Dean Fearing of Fearing’s in the Ritz-Carlton. Bruno Davaillon of Knox Bistro. Kent Rathburn of Jasper’s. The restaurant at Rosewood Mansion has played host to some notable names in Dallas dining since it opened its restaurant in the 1980s. And now it’s welcoming — or rather welcoming back — another: Brendan Frankel. Frankel, a Memphis native, worked at the Mansion from 2015 to 2017, opting to leave to try his hand at chef life in New York City. While there, Frankel worked at Michelin-starred Günter Seeger, at the Mark Hotel under Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and at Michelin-starred Agern.
But the COVID shutdowns that rocked NYC convinced Frankel and his wife to return to Dallas, where he has stepped into the position of chef de cuisine, overseeing the kitchen for the Mansion bar and restaurant. The philosophy he brings to the Mansion is that food is an experience, evoking sense memories, and he is ready to guide diners — and help them create unforgettable culinary experiences when they visit the Mansion.
“When food comes to me as an experience, whether it’s something that your grandmother is cooking or the one thing you remember eating on a trip to Italy, everything’s all about that experience,” Frankel tells Eater Dallas. “In the restaurant, that experience is not only through my journeys, but the journeys of my staff.” That staff is made up of cooks from Texas, Jamaica, Brazil — all over, really. And Frankel says ideas are coming from all corners of the kitchen.
For many, the Mansion’s tortilla soup, put on the menu by Fearing in his original run there, is a must-order dish. Though it's not on the menu at present, it is always available to order off-book. Frankel shares that the chef who has been making it since the early ’80s is still there, and that’s the secret to its consistency. “Multiple chefs have tried to remove it off the property, and it just never happened,” Frankel says with a smile. “They got so much feedback, and so much pushback, that it just can’t go anywhere.”
The Mansion is dotted with employees who have been with the Mansion 30 years or more, and it’s a tradition Frankel is protective of among the kitchen staff. And though he wants to carry on the tone Fearing set with the Southwestern-inspired menu that incorporates French cooking techniques, Frankel is keen to put himself on the menu — as much as Mansion guests will allow.
There’s a charred octopus served with achiote marinated, pepita pesto, and finger lime sesame-sunflower granola that Frankel says as his favorite addition — it was one of Eater Dallas’s best and most visually striking meals in September. “To me, there’s a fine line on freedom [to adjust the menu]. It’s trying to figure out what I can approach the guests with, and what I can get them excited with. We can go to the moon and we come back but if we don’t meet them somewhere,” he trails off and shrugs. One can’t be iconic without an audience.
Frankel is looking forward to creating stories with the food and Texas as the main character: Local beef, sweetbread, veal, and venison — some of which have been incorporated into new dishes already — are on his radar.
His first big test is creating holiday menus for Thanksgiving and Christmas, two of the Mansion’s biggest seasons. He’ll keep apple cider service in the library and the smell of fragrant spices in the air — all the nostalgic notes and dishes that create those sense memories. But Frankel and his team are considering how to take that on that holiday must-have, turkey, in a way that helps diners have a new experience, leaving themselves room to step away from all that tradition in small ways.
“We’ll do a turkey, but we don’t roast turkey. We’ll remove the legs and add chestnuts and foie gras and truffles inside it. So you’ll get your traditional thigh and breast meat but add different flavors,” Frankel says.
The Mansion Restaurant and Bar are taking reservations for the holidays now.