Live Large, Think Big is the slogan for Dallas and finally, it’s a phrase that states truisms. Nothing small or diminutive about Dallas. For starters take the fact that there are 200 golf courses and represents the teams of 5 major sports leagues including the venerable Dallas Cowboys
However, a few other essentials I learned about this city of about 1.3 million. Firstly, it may be south but it isn’t hot or while I was there, not even warm in January so you may find a few Snow Birds but may have winged slightly to the north. But weather has no rules anywhere anymore and although it had been in the high 20c when I arrived, by next morning it was 2c. A cold front from the north, I was told my several locals. I refuse to give into my Canadian paranoia. We are not the cause.
Second it’s a cool place for foodies with a cutting edge culinary scene and acclaimed chefs. I should have listened to the slogan, Think Big when I first encountered Hilton Anatole Hotel (yes, everything is bigger in Texas). On the way to the 27th floor restaurant , Nana, it seemed more like an art gallery as we passed major and very large Oriental sculptures of gargantuan proportion and very costly(of course) large paintings and porcelain salvers ( massive). But the piece de resistance is the glass covered painting of the semi nude. Nana. It hangs over the very deluxe bar adjacent to the restaurant and although no one talks cost, the ball park figure for this exquisite piece of art was about US$6 million.
The restaurant décor could have been over the top formal but in fact it’s very comfortable with muted velvet covered chairs, pleasant, easy going helpful wait staff, dim lighting and happily lack of loud background music. And the sophisticated menu would please any oil magnate and their scions. Of course, how could I be in Dallas and not have beef, so my entrée after the perfectly presented Ahi Tuna cubes, came a juicy grilled perfectly as ordered, filet mignon.
Another evening meal was at Lola, The Restaurant, once a small private home now a two room restaurant with perhaps the best food in this culinary haven and a very long waiting list for reservations. Although it’s a Prix Fixe menu, the choice could be two, three or four courses. I opted for the three courses at a reasonable US$37 which was more than ample. If you book a table for 7 o’clock you must be out by 9PM for the next seating. I started with warm roasted broccoli with garlic, anchovy, chile and mint, For entree, a perfectly done slightly pink crispy skinned duck breast in a burnt honey sauce served with sweet potato puree, grapefruit and endives was as good as it looked. The Riz au Lait, aka rice pudding was too thin but saved by the topping of caramel and almond brittle, perfect for my sweet tooth. The chef, David Uygur, too shy to come out of the kitchen, is regarded as one of the tops in this city of gourmets.
Realizing that Dallas is a foodie paradise, I was glad to have registered at the always filled and very popular cooking class at the Dallas Farmers Market. Unseasonably cold s, as it was, there were just a handful of outdoor stalls, well displayed with produce from their vendor’s own crops.
The multipurpose classroom which holds about 90 students on the second floor in the Resource Building has a demonstration kitchen and each seat was filled. In partnership with the Dallas Farmers Market Friends and American Institute of Wine, every three months for five consecutive Saturdays from 11AM to !PM, there are classes given by a well known chef from one of the city’s top restaurants. The slanted mirrors show all, no matter whether you’re in the front or the last row. There’s a perfect view of what is being prepared. This day it was Chef David Holben of the famed Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House. With a pamphlet of recipes, and with his wonderfully funny personality, we started with sweet corn chowder, lump crab and sundried tomato crostini. This was followed by Coriander-Pepper Rubbed Peking Duck Breast and Tomato-Eggplant Grain with David’s Steak Sauce. After each demonstration, volunteers behind a curtain have tastings of the recipes handed out on individual plates. Delicious. Then on to crispy wedge salad with apple smoked bacon, buttermilk blue cheese and spicy grilled chicken (more superlatives). And it had such a user friendly atmosphere that Chef encouraged, actually demanded, that questions be asked. Sitting next to me were John, a financial executive and his wife Susie. Both love cooking. They had been to the previous Saturday class and enjoyed it so much, they booked to come back this morning. Both stated they had learned so much from the classes. So for the mere sum of $25 US, it’s probably the best deal in the city of over 1.3 million populations.
A visit to Dallas is not complete without going for brunch at La Duni, a former bakery. Brunch on the weekend is a wild wonderful scene and since there are no reservations, the line often grows and new friends are made. Molletes de Frijol & Queso ($7.95) is a baguette spread with black beans covered with melted Latin cheese and served with salsas and roasted potatoes. The essential Tex Mex dish at Iron Cactus was enough for two. Sample the tamales with cheese, black beans and cilantro rice.
Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek is a true landmark in this city. Once the private home of a cotton baron, this 16th century Italian Renaissance style building was built in 1925. With the keen eye of Caroline Rose Hunt owner of Rosewood Hotels, purchased the estate in1980 and after a US$20 million renovation, added 143 room hotel next to the original house. The hotel is beyond elegant and worthy of all the prestigious awards presented.
Brunch was on the enclosed glassed-in area overlooking the circular drive. The American style breakfast holds no surprises but the hotel certainly does. The charming building has retained the historic features which include hand carved ceilings and dark wood walls, a huge fireplace and furnishing that goes from traditional to contemporary but in a stylish manner with eclectic often difficult to obtain. And the art shown throughout the public areas is worthy of a catalogue.
The signature coral coloured walls throughout (a possible change to dove gray grass cloth is in the works) led to the white arched somewhat colonial looking entrances to each room. Presidents, rock stars, royalty, athletes have all stayed at the Mansion and after a site inspection of the top suite, #706 with textured faux alligator walls, a Baby Grand piano, French doors to a Romeo and Juliet balcony overlooking the most exclusive residential area of Dallas, it is indeed, the part of Live Large slogan.
The 900 square foot terrace of the large suite #907 has been the venue for some of the best summer parties as has suite 919 with a 1300 square foot terrace.
The former Exxon-Mobil office building has morphed into The Magnolia Hotel on the convenient downtown Commerce Street. The building is a stunning example of the fine stone work done at the turn of the century. My suite for less thanCDN$100 a night (perhaps only seasonal), has a sitting area, flat screen TVs, and a well equipped kitchen the room has plenty of drawer space and a large closet. The second floor holds a surprise. Decorated with mid century furniture the textured dark walls are dramatic while in the library area, with an electric fire aflame in the fireplace, the muted zebra design wall paper is so perfect with the Barcelona chairs and book filled shelves. The billiard table didn’t seem to attract any players but there is an active small bar. And what an inspired thought; there’s the milk and cookie buffet at bedtime.
A few doors away are the elegant The Adolphus Hotel circa 1900, and has the noted The French Room for dinner. With a 18 foot ceiling, hand blown crystal chandeliers, gilt sconces and murals, it’s true old time splendor. And while there, a stunning bride was having her photos taken in this location, the perfect backdrop for memories.
The city could be an encyclopedia of top architects of this century. The old landmark buildings that are the perfect juxtaposition to the new, glass skyscrapers give this city a feeling of coming of age.
Dallas’ has chosen architects that have won several Pritzker Prizes. The arts district spans 19 city blocks with significant architecture of the 20th and 21st century. The almost completed Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House was designed by Sir Norman Foster while nearby is the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre by Rem Koolhass , Sir Norman also did the Annette Strauss Artist Square, I.M.Pei was the architect for the Symphony Centre, the formidable Renzo Piano designed the Nasher Sculpture Centre and Garden. And the anchor of all this is the Dallas Museum of Art with 23,000 works and nearby the Crow Collection of Asian Art
Ah, what a paradise for the fashionistra. However, it seems that recessionistas need not apply. Think money. Dallas is known as the birthplace of shopping. With 260 sunny days a year, there is an incentive to go out and shop. So in love with malls the origin of destination shops, Highland Park Village, is top of the list for many shoppers. This is neck in neck with the very trendy North Park Centre with 235 distinctive shops also featuring a world class art collection, some donated by the aforementioned Nasher Family.
Both posh and very elite shopes, Stanley Korschak and Forty Five Boutique, are worthy of a visit to see the finest luxury and couture collections. And one mustn’t forget the flag ship store Nieman Marcus, which originated in Dallas over 100 years ago and
The major disappointment which started off as a positive convenience is the service where as a tourist you can retrieve the 8% plus taxes paid on purchases. But what they don’t tell you after you’ve waited they take 35% of the tax amount plus a few extra dollars for administration fees. So don’t bother unless you’ve done serious damage.
For a city that often doesn’t register on traveller’s radar, Living Large and Thinking Big in Dallas seems the perfect long weekend getaway. Now back onto the diet.