Do the denizens of individual cities have different expectations when dining out? Does a metropolitan’s unique lifestyle influence the amount of time and commitment foodies are willing to give to a restaurant? This was the question I pondered after a recent weekend in Dallas and a visit to one of their trendiest restaurants, Private/Social.
Private/Social is the creation of Beaumont native, former Houstonian, and Top Chef fan favorite, Tiffany Derry. The food was delicious, the waitstaff attentive and decor luxurious, yet at the end of our third hour eating with 20 minutes or more intervals between finished courses, this Houston diner kept thinking: Tiffany you and your food are fabulous, but I’ve got stuff to do.
At the end of our third hour eating with 20 minutes or more intervals between finished courses, this Houstonian diner kept thinking: Tiffany you and your food are fabulous, but I’ve got stuff to do.
I don’t know about other Houstonians, but I tend to think of an evening out as a multi-course meal. A visit to a favorite local restaurant is often just one course, perhaps the figurative delicious appetizer or dessert, to that concert, play, party, or gallery opening main course.
This eating out philosophy doesn’t mean I undervalue the food portion of my evening. Au contraire, sometimes if the play or concert is a disappointment there’s only the anticipation of a nice late night meal to get me through the second act.
My dinner at Private/Social and to a lesser extent a meal at Centric the night before left me with some evidence that this is not a perspective shared by Dallasites. Dinner at a hot Dallas restaurant would not seem to allow guests to treat it like one stop among many in an evening. Slow down and enjoy the whole Private/Social experience because you’re probably not going to make that 8 o'clock show.
Private/Social is both a name and description, as the restaurant is divided into two spaces: a Social lounge and bar area with a more contemporary, club-like decor and its own menu for light bites and sharing-plates, and two Private dining areas for a more intimate and lingering — in our case, an hours-long — meal. The second Private dining room also gives guests a backstage look into the kitchen’s plating area through a large window.
Perhaps it was that window into the world of the kitchen and the side curtain that could be pulled to conceal that world, but the whole evening made me feel I was not just going out to eat but participating in a bit of culinary performance art.
Diners can order from both the Private and Social menus, allowing for the creation of some fun international fusions. How about opening with a spicy tuna and torched beef surf n’ turf sushi roll before digging into that plate of duck fat fried chicken?
I started by diving a bit warily into a plate of salt and vinegar potato chips, because I’m perhaps not enough of an Anglophile to really get the vinegar and potato thing, but Derry’s light touch of vinegar turned me into a chip addict for the evening.
If Dallasites are spending money on a meal, they want that meal to last into the night.
Similarly, I love ginger soy dressings but know they can easily invade and annihilate whatever food they are dressing, but again Derry’s fine glaze of ginger-soy on the wild alaskan halibut was the perfect accent for the fish. The accompanying crab-fried rice paired well with the halibut, but could easily have been an entree itself. I went with that urge and spread the crab-fried love, ordering a separate plate for sharing.
Everything I tried from my own plate and the bites I snagged from others at our table were excellent, but after being seated at 7:30 and only finishing our entree as the clock struck 10 and dance music suddenly came surging from the hidden speakers, I knew this would be our entire evening.
I was dining with a large party of 15, including several other members of the media from Oklahoma, Dallas and Houston, who were part of a tour sponsored by Dallas Marriott City Center and the Dallas Arts District. Seated beside me was Houstonian Dorothy Strouhal, a woman who has the dubious distinction of being a bad enough cook to be a recent contestant on the Food Network’s Worst Cooks in America. Celebrity chef Anne Burrell's training turned Strouhal into a discerning taster who helped me identify some hidden ingredients in Derry’s creations.
As the night and meal progressed, it seemed it was the Houstonians, myself definitely included, who grew impatient. Meanwhile our new Dallas friends took our three hours of eating, drinking and waiting as nothing unusual.
We were dining on a Saturday and there were several large parties in Private besides ours, so I wondered if perhaps we had overwhelmed the kitchen. While Dallas nightlife expert Betsy Mitchell, founder of TheDallasSocials.com, thought the staff might be running somewhat behind, she said that this type of lengthy eating stretch was not rare at high end Dallas restaurants. If Dallasites are spending money on a meal, they want that meal to last into the night.
According to Bundle, in 2012 Dallas beat out New York to top the list of cities that eat out the most, and perhaps if they’re going to spend 12 percent more on those meals, they expect to be focused solely on savoring the food and experience.
After we finished dessert, we were called into the kitchen to meet Derry, who chatted, posed for pictures and compared reality show experiences with Strouhal. Thinking of it as meeting the maestro after our culinary concert, I decided when in Dallas to embrace that focus solely on food philosophy.
Still, a warning to all Houston restaurants: No matter how good the meal, don’t expect me to retire my favorite phrase, “Check please, we’re trying to catch a show.”