Editor's note: Every week, we'll spotlight a culinary treat found around Dallas-Fort Worth — whether it's a new opening, a dish at a restaurant, or a grocery find.
Dish: Vegetarian menu at Fearing's
Location: Fearing's at Ritz-Carlton Dallas
Fearing's, the restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton Dallas hotel, is known for its Southwestern-meets-New-American cuisine; its slinky Rattlesnake Bar; and its charismatic chef Dean Fearing.
A lesser known thing is that Fearing's portfolio of menus — along with brunch, lunch, dinner, and a new steakhouse menu featuring Wagyu steaks that the hotel is fired up about — includes one that's entirely vegetarian.
Many restaurants offer vegetarian dishes, but to create an entirely separate menu with starters and entrees is a commitment. And to do it on the level they're doing it at Fearing's is rare.
By "the level they're doing it at Fearing's," we're talking:
- Conceived under the mindset that this is a meal, and the entrees are just like regular entrees, except they lack animal as an ingredient.
- The creativity and finesse you get from a top-caliber chef.
So on a recent Saturday night, we got an early table and had a couple of dishes from the menu. We split a starter of chicken-fried vegetables, which consisted of fried vegetables in a crisp-crunchy crust, set over a pool of aioli. The dish was mildly reminiscent of tempura vegetables but the coating was thinner; it could have used a little more crust. But the veggie selection was a plus, with distinctive items like broccolini and okra pods.
The kitchen split the dish before serving, which was thoughtful, even if we prefer to see it all together on the plate.
We ordered two entrees. Falafel being hot right now, we ordered the English pea falafel with garbanzo bean and baby heirloom carrot ragout with herb spinach puree, morel mushrooms, and tzatziki sauce.
This was such a pretty dish. Seven little "falafels" formed a ring around an entire medley of stuff: dabs of sauce, randomly-placed baby beet greens — some with the baby beets still attached, so cool, so rustic — plus shaved radish curls and a succotash made of super-fresh corn, peas, and hominy. Succotash is a chef Dean favorite.
No morels, sadly, but those were surely out of season by the second week of June. The succotash made up for it: The peas were hardly cooked — maybe just warmed, so that they still had from-the-garden firmness. And it was clever the way the fresh peas matched the theme of the pea falafel.
The falafel's texture was mushier than the firm, crunchy texture you expect from the traditional chickpea version of falafel, and the outer crust was softer than is ideal. But you can almost never go wrong with hot, deep-fried little orbs of just about anything.
The second entree, the Mexican Sampler, was another plate jubilantly crowded with all sorts of things: spinach enchilada with jalapeño ranchero sauce; butternut squash taquito with cilantro crema; avocado fries; a slaw; and chile lime corn gratin — like a souped-up version of esquites, the Mexican corn dish.
Having this multitude of things on a plate was stimulating, with so many flavors and textures to weigh and compare.
The victor was the spinach enchilada, because it came with a lot of spinach, just-blanched, with many leaves stacked on top of each other, so that the spinach became a solid presence, something you could really bite down on, such a satisfying experience, and with a fresh, mineral-earthy flavor.
The taquito was stuffed with soft mashed butternut squash. Stuffing it generously was smart: It made you feel like you were getting a lot of bang for your buck (actually, your 30 bucks).
Like the restaurant's other menus, the vegetarian is seasonal; it changes four times a year. But the Mexican sampler stays on the menu year round. Fearing says that his vegetarian customers have made it clear it's a dish he should not remove.
The wine-by-the-glass list was dull, and service was challenging, especially the effort to sell coffee and dessert after we asked for the check. Total: $150 for three dishes, 2 glasses of wine, and 16 percent tip.