The Weekend Trip
Crossing over to the other side: Big D offers a feast for your art eyes andfoodie stomach
If Big “D” is for Dallas, then the little “a” that comes next is definitely for the “arts.” Or so it seemed on a quick weekend getaway to Houston’s much maligned sister city. In fact, this is the perfect time of year for a little trip to Dallas, and I have a few suggestions for an aesthetically pleasing weekend if you’re willing to cross over to the other side and make a stop in Fort Worth.
You may be wary of the heat this time of year. It was a sultry 102 degrees when I rolled into town. Or the drive itself, which is a bit of a bore other than a greeting from the massive statue of Sam Houston near Huntsville and a fantastic drive-in theater glowing in the dark near Ennis. But once I arrived, Dallas seemed cool enough.
The aura of Dallas may suggest showy luxury, but go boutique in choosing a hotel. In fact, don’t miss out on the Belmont Hotel, a fabulously retrofitted and reasonably priced 1946 motor lodge perched on a hill in Oak Cliff. The Belmont preserves its midcentury modern appeal without trying too hard or sacrificing comfort.
The hotel is built around a hill with a series of rooms in a main building and a series of outdoor cottages. BarBelmont was hopping when I arrived late on a Friday night. It attracts a young and lively crowd keen to knock back vintage cocktails while looking out over the downtown skyline. If the crowd gets to you, head to the pool for an equally good view and, if you’re there during the day, a snack bar with sodas.
The blinking arrow pointing down from above the entrance of the Belmont’s restaurant, Smoke, is a sign from the heavens, and the food is a revelation. You can expect serious smokehouse tastes, locally-sourced seasonal ingredients, and a breakfast plate of eggs and smoked pork belly so succulent you might forget there’s a whole dinner menu to enjoy. Spareribs and sweetbreads mingle with scallops and smoked charcuterie. The design is casually rustic but attentively modern.
On the bar as you enter, you’ll see massive glass jars with planks of cedar soaking maple syrup. It was all I could do not to reach in for a taste.
From the way the partisans of Dallas and Fort Worth talk, you’d think a great wall separated the cities. Really, it’s just a short 30 minutes on Route 30 with a huge payoff at the end of the road.
If you can resist the urge to stop at a water park on the way, you’ll find yourself soon at the Kimbell Art Museum. Louis I. Kahn’s iconic building holds one of the most perfectly distilled collections you’ll encounter. Museums with massive holdings impress with their sheer variety, but require a certain amount of browsing to find the truly great works.
At the Kimbell, everything feels like a masterpiece. A little over a year ago curators managed to acquire perhaps Michelangelo’s first painting and one of only four such easel paintings in the world.
The Torment of Saint Anthony (1487-8) depicts the ever-calm desert saint unflappable in the face of a horrifying crew of harpies and demonic fish who drag him up into the air. You also shouldn’t miss Caravaggio’s haunting The Cardsharps (1594), which was lost for decades before being rediscovered in 1987 in a private collection. Like most of Caravaggio’s work, The Cardsharps embodies in shadow and light the tension between innocence and corruption, as a street urchin and his older partner team up to cheat a well-heeled and inexperienced youth.
The Kimbell may be the big news in the Fort Worth art scene, but the surprise of the trip was just across the street. The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth may be the most beautiful and intriguing art space I’ve visiting. The structure designed by Tadao Ando and built in 2002, seems to rise up like an oasis in the desert, surrounded as it is by reflecting pools and sculpture gardens.
Richard Serra’s magnificently simple Vortex (2002) rises up near the entrance. Stalks of curved, oxidized metal spiral up to the clear heavens while creating an echo chamber for visitors who care to go inside on the way in. Once inside, the building plays a cat-and-mouse game, sometimes revealing the water outside while at other times diverting visitors into side alcoves that secret a single piece of art.
The collection reads like a who’s who of modern art with each piece perfectly placed in conversation with the works around. Near the entrance, in its own domed enclosure, Anselm Kiefer’s Books with Wings stretches out like an angel of emerging slowly from a book.
A wonderful room full of photographic works speak with one another — Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills hang near Yasumasa Morimura’s Sherman-inspired Self Portrait (Actress) as Elizabeth Taylor and Andres Serrano’s The Morgue and The Church. Don’t miss Martin Puryear’s masterful Ladder for Booker T. Washington, a carefully crafted ash and maple ladder that seems to ascend to infinity. Of course it narrows as it ascends, speaking to how elusive the dream of advancement for African-Americans can be.
You can work up a serious appetite after a day at the museums, so you might want to treat yourself to an aesthetically pleasing meal at a restaurant inspired by your love of reality competition. OK, I’m talking about me, not you. I love Bravo’s Top Chef , so when I learned that head judge and darling of gay bears across the country, Tom Colicchio, had a restaurant in Dallas, I called immediately.
Eating at Craft is a treat worth saving up for. If you make your way over to the W hotel you’ll find a seriously swank interior full of rich wood tones, perfect mood lighting, and a series of luxuriously intimate circular booths flanked by light columns reminiscent of Dan Flavin. The food is pitch-perfect with local ingredients from artisanal ranchers and the season’s best catch. Much of the food is designed to be eaten family-style.
And after sampling an arugula and lemon salad and the zipper cream peas, which were tastier than any sides deserve to be, I was worried for the main courses. I shouldn’t have been. The test of any French-trained chef is the roast chicken, and Craft managed one as succulent as any I’ve had at my favorite Houston restaurant, Mockingbird Bistro.
On the way out the door, after a sampler of heavenly sorbets sent out compliments of the chef, I was handed a corn blueberry muffin for breakfast the next morning.
Craft seems like a true slice of Dallas — friendly, approachable, and eager to welcome you back.