Many so-called gastropubs are merely bars with an expanded menu. The gastropub concept originated in Europe, where the public house, or pub, is already far more common than in the United States, as a drinking establishment that also had a legit menu and a kitchen staff that was no stranger to the cutting edge of culinary creativity. The best gastropubs are pushing limits in both areas, offering unique, up-and-coming beverages and serving techniques in addition to celebrating the culinary art of reinvented pub house fare.
Cook Hall at W Dallas is one such triumph in this area. Opened October 30th on the ground floor of the bright white hotel tower in the heart of Downtown Dallas's Victory Park neighborhood, the location is the first location in a concept that soon expanded to Atlanta and is exploring additional locations in the coming months. Culinary Concepts, a hospitality group with ties to W's brand parent Starwood, is responsible for the creative and strategic development of Cook Hall, and envisioned a new type of dining experience tailored to meet the changing habits of restaurant diners, with a focus on smaller, shared plates, and more innovative, artisan beverages.
On the beverage side of the house, Culinary Concepts relies on James Beard Foundation "Outstanding Wine Service" Award winner Belinda Chang as the beverage director for all 15 properties. The most innovative beverage offering at Cook Hall is the signature Cocktail Kit. For the price of the shot plus $15 for the kit, diners are presented with a full array of aromatics, which vary based on the best of the season. Our kit included fresh mint and rosemary, house-made bitters such as Sage, Red Pear, and Fennel Flower, mixers such as soda and ginger ale, and celery and red pear syrups. For those unsure of what to do with the dizzying assortment, there's a booklet provided with recipes concocted by previous diners, and a pen so newly minted victories can be recorded for posterity. We had one of our own, and the entry is now duly entered for future diners to experience. See the slideshow for the recipe.
The kitchen is helmed by Chef de Cuisine Rick Graff. Known for building relationships with local North Texas suppliers for quality seasonal produce, Chef Graff had also held positions in the hotel's banquet department and at the previous restaurant outlet, Craft. Culinary Arts is a second career for Cheff Graff, who made the transition after taking evening courses at El Centro College to pursue a lifelong love of food. Graff's dedication to seasonal, local products is evident with the inclusion of kale caesar salad and radish toast on the winter menu, which is the time of year when these winter vegetables are available at the peak of their quality. In addition to working with seasonal ingredients at the pinnacle of their quality, the major creative goal is an adaptation of regional comfort food (which is traditionally the fare served in pubs) for modern diners, such as an updated Welsh Rarebit with Quail Egg, and Crispy Duck Tacos with Chipotle Coleslaw.
The promise of quality ingredients turned out to astound; the food was infallible, prepared with great care and expert technique, delivered by a warm, attentive staff in a comfortable atmosphere. The Texas Modern design, a harmonious construction of distressed wood, steel, glass, various leathers is a bright, inviting space that encourages lingering, socializing, and offers enough welcome for even a single diner (a must for hotel dining outlets; there were several solo patrons during our visit). Each employee from our servers to the general manager spoke with intimate familiarity and great enthusiasm for the food; it's easy to feel as though one has been invited to the chef's living room to share the latest inspiration.
Takeaway: Cook Hall is an instant Dallas treasure, convenient to American Airlines Center, DART Rail, and Downtown Dallas, well-suited for gracious grazing in the relaxed frontier style, surrounded by the modern opulence of a big city hotel, featuring distinctly separate, yet complimentary innovation in both food and beverage. Corporate warriors can take advantage of 5@5 on weekdays featuring discounted cocktails and select small plates for $5. Reservations available via OpenTable. Credit cards accepted. Complimentary hotel valet for Cook Hall Patrons. Breakfast Daily 7-11. Brunch Sa/Su 11-3. All Day Menu Mo-Th 11:30-10 Fr 11:30 -11. Dinner Sa 3:30-11 Su 3:300-9. www.cookhalldallas.com 214-397-4111