by Andrew Chalk
When Jason Weaver headed the kitchen at The French Room from 2005 to 2009 the restaurant reached the highest culinary point that I have witnessed there in my 30 years in Dallas. Bill Addison, the then restaurant critic of The Dallas Morning News (this was B.C. — before Crave), and a man parsimonious with his accolades, gave the restaurant five stars, denoting it as one of the best restaurants in the city. Zagat named it the best hotel restaurant in the country in its 2006/2007 survey.
With a change in hotel corporate ownership, Weaver left (and The French Room menu ossified) and opened The Mandarin Oriental in Las Vegas before eventually returning to Texas to become executive chef at the La Torretta Lake Resort and Spa in Montgomery. In 2011 he was the high-profile hiring of the year, when it was announced that he would be the first executive chef at the Omni Dallas Hotel. That title means that he chefs just about everything except Bob’s Steakhouse (which is a tenant rental situation). That means flagship restaurant Texas Spice, sports bar The Owner’s Box, the Lobby Lounge, coffee bar Morsels, in-room dining, banquets and catering.
He will need all the organisational skills he learned as a U.S. Marine to handle that. Does it mean the creativity that flowed so profusely at The French Room is gone? I had the opportunity to get a data point on Friday when I attended a wine dinner at the Omni hosted by William Hill Estate Winery as their guest. My coverage of the wines will appear as a separate article, but I was moved to report on the food for reasons that will become clear below.
As a private dinner, this event would fall under the “banquet” category of Weaver’s responsibilities and you might expect him to be elsewhere in the hotel. Instead, he was very much present and made several presentations about the food. Although he was generous in his credit to his team including executive sous chef Donaldo Chalko, chef de cuisine Bryce Dahlgren, pastry chef Kristina Kent and garde manger Pablo Martinez, Weaver’s fingerprints were all over the recipe conception and cooking techniques. My take on the evening: The Omni is letting him turn out food that is as cutting edge and contemporary as he showed at The French Room. The execution is as slick as any high-end restaurant in town and the team he assembled behind him really works well.
Here is what we ate. Other than moving the king crab to the front of the menu I cannot think of anything that needs to change. Of course, I don’t know if this menu can be replicated in Texas Spice (the menu there seems comprised of much less ambitious dishes), so you may have to organize your own family or corporate banquet in order to get food of this ilk (I am available to attend – if you need the numbers).
Sika Venison, Vanilla Pineapple, Celery Root
Herb Cured Wild Salmon, Smoked Potato, Caramelized Onion, Horseradish
Sunchoke Ravioli, King Crab, Garlic, Wild Mushrooms
44 Farms “72” Hour Short Rib, Basil Potato, Pickled Rhubarb
Lemon Yogurt Cake, berries and Mint
Dark Chocolate Cake, Caramel, Cardamom