Bullion: A Badly-Needed Fine Dining Home Run
If you know us, you know that we're not automatically huge fans of Chef Bruno Davaillon's efforts. We frequented The Mansion on Turtle Creek for years while he was in residence, and were rarely wowed. Near the end of his tenure, things got a bit loose, with soggy-skinned fish in tepid broth, overcooked and under-seasoned duck, and service that was anything but friendly. D Magazine commented that his tenure at The Mansion was restrained by the confines of a hotel kitchen. At very minimum for Chef Davaillon--who earned a Michelin Star working for Alain Ducasse in Las Vegas--that was the case.
So, when we heard he was to open Bullion, we were not sure what to expect. Sure, we heard it would be a gorgeous, "no-expenses-spared" space, and that's certainly true. But, what would the food be like? After opening a year behind schedule, that was the million-dollar (or possibly several million-dollar) question we were dying to have answered.
After giving Bullion plenty of time after opening last Fall to find its legs, we recently went twice--once alone, once with friends. While there are still a few kinks that need to be worked out, we were pleasantly surprised, and think there's real potential for Bullion to become the best restaurant in the city.
The first thing that caught our attention when we walked up to the first-floor lobby was the sheer gorgeousness of the space. Aptly, it's shaped like a gold bar suspended beneath the newly-renovated 400 Record Street building. Clad in exquisite gold scales, sporting huge windows, and with modern art suspended down the middle of a beautiful glass-encased circular staircase, this is a visual treat for guests both inside and out. After all, you eat with your eyes first. And the restaurant's design--including the luxurious zebrawood tables, 60s vibe, sophisticated old-school bar, and gold-encrusted ceiling--do not disappoint. By the time we got to the top of the stairs, we were ready to enjoy!
Now, the first thing you notice when you walk into Bullion is that it is a dark and intimate space. It is old-school. It is old-fashioned. It is unapologetically old-world, in the most delightful way possible. Our first time there, we went to the bar, randomly saw a friend who was also dining that night, and ordered a delicious specialty cocktail. Great choice--fresh, unctuous, and in a really nice glass coupe.
The thing we noticed both times we've been to Bullion is that they give you a few minutes after arriving to enjoy a cocktail or glass of champagne before seating you. While it helps them increase bar revenues for sure, it's also an ode to a time when life wasn't so hurried. After enjoying a few sips, and chatting with our friend, we were seated within 10 minutes of arriving. An important tip though: while they give you time to enjoy a cocktail once you're there, they will give your reservation away after 10 minutes if you don't show up when planned. Be prompt, then relax!
A quick note on Bullion's wine list: their by-the-glass selection, which we ordered from when dining with friends on our second visit (everyone ordered vastly different entrees), was pretty robust for a Dallas restaurant. And, their by-the-bottle selection was particularly good when it came to both vintage and non-vintage Champagne. They have a good Bordeaux selection as well, but, on our first visit, we simply couldn't resist the great deals to be had with their vintage Champagnes on offer.
On both visits, we began the meal with their gougeres au gruyere (cheesy puff pastries), and their steak tartare. The gougeres were warm, cheesy, and deliciously flaky, as expected. But the steak tartare was better than we anticipated. Mixed with fresh herbs grown in their indoor hydroponic garden, smoked cream, fresh radish slices and puffed crispy-fried farro, this was both fresh and savory, with the right amount of crunch to go with. A fabulous, non-traditional take on a French bistro classic!
Next we tried the foie gras torchon served with seasonal marmalade. Fall and winter bring a chunky fig chutney/marmalade. Great addition, but frankly, the foie gras was of such high quality that we could enjoy it by itself. House made, you could taste the heavenly, fatty, buttery goodness that can only be experienced with good foie gras. Only recommendation: the chefs need to make sure they get all veining out of the lobe before forming into a torchon.
Next came the Soupe de Topinambour (Sunchoke Soup), served tableside with crispy brioche topped with truffle butter on the side, and fried and roasted sunchoke pieces in the bottom of the bowl. It offered sunchokes 3 different ways, and gave a nice contrast with crispy and roasted goodness to counteract the richness of the soup itself. And, we always love tableside soup presentations--just a classy touch. The soup really was delicious. Not too heavy, not too creamy. You could definitely taste the sunchokes with every spoonful. Great effort!
The first time we visited, we enjoyed the Canard a l'Orange (duck) and the Agneau sur la Braise (roasted lamb). Both were delicious, although the duck was a little tough, while the lamb was perfectly braised and so tender you didn't need a knife. The skin was perfectly crispy on the duck, and the sauce was really nice. Frankly, it was just nice to see it on the menu! Similarly, the gremolata on the lamb was interesting, and added a bit of an earthy/herby touch to the dish. Not too thick or dry--just right. The turnips and parsnips that were served with each dish were good seasonal additions as well, and made each plate beautiful to look at.
The second time we visited, we ordered the lamb and the Cabillaud & Brandade, which is essentially a roast cod filet over a tomato confit, topped with a lemon caper sauce. Our friends ordered the duck and the Saint Jacques--scallops served over braised cabbage, and topped with shaved Iberico ham.
Unfortunately, this time around, the lamb was pretty overdone and chewy, despite ordering the same medium-rare. Good taste (same as before), just a completely incorrect braise. The duck, however, was more tender than the fist time we visited, and both dishes were consistently plated when compared to our first visit--crisp and clean. The cod was perfectly cooked and the dish had the perfect balance of acid and buttery goodness, with the confit and sauce mixing wonderfully together! The scallops were cooked perfectly (so easy to mess up), had been cleaned properly, and the salty counterpoint of the Iberico ham paired perfectly with the sweetness of the scallops and the bitterness of the cabbage. The sauce was delicious too. Just the right consistency, and enough to add taste without drowning the dish. Other than the lamb, we were really satisfied with all entrees.
Desserts came next, and they didn't disappoint. We ordered a trio of gellato, and the Baked Alaska--also a fantastic, old-school dessert we were delighted to see on the menu. Our friends ordered Bullion's version of a chocolate candy bar for dessert. During our first visit we enjoyed a glass of dessert wine instead. If you're not a huge dessert fan, Bullion's dessert wine list is a great option.
While the pictures sort of speak for themselves, we will say that the Baked Alaska was expertly made, with the ice cream inside perfectly frozen, despite all the flames. And, of course, we would be remiss if we failed to mention the presentation---it was the most fun dessert we've experienced in some time, and absolutely beautiful to watch! Well done, and a superb effort to recreate a favorite from 50-60 years ago!
The chocolate bar was--well--chocolaty. Very chocolaty! But also crunchy, and with the welcome addition of a bit of gelato on the side to offer a cool and fresh contrast to the richness of the candy bar. We also thought the caramel glazed nuts on top added a nice balance of sweet and salty.
In short, Chef Davaillon is succeeding with Bullion. It's lavish, yet still manages to be understated. Brand new, yet classic. Chic, yet sophisticated, with a menu that offers French staples with a decidedly new, yet comforting, twist. We greatly enjoyed both of our visits, and plan to return in the near future. With a space this beautiful, and food this good, who wouldn't??
400 S. Record Street
Dallas, TX 75202