Stephan Pyles Flora Street Cafe: Great Food, Beautiful Atmosphere

April 5, 2018

We recently went to Chef Stephan Pyles’ Flora Street Café in the Arts District for that most rare of all Dallas meals—the post-symphony/opera/play dinner.  (Don’t even get us started on restaurants that close their kitchen at 9:00 on weekends)  Shocked it was open late after two separate events (one weekend, one weekday), we decided to give it a try.

 

We’ve frequented Chef Pyles restaurants for years—ever since Cameron practically worked next door to his previous fine-dining establishment on Ross, the self-titled “Stephan Pyles.”  And, we were always happy enough with the food we ordered.  But, we were never really “wowed.”  Despite being revered as a father of Southwestern cuisine, we felt that Chef Pyles played it a little safe at Stephan Pyles.  Beautiful space—definitely.  Tasty food—for sure.  Good service—absolutely.  But it wasn’t all that memorable.  Just good.  It was a place to take summer clerks and clients.  But we never frequented the restaurant for big events like anniversaries or birthdays.  Because there were better places in town.  Well, we both think that’s officially changed with Flora Street Café.

Flora Street hits on all cylinders. Far from wanting to “play it safe,” Flora Street’s attitude—from the décor, the service, the plating, the kitchen staff, and the wine/beverage offerings—shows that while it wants to be unique, it still wants to be considered the best.  The restaurant strives for perfection.  It has a cool undulating light fixture at the end of the bar (think the plant in “Little Shop of Horrors”) that is one of 10 existing in the world.  Its lounge is comfortable, relaxing, yet sophisticated, and its wine list includes gems like R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Bosconia—a delicious, yet funky Spanish red wine that is not what most restaurants want on their list.  When you walk in, people almost fall over themselves to make sure you’ve been helped.  And we haven’t even talked about the food yet.

 

For his Chef de Cuisine, Chef Pyles brought in Peter Barlow—a young and highly-regarded chef who was formerly at Michelin three-starred Grace in Chicago, and who trained under a lead chef from Chicago’s famed Alinea.  You can’t get a much better culinary heritage to lead your kitchen.  The provenance shows.  While the marble-faced bar surrounding the open-concept kitchen is gorgeous, you’d think it would break down kitchen discipline.  Too many customers talking to too many chefs.  Not so.  Flora Street still runs by traditional French culinary rules.  Chef Barlow reads out orders.  The other chefs respond with “Yes, Chef.”  But quietly, so as not to disturb the ambiance.  The kitchen runs like a well-oiled machine.  Their mise-en-place is well-organized, prevalent, and on full display.  It’s almost like food art in and of itself.  Dozens of options for all to see. 

We started our Flora Street Café journey with a dish we were delighted to find on the menu—antelope tartare.  Served in a cleaned marrow bone.  Sitting on a bed of gray salt.  With pork cracklins in place of the traditional toast points.  The colorful pickled garnishes were tasty and appropriate.  And beautiful.  This was an inventive and delicious dish all around.  It was the furthest thing away from “phoning it in” you can get.  Super seasonal as well.

Next came the wood-grilled octopus tostada, topped with black bean mousse, pickled radish, and a mole sauce.  Absolutely beautiful presentation, and wonderfully delicious!  We would love to have these as a small plate every day.  Certainly truly elevated Southwestern cuisine at its best.

We went with the heirloom squash and pumpkin soup next.  This had black truffle shavings, a pecan crouton, and a cardamom-mushroom “fluff” (foam) sitting in the bottom of the bowl as the soup was poured in.  We have to say, this was a really refined, perfectly pureed soup, with significant flavor development that still highlighted the fresh seasonality of the squash/pumpkin mixture.  Really great effort that brought this out of the realm of “phone-it-in” soup that so many restaurants provide as a filler or vegetarian-friendly course.

Wanting something heavier, we chose the house-aged Hudson Valley duck breast and confit for our next course.  The presentation was great, with the meat served in a small hotpot with delicious accompanying juices.  This had a black bean tamale on the side, topped with some smoked pineapple and cascabel chile.  Top everything like a small pizza and eat with a fork.  Great option.  Really rich and unctuous, but not overpoweringly so.

Now, we’re not enormous bread eaters (anymore), but Flora Street really makes an effort to provide dinner rolls that are far from ordinary.  Crispy, chewy, crunchy baguettes that can be torn into bite-sized pieces.  Hand-churned butter.  And a great wheat-based roll that was super tasty, and definitely not dry at all.  Well played for a part of the meal that is often overlooked from a quality-perspective.

Now, on to dessert.  We ordered a tres leches cremeaux, which covered a pear sorbet with dulce de leche and cherimoya cream.  Really refreshing, yet rich.  But its small serving size was perfect for what it is.  Just 2-3 bites is all you need / want when things are this rich.

Now, we’ll be perfectly honest.  We aren’t 100% sure what our last dessert was—it may have been a custom creation after chatting with the awesome pastry chef.  But, we do know it was a real tour-de-force of perfection.  Beautifully arranged along the side of our fun orange plate, with plenty of room to smear and mix and crumble everything together, the texture, sweetness and acidity in this dish balanced perfectly for us.  We especially liked the lightly-toasted merengue puffs spread throughout the dish.  It took roughly 5 minutes to plate, and you could tell there was just a tremendous amount of love put into the dish.  Really well done, and frankly a dessert you usually only see at Michelin-rated establishments.  This shows the Dallas dining scene is slowly moving up to Michelin standards.

Finally came the little custom dessert squares and candies that you so expect out of a Michelin-rated restaurant, but rarely see in Dallas.  These were fun, inventive, and the candies were colorful and extremely well-made.  Considering we didn’t even order the tasting menu, we were surprised to get these candies.  But we were thankful!  It was a great end to a tremendous post-symphony meal.

In short, we’ve found our new go-to restaurant whenever we’re in the Arts District late.  We had a great time in a beautiful space with special and talented people.  What more can you ask for in a restaurant?  Sadly, Dallas has far too few of these options.

 

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