John Tesar had some big shoes to fill when he took the position of executive chef at The Mansion on Turtle Creek following Dean Fearing’s departure. I’m not sure he’s grown into them (or found his own pair), quite yet. But I think he’s on his way.
The highlight of dining at The Mansion on Turtle Creek, one of Dallas’s most posh and padded hotels (the only Five-Star, Five-Diamond in Texas), is the atmosphere. It’s romantic, it’s elegant, it’s cozy – it’s a fairytale.
I have no idea what the restaurant looked like before its face lift in 2007, but judging from the rest of the hotel, and the “Chef’s Room,” set in the original estate’s dark and almost Gothic library (a 20-seat space with a more traditional setting and a set prix-fixe and tasting menu format), it seems that the main dining room has been revised to feel more modern with beige leather chairs and settees, bare tables, and modern art. It’s still formal, but it’s not as serious as the Chef’s Room.
The veranda, which looked like an addition to the main building, immediately won my affection. It’s less formal than the dining room: a wide avenue paved with tiles and lined with deck tables set before a row of bright palladium windows looking out onto a tree-shaded patio strung with lanterns.
Everything at the Mansion on Turtle Creek is expensive. How expensive? My lunch main course consisting of four Lobster Ravioli with uni butter cost $35. I don’t think it would have struck me as being any less expensive had there been seven ravioli, as our server quoted (and four was all I really needed).
That being said, the ravioli, which were actually mezzalunas, were pretty good. The pasta crescents were thin and elastic and each contained a nugget of succulent, sweet lobster. The creamy uni butter sauce, which was heavily layered and concentrated with shellfish umami, had an appreciable amount of uni flavor. But as good as the sauce was – or, perhaps because it was so rich and flavorful – I only needed about half the serving; there was simply too much.
And the sauce had skinned over – one of my biggest pet peeves. It was clear, not only from the skinned sauce, but from the dried sliver of lobster atop the four ravioli with a meager dollop of sturgeon caviar, that the dish had been left sitting out.
It being the apex of summer, my friend and I gravitated toward the seasonal items on the menu, which comprised the majority of our selections. Tissue-thin shavings of fennel and neon-yellow celery hearts, strewn in a feathery line across an elongated plate, were book-ended by cubes of Paula Lambert cheese ($14). This gorgeous salad was undressed except for a few fronds of fresh dill and relied solely on the buttery, slightly salty cubes of cheese for contrast. While my friend thought the salad was bland (and she’s not a big fan of fennel either), I appreciated the light treatment which showcased the natural, grassy sweetness of the stalks.
Fat slices of ripe heirloom tomatoes blanketed with feta cheese and fresh herbs (tarragon standing out) were accompanied by batons of crisp, sweet watermelon. Dressed lightly with vinaigrette, this salad was simple, straightforward, and fresh.
But I’m not sure it was worth $18.
I’m not sure that my friend’s main course, which featured three fried squash blossoms stuffed with herbed goat cheese atop a bed of “rustic tomato sauce” (more like a chunky sun-dried tomato stew) was worth $18 either. But the buds were crunchy on the outside, hot and creamy on the inside and paired nicely with the thick, tangy-savory tomatoes.
The food is expensive, and it’s good. But it’s not extraordinary – certainly not enough to justify the price. I don’t know what the food was like when Dean Fearing was cooking at The Mansion on Turtle Creek. I imagine that it was very similar to what he’s serving at his new restaurant, Fearing’s at the Ritz Carlton, where I had lunch the two days before.
(Now I understand why Fearing’s is so expensive. The Tortilla Soup at both The Mansion (where’s it’s called “The Mansion Tortilla Soup”) and at Fearing’s (where it’s called “Dean’s Tortilla Soup”) is $15. It’s wonderful soup – probably the best thing I had at Fearing’s. But I didn’t feel the need to repeat the experience at The Mansion on Turtle Creek for that price.)
Having eaten at Fearing’s, I’d say that Fearing’s food is bolder and more vivid than Tesar’s at The Mansion. Fearing’s food has a character and a specific perspective that Tesar’s seems to lack.
You can imagine my delight when I learned that the Mansion Ice Cream Tasting ($13) included all nine of the flavors listed on the menu.
Although the huge glass plate gridded with nine dimples, each nestling a scoop of ice cream, looked exciting, there could have been a more interesting variety of flavors. For instance, there were three “chocolate” ice creams (white, milk, and dark). Notwithstanding the lack of variety (something I had already been aware of from the printed flavors), most of the ice creams were not particularly good. The coconut ice cream was my favorite. You can read about the rest of the flavors here. The tasting came with a giant cookie the shape of Texas.
It wasn’t hard to choose “Peach” as the other dessert ($13). The halved Texas peach was roasted and stuffed with honey mousse and served with a quenelle of peach ice cream. The plate was garnished with buttery crumbs of Breton sablé and a swatch of what I would describe as peach smoothie – a frothy, pastel-pink sauce that tasted gently of peaches and tea. This was a wonderful dessert to end a summer lunch.
Service was good, but nothing particularly noteworthy. Likewise, the bread was good, but nothing particularly noteworthy.
I’m not convinced that I’ve experienced a good representation of Chef Tesar’s repertoire and potential (or maybe I’m hoping that I haven’t). The dinner menu, not surprisingly, seems more interesting than the lunch menu. There are also a number of tasting menus offered at night that seem like a more comprehensive and focused presentations of Tesar’s cuisine.
But even if the food didn’t live up to the restaurant’s legend and legacy, the setting was charming enough to entice me to return to The Mansion for another visit. I’d not only like a second crack at Tesar’s menu, but a chance to sit under the stars on that tree-lined and lantern-strung patio.
As an aside, Chef Graham Elliot Bowles of graham elliot restaurant (Chicago) cooked at The Mansion on Turtle Creek under Dean Fearing.
Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek
Executive Chef John Tesar
2821 Turtle Creek Boulevard
Dallas, Texas 75219