Just before the close of business on Friday, the local food blogosphere exploded with news that Spoon Bar & Kitchen chef John Tesar would open a steakhouse at the Hotel Palomar called Knife.
We caught up with Tesar over the weekend to get the scoop on the future steakhouse project, which he explains will replace the Hotel Palomar's current restaurant Central 214 (which seems to have been left somewhat rudderless after the departure of acclaimed chef Graham Dodds back in October).
Tesar says he's been working on this project well before the recently announced plans to expand into a fast-casual seafood concept with new Spoon owner Chanticleer. And after these projects, he says, "That's it... I'm not looking to take over the world." As far as a timeline goes, he estimates a "cosmetic renovation" at the Palomar space will take 30 to 60 days after Central 214 closes, saying they have plans to add "a library" and new furniture; folks can also expect late-night action and a lounge, as well as a pool bar. Projected opening date is sometime in March.
Clearly you've been busy. Tell us about Knife.
The Palomar, Kimpton [Hotels] and [investor] Behringer Harvard have given me carte blanche to reinvent this restaurant … It's going to be a social gathering place as well as a modern steakhouse, and let me clarify what modern steakhouse means: I did this thing in Houston [back in 2009], Tesar's Modern Steak and Seafood, and we basically came back to Dallas and split the ideals right down the middle [with Spoon and Knife], instead of trying to put them together under one roof.
So why a steakhouse, and what's going to make it different from all the other steakhouses in town?
For me, I like doing a steakhouse because I think there are so many steakhouses around here and none of them are really, really good. We all go to them for other reasons, whether it's because our friends own them or they're very theatrical or very traditional, or some of them just have great steak. I don't care what anyone says, even with the success of places like Spoon and FT33, CBD, Casa Rubia, 75 percent of the male population out there still goes home and wants a piece of red meat on the plate at night in the state of Texas. We battle that every day here. Ask the Mansion, ask Bruno [Davaillon] how many medium-well filets he sells on a Friday night. I'm not dissing it.
Spoon is a very unique dining experience with 58 seats, we have a world-class pastry chef, and we've been working very hard to making it specific and unique. Steakhouses don't do that, they feed hundreds of people a night and shovel it out and it's all about wine sales or whatever. I want to see a meat restaurant that's very specific and it doesn't cost a million dollars to eat there. I would eat at steak restaurants more often but they're so goddamn expensive I can't afford to eat in them. I want to create a social, interactive experience — and don't forget it's still in a hotel so it has to be for hotel guests as well.
We'll have the usual suspects, your ribeye, your sirloin, your filet for those people -— but the rest of whatever we can find, like artisanal meats, unusual cuts of meat, different techniques, whole roasted birds, bison … We're making our own pastrami now at Spoon, like they do at Mission Chinese … So we're going to be offering these kinds of things.
As Spoon is to fish, Knife wants to be that to meat. ... Our deepest philosophy, we're supporting the farmer and farm-to-table more than any steakhouse has done before. I'm going to look for Texas ranchers. … We're going to find people in Texas who are hellbent on raising great animals, we're going to buy show animals and not only show them but once they've won their awards we're going to serve them because that's what tastes good. Go find a Texas steakhouse that serves real Texas steaks. You can't find it.
You've said many times that Spoon was strongly influenced by Le Bernardin. Any specific places you're drawing inspiration from for Knife?
Quality Meats in NYC has the off-cuts and the social interaction aspect of it, and as far as theme goes I like their departure from the Peter Luger or Smith and Wollensky type of feel where it's like you're at your father's country club and the 50 year old Yugoslavian waiter tries to sell you the most expensive wine on the list. And the rest, I'm just taking from the way the dining scene is evolving in the rest of America right now — we've modernized everything, we've squiggly-lined everything, but everyone's really written off the steakhouse. Like oh, it's for the meatheads.
But there's quality in all types of meat… There's great natural meat out there. … Livestock is really meant to eat grass, it's only because we wanted to fatten them up that we started feeding them corn. And all that goes back to the Michael Pollan, ConAgra Foods, Monsanto and all that stuff. It's a very politically controlled and regulated business by these corporations. When I did Tesar's Modern Steak & Seafood I invited every meat purveyor into the restaurant and we ate every piece of meat that everybody had to offer and we went with the five best-eating steaks we could find in all different cuts. We did that weekly, so we would have some integrity and consistency to what we were serving. The big steakhouses, they buy whole herds or boxcars of meat because they've been at it for 10 or 15 years.
To develop this steakhouse for a one-off, grassroots steakhouse, you have to spend a lot of time on sourcing which is very similar to what we do with seafood at Spoon. Knowing where something comes from and how it's raised, it takes a lot of time and energy. This is hopefully what's going to make Knife different. We're going to take this same philosophy, same passion, same focus [we have at Spoon] and bring it to Knife, and we'll have a whole crew of young chefs there working there under my guidance. I'll still be cooking at Spoon. And David Collier will be pastry chef at both places.
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[Photo: Hotel Palomar]