that is her title), Melissa de Hoyos chose our menu which started with that most suitable summer starter, a salad. Nectarine and Tomato Salad ($13) was built from farm house baby greens mix (bib, red kale, spinach, mesclun), hoja santa cheese, dried cherries, pine nuts and pickled fresco with an agave vinaigrette. I wasn’t so enamoured with the Oven Baked Rolls($6) served alongside, which were too much starch at that point in the meal. They were topped with a flavorful Chimichurri sauce. Maybe a thin baked polenta topped with the same instead?
Next, an oxycontin-level addiction inducing dish -- the Gulf Shrimp Bake ($15) paired shrimp with a green mustard aioli, garlic, and grana padano. Serving it in the same cast iron skillet in which it was cooked was a sizzling way to marshall the taste buds.
The salmon fish course came pan-seared atop a bed of cilantro pesto couscous. The chef was able to source unusually large-beaded couscous. A nice touch. A ring of sweet carrot purée formed a moat and thin slices of fennel gave a toothsome note and an anise flavor contrast.
In the meat course, Charred Flat Iron ($25) with garlic, yucca root, peas,and mushrooms in a garlic beurre blanc sauce it was interesting to see the use of yucca root. I had just cooked it for the first time a couple of days earlier (I mashed it). Chef Paul chopped it in bite-sized chunks and fried it after boiling. Based on both results I’m seeing an opening for it in ‘western’ cooking as an alternative starch. It adds its own parsnip-like texture, and absorbs the flavors, tofu style, of what it is cooked with. Here, that meant the earthy flavors of the sauce.
On the side, the agave-cider vinaigrette made the Brussels sprouts ($8) one of the best examples of that vegetable in town. And the parmesan coating and jalapeño green onion aioli were an interesting take on roasted cauliflower ($7).
Desserts are in the opulent and irresistible genre. Homemade vanilla ice cream is a standout and the homemade chocolate chip cookies likewise. Also check out the cheesecake and chocolate cake.
On the libations side, there is a wine selection but the house focus is on cocktails, many based on the tequila and mezcal selections impressively displayed in a ‘tower‘ behind the bar. When a patron requests a tequila from the top, a long ladder is wheeled into place to fetch it. With over 60 choices this may be largest agave selection in town.
I had previously thought that Asador’s patronage primarily came from market center trade. They are the largest part, but it turns out that a lot of business travellers connecting at Love Field grab a Lyft/Uber and have become regular customers. It is time that locals, particularly in the Design District over the street and the developments around the hospital discovered Asador as well. I think they will like it.
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All restaurant reviews on this blog are conducted blind and all bills paid for by me unless otherwise noted as a media event. We subscribe to the FTC Endorsement Guides for Bloggers. Readers should not trust any writer who does not do so, or does not declare their interest - they are using you to get free food or payment.