My tongue still tingles when I think back to my lunch at Stephan Pyles, a singular pleasure heightened by the truant thrill of indulging mid-day, lunching long and leisurely, rather than post-poning the pleasures of the table until after eight hours of work.
It was Mom's birthday, a reasonable (even virtuous) excuse to put away pens, to "shut down" instead of "restart", and silence all cell phones on a Friday afternoon. We arrived at Stephan Pyles a primped and perfumed trio, Mom and I and a dear friend, and were seated in full view of the bustling open kitchen. My companions remarked on the fluid ballet of efficiency on display behind the glass: "It's so busy in there, but so quiet!" "They all move so fast, and don't spill a drop!" Indeed, it was a sight to see, but not so intense as to distract from the bright, well-appointed dining room (full of good-looking groups) or the delicious decor of the table itself.
We started, as my research recommended, with ceviche. To please all palates, we opted for the Sea Bass with Avocado and Tomatillo, and were delighted with the creamy twang of this Latin seafood salad. As a respected reviewer recently commented, it did register as a close cousin of guacamole, but this is not to say it didn't dazzle. Upon my return, I will most certainly try the versions featuring Sea Scallops or Bronzini, or perhaps the trio featuring three selections from the extensive ceviche menu.
The salad course is always a favorite of mine, and I award a special place in my hungry heart for restaurants that give leaves their props. I ordered the Garden Greens with Really Good Olive Oil and - what do you know? - it was exactly so. Fresh mixed greens arrived unadorned and were dressed a la minute at tableside by our server. I was charmed by the tiny ampules he bore, and as he emptied each onto my salad, he announced its name. "Here is your Balsamic Vinegar Reduction," he intoned with a squeeze. "And here, Miss, is the Really Good Olive Oil." Amply annointed, I then salted my salad from the colorful selection in the center of the table. I opted for clouded white Sea Salt, but could not resist flicking a few grains of Smoked Salt on my tongue as well, and was rewarded when the ebony crystals slowly melted into wisps of campfire and summer cookouts.
At entree time, the birthday girl was presented with a crisp flatbread pizza. Its slightly-charred crust and scattering of smoked tomato, goat cheese and shrimp pleased her to no end; it was her perfect pie. Our companion also enthused over her entree, the Kabocha Squash Gnocci, and I helped myself to a spoonful to see what the fuss was about. Those precious pillows in silken sauce proved a comforting counterpart to the raciness of my Goat Cheese-Beet Tortellini. The pasta packets' magenta filling was my first clue this dish would put a smile on my lips. What a color! It was the shade of Barbie's favorite shoes, of a surfer's trunks - of graffiti, not gastronomy. I was tickled, and the flavors of earthy beets and goat cheese, ricotta salata and roasted red peppers evolved with each forkful, keeping me intrigued.
And, finally, what is a birthday meal without a celebratory dessert? "Coffee and Donuts", Pyles-style, is a tower of freshly fried, powdered sugar-dusted donuts atop a dark and rich dip, surrounded by a pool of coffee creme brulee. The donuts are classic, chewy to the tooth and melting on the tongue, and the mellow dip serves to heighten their delicate sweetness. The brulee featured a perfect toffee-like burnt sugar crust, revealing a silken coffee custard beneath. At the first spoonful I swooned; two bites and my eyelashes fluttered. Mom called from across the table, "Honey? Are you all right over there?" I recovered, and I've been gushing over this deceptively simple dessert at happy hour and dinners, to my mailman and my bank teller, ever since.
So there you have it. An indulgent mid-day meal (not to mention impeccable service and a choice table) shared with two of my favorite dining companions at one of Dallas' most revered restaurants. While I doubt we'll be joining the likes of the Ladies Who Lunch anytime soon, it was a pleasure to play at their game for an afternoon at Stephan Pyles.