When John Tesar opened Knife at the Highland Dallas Hotel in 2014. It was an idea built around steak, to celebrate the science of dry-aging and cooking the perfect plate. But Knife has always been about more than steak. Tesar appreciates a steakhouse that serves great rack of lamb, pastas, salads, and roast chicken because, as he tells us, you can’t eat steak seven days a week.
Knife gained its following with a menu that championed dry-aged steaks. The acclaimed chef has since opened another Knife outpost in Plano, as well as restaurants in Florida and California. One of those, in Orlando, won a Michelin star in June 2022.
“The stars are great, but it’s a responsibility and you get reviewed every year,” says Tesar. “You could win a James Beard Award… and then you get the medal and they can’t take it away from you. But a Michelin star can be taken away from us next year if we don’t keep the consistency. It’s a different type of rating system that really is designed to give you the truth about what you’re doing.”
After a pandemic and a fleet of competitive steakhouses opening in a city that absolutely loves its red meat, Tesar shares what’s new, what’s still going strong, and where Knife is going in the future to stay competitive.
45-Day Dry-Aged Bone-In Akaushi Ribeye, 32-ounce
“I think the best first experience ordering steak at Knife is to try the 45-day, dry-aged steak, which is going to give you an eye-opening experience. When you have the dry-aged steak, you have all of this umami that comes with it, the sweetness that we’ve cultivated with our mold, and that 44 Farms Angus beef.
“Once you do the entry-level, then you experiment by going up in age until it’s too much for you. Two hundred and forty days dry-aged is too much for a lot of people. It’s too much for me sometimes because after one bite it’s so rich, so flavorful.
“What I’ve learned over the years is that it’s not about how many months or days or years you age the steak. It’s about cultivating your product and then discerning if that’s the best day you can serve to people. Every animal is different; every season is different. Cattle need water, summer’s hot — all of those things have an effect.”
“We’ve had great success in Orlando using local fish, so we’re doing the same thing in Dallas. We’re taking Texas-supplied seafood out of the Gulf. We’re using snapper and redfish. We can remove all the bones, roast it, and serve it with salsa verde or chimichurri or okonomi — it changes every night. It’s a great item to share.
“The fishmonger gets it and it comes right up in a truck that day. Otherwise, you buy fish on the East Coast and God knows it could be in the Fulton Fish Market [in New York City] for two or three days, and then on a truck, and then a plane. By the time you get to that, it could be a week old.
“With the success of [my other] two restaurants [Outer Reef in Dana Point, California, and Knife and Spoon in Orlando, Florida], I need to bring more seafood to the Knife menu in Dallas. We’re putting prawns on the menu. I’m adding three or four more seafood dishes once I get squared away in California.”
“A lot of times, you go to a steakhouse and you get frozen lobster tail from South Africa or Australia that they charge 100 bucks for. We use Maine lobster and we butter-poach it. We serve it with lemon and drawn butter, like a lobster should be served in a steakhouse. That, to me, is integrity, something pure — not serving you a frozen lobster tail. I’m flying lobsters in from Canada and Maine, and they come in two or three times a week.”
“I would like to highlight the pasta program, but the truffle garganelli pasta is a phenomenon. If you took it off the menu, I think certain people would freak out. It’s so bizarre that people have this love affair with truffles. But it’s a simple dish, just butter, truffle and pasta, and people love it. I love the simplicity of it. I like the purity of it. We put cacio e pepe on the menu, and we do it with montagna.
“If you taste our pasta compared to other people’s, it’s lighter because of the recipe we developed from Italy in consultation with my friends who are true, notable Italian chefs. They’re the ones that are going to give you the secrets and the honesty. Real chefs talk to each other and get better, behind the scenes.”
“It’s a dish I’ve been doing for 35 years, it’s a classic persillade preparation of rack of lamb. We use a Colorado lamb because I think that has the best flavor, and it’s domestic. I marinate it in rosemary, garlic, and olive oil traditionally, and then we sear the fat cap a little bit. Season with salt and pepper, slather it with Dijon mustard, and we make an herbed garlic breadcrumb mix that goes on the top. We roast it — I needed an oven, it completes a meat restaurant to have an oven to roast things. It’s not boiled or grilled. Those things, lamb and chicken, lend themselves to being roasted. I think it’s important to have a well-rounded restaurant and to give people alternatives rather than just the steak and the salad.”
Knife is at 5300 E, Mockingbird Lane, Dallas, inside the Highland Dallas.