The transient nature of John Tesar’s professional life since his days at The Rosewood Mansion is no secret. A consulting/opening gig here, a TV or contest appearance there – he’s made the rounds through Dallas restaurants, local magazines, and national reality shows.
But now he’s home. It’s a new home, but it’s a home. Migrant and volatile past aside, it’s where he intends to stay.
“People in Dallas, they think of me as the guy who created the menu at Cedars Social, or the guy who created The Commissary. Ex-chef of The Mansion. The guy who replaced Dean Fearing, et cetera et cetera. This is my first real solo project into what I want to do,” he says. “With Spoon, I’m trying to build a home for myself.”
Spoon, which opened in Preston Center last week, is Tesar’s new restaurant; a fine-dining ode to seafood and and kitchen-customer intimacy. Long and narrow, the restaurant’s dining area is capped at the front and back, respectively, by a raw bar and a long counter with a front-row view into the kitchen action. Low lights, walls of wine and sharp, clean design create a welcome atmosphere, while minimal bar-only seating keeps Tesar’s objective in perspective.
That objective? Drinks are nice, but focus on the food.
“If you look around, almost every seat at every table is for dining; we only have six bar stools. Everything else is for dining,” he says. “This is a place you come to eat.”
The ambition of the food at Spoon is commensurate with the expectations that followers of Tesar might hold – creatively conceived and thoughtfully constructed dishes are the norm; the dinner menu boasts items such as Uni Terrine, Razor Clam Tartare, and Arctic Char with a pea puree. There are even a few non-fish options, among them a 40-ounce porterhouse pousin in the style of coq au vin. Lunch service is expected to begin in mid-December, and a brunch is equally imminent. Regardless, Tesar’s goal is to have the experience be personal to the point of providing each diner with a truly unique and memorable experience.
“You can come with six people and eat simple fish, or you can have a tasting menu – you can have individual tasting menus; you can have thirteen courses you can have four courses,” Tesar says.
What the exact courses are, he is quick to add, will ultimately be decided by the fishermen themselves.
“The majority of the fish here are wild, which is important – there are very few farm-raised animals going on here; it’s wild fishery. Swordfish, tuna from Hawaii – they swim the big ocean. They’re healthier and they’re cleaner,” he says. “So, that’s going to change every day for the most part; if somebody wants to come for swordfish, if I don’t get the swordfish from Hawaii, you’re going to have to have the skate, or some sustainable cod fish, or monkfish, or whatever – they have to catch it. And people will learn that these fish can be as good as the swordfish.”
The catch may be varied, but at the very least the Spoon wine list is far more stable. Tesar may be clear that his restaurant is food-first, but the wine menu certainly doesn’t lack for substance or – cutting-edge flair; the wine menus are iPads. Customers can navigate their way through the Spoon wine list with the flick of a finger or, if they’re at the chef’s table, they can merely glance at the myriad bottles in the wine refrigerators that line the wall.
“It’s a young wine list, and we are focusing on a lot of new and old world white wines – the chardonnay grape, I’m a big champagne drinker, and I like white burgundy,” Tesar says. “We have a lot of great reds that are seafood friendly as well as those that are perfectly paired with the non-seafood items on the menu. We take into consideration the person who must have red wine.”
Though Tesar’s expectations for Spoon are high – “I want to set a seafood standard in Dallas,” he says – Spoon is merely a week old today, and he understands that its true identity will develop over a matter of months and years, not days and weeks.
“I’m feeling confident, but it’s still going to be a long way; I mean, nothing gets built in a day or two days,” he says. “I would suggest people check out Spoon in its infancy and if you like it, keep coming back for more. If you have a question mark maybe just wait two or three months and come back and see what we’re doing.”
What Tesar is saying is that he expects to be at Spoon in two or three months, and for years after it. He’s found a home in Dallas – one he can call his own. He makes the rules, and the highest expectations are his own.
“I want people to think Spoon’s food is different than any other restaurant they’ve ever eaten in in Dallas,” he says.
If the restaurant is any reflection of its Chef, then that’s almost guaranteed.