16 Dec RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR: Stephan Pyles Flora Street Café
Texas’ most renowned native-son chef debuted his gorgeous new flagship in the Arts District in June, earning four stars in a review in August. Since then Stephan Pyles’ forward-looking modern Texan restaurant has become even more impressive. The cooking feels less fussy, more focused; early execution wrinkles seem to have worked themselves out.
Weekday lunch service has been added, and already it feels like the city’s hottest noonday ticket, with a menu that’s sophisticated and original yet approachable. It might start with wild mushroom empanadas, then move on to something like gorgeously cooked king salmon on aji-spiked creamed corn with black-bean-and-prosciutto refritos, crab-and-mango ceviche and crisply fried wedges of ripe avocado. Or go for a luscious Texas prime rib sandwich on house-made foccaccia, slathered with horseradish crema and onion marmalade.
Come dinnertime, there are thrills aplenty. Recently I was wowed by aged duck breast flanked by melty smoked cabbage and dabs of pumpkin mole, harissa and sikil-pak — a velvety pumpkin-seed purée with roots in the Yucatan — all of which harmonized in unexpectedly wonderful ways with the superb, deep flavor of the duck. Slices of roasted ballotine of guinea hen set on a date-and-plum marmalade played nicely with mini poblano quesadillas. For dessert, executive pastry chef Ricardo “Ricchi” Sanchez’s desserts — like a peanut-butter Bavarian with lime curd and huckleberry sorbet — have come into focus, too.
The talented team Pyles has brought together is a large part of what makes the place so special. The service, as directed by general manager Victor Rojas (who has been tapped by Bruno Davaillon to head the dining room at Bullion), is polished and super-engaged. Head bartender Lauren Festa’s cocktails stand out as exceptional in the ocean of sweet craftiness that has swamped the Dallas drinks scene of late. Madeleine Thompson’s thoughtful wine list is one of the most exciting in town.