THE HIGHEST RESTAURANT IN DALLAS AIMS FOR THE HEIGHTS
by Andrew Chalk
As a fixture on the 49th floor of the luxurious Thompson Hotel, Monarch looks down on the empty rotunda of the closed 560 by Wolfgang Puck in Reunion Tower. If unobstructed, the view of SĒR would reveal it to be at only level 27 in the Hilton Anatole. That makes Monarch the highest restaurant in Dallas, locationally. It aims to also loom over those other restaurants (in whatever guise they reopen) culinarily as well. There is ambition here, let me describe it.
Part upscale American-Italian, part steakhouse, part seafood, Monarch Dallas is a concept created in Chicago by What If Syndicate, a restaurant group that describes itself as in terms that it “pushes the boundaries of hospitality and service.”. It’s culinary anchor is Danny Grant, who maintained two Michelin stars at RIA in Chicago in 2011 (they were obtained the previous year under Jason McLeod, and the restaurant closed the following year).
The Dallas kitchen is helmed by Eric Dreyer, who has a stellar history as Dean Fearing’s number two at Fearing’s, Personal Chef to Oprah Winfrey, and executive chef at the Hall Arts Hotel. The restaurant has no fewer than five sommeliers on staff, reversing the national trend to downgrade wine service. General Manager is Matt Dickerson who worked for years in Las Vegas, a town where maximum hospitality goes overboard in the hunt for high rollers. Our waiter, Ryan, had a more conventional career path to his position. He was an apelago singer in Broadway plays for several years until COVID nixed that, and then became a meditation teacher in Austin. Given the excellent job that he did, I am going to recommend this career path to all aspiring waiters in the future. Thus, it emerges that the org. chart at Monarch combines the best of Dallas natives with an outsider’s fresh eye.
At a recent media event the results were on show. The rooms, for it occupies pretty much the whole floor, are luxuriously decorated in a pampering, but not fussy, style. The bar, with its floor to ceiling windows, is clearly destined to become a late night destination with the set that makes a point of being cooler than their refrigerators. I didn’t order from the bar (yet) so I haven't had a chance to test their global reach (“What Calvados do you have please?” “Can you recommend a single malt from Campbelltown”? “Best gin cocktail?” And they better have Casa Noble or that is a per se liquor law violation) or their local depth in their selection of local beers and wines.
In keeping with the ‘out to treat yourself after eleven months on Zoom’ milieu the menu showcases luxury ingredients, telegenically presented. Sumptuous crudo is a semaphore chart on a plate, almost defying you to eat the salmon, hamachi or tuna bathed in extra virgin olive oil. I am an untreatable breadaholic and the house made focaccia with its lacerating crust and rippable texture is the best that I have found in town. Caesar Salad is a hair-trigger balance of lettuce and dressing, moist, but not sodden, with the leafy texture regularly punctuated by chunks of toasted bread croutons. And one of the cleverest starters, croquettes of ricotta cheese, synergized that creamy body with a crunchy exoskeleton of bread crumbs.
For our main course we had a 32-day aged sirloin steak. The concentrated flavors were bang on point. We also tried the ‘signature’ meatballs of pork shoulder and saw why they came with an autograph. The generous quantity of rich, gloopy tomato sauce that bathed them made them firm but moist enough to excel. The wine with both of these courses was well-chosen (thank you Jacob, our sommelier). A 2011 Gran Reserva Rioja from Cune. Its decade of age (including two in wood) made it a mature and resolved wine exhibiting the best aspects of its predominant grape, tempranillo. Tasted with the meal it was all soft harmony and bliss.
Ironically it was amid these proteins that the restaurant slipped in what you might most enjoy -- their pasta. In this case Crispy Cacio e Pepe (with basil, olive oil, pepper blend, and lemon zest). It is such a headliner of Italian pasta creations you might think another one could not wow you. Try Eric Dreyer’s. If there is one thing (and there are actually many things) he can hit the ground running with it is instant first-rate execution. The proportions in this disk are slide rule perfect for a memorable taste sensation in the mouth -- even down to the seasoning.
After these indulgences dessert might seem like gilding the lily, or at least pumping the waist. If you have a hollow leg then do go for the chocolate soufflé or the home made ice cream selection. If you have two hollow legs you won’t be able to stand up so you might as well follow my bad example and have a Fernet Branca digestif as well (it comes in a glass apparently modeled on a heroin poppy. Riedel can call it the 'Pablo Escobar').
It was an impressive meal, with impressive service, in an impressive location. If I were to pick on anything I would look at adding some Texas wines to the list. We do well with Italian grapes and aglianico from Perissos Vineyards, sangiovese from Llano Estacado, sagrantino from Messina Hof, or, one country over, the undiscovered sparkling chenin blanc from Pheasant Ridge as a wine by the glass, would fit right in here.
The valet parking could be updated to a summons system as well (on the app. pay and call for your car from your seat in the restaurant, and it is outside waiting when you get down the elevator). The current 1960s system meant that we waited for our car longer than it took us to drive home. And why do I find valet tags on my key ring and dashboard? If you parked cars for a valet service wouldn’t it be automatic to leave the customer’s car as you found it?
Monarch was packed on this midweek night so reserve now for a memorable experience in the clouds.