Dean Fearing. Rock Star chef. One of the original Gang of Five who basically sat down in a kitchen over the course of several evenings with fellow chefs and food writers Stephan Pyles, Anne Greer McCann, Avner Samuel, and Robert Del Grande and, in an Algonquin Round Table, Rat Pack style summit meeting, pretty much invented Southwestern Cuisine. Winner of more food and cooking awards than you can shake a stick at. The man who elevated lobster tacos and chicken tortilla soup to an art form. Recently, I was invited to dine at his rather new Ritz-Carlton establishment as a part of the Go Texan week celebration, and since my lovely wife is also known as The Rock Star, I knew she should be included in the festivities. So it was with high hopes and eager palates that we motored down the tollway one recent evening to Fearings Restaurant, near where uptown meets downtown and shakes hands.
After leaving our car with the valet (How can you not valet park at the Ritz-Carlton?), we were guided through the stately hotel lobby to Fearings endless series of bars and dining rooms. The main room with its open kitchen beckoned, but we heard the word "patio" and knew our choice had been made. After all, it was a crisp Fall evening with temperatures in the 70's, and Fearings patio resembles a lush English garden, so we quickened our step and were soon seated in a prime spot to begin our usual menu perusal ritual.
Actually, not too much perusal was needed on this evening as we were presented with the tasting menu. We started with an amuse bouche of a poblano shooter, which tasted just like a chili relleno in a shot glass. Next, Dean's "million-dollar baby" chicken tortilla soup, paired with Seven Hills Riesling. The acidic-crisp sweetness of the wine offset the tomatoey bite of the soup perfectly. Then, the Barbecued Shrimp Taco, loaded with sweet baby shrimp and Southwestern zing, played off against a Bret Brothers Pouilly Vinzelles, a thankfully-unoaked chardonnay that was quite up to the task. After that came the Peach Barbecue Glazed Bob White Quail (from Texas, of course, as this was a celebration of local products), served with an iceberg wedge and Cider Braised Bacon, which turned out to be pork belly. Just a whisper of peach sweetness offset the quail and bacon nicely, with help from the Zeni Teroldengo Trentino, a varietal not usually planted, and one which added a nice wisp of smoke to the dish. At this point, we went full throttle with the Dublin Doctor Pepper Braised Short Ribs, brushed with just enough old-fashioned soft drink goodness to remind me of my beloved grandmothers Coke salad. Most often, beef short ribs are not a favorite of mine because they are too tough, these were braised into fall-off-the-bone submission and presented to us with Robert Foley Charbono, another vino made from an uncommon varietal. Already, we had eaten one of the best meals of our lives, then we were presented with the crowning touch: English Cut NilGai Antelope on Jalapeno Wild Game "Bangers and Mash", the spicy bite of sausage matching beautifully with the antelope's lean lushness. We were equally pleased to see an old friend poured with this dish, the Inwood Estates Texas Tempranillo-Cabernet, which proved to be the highlight pairing of the evening. (Nice to see the Texas tipples giving the boys from Napa and Washington state a run for their money.) Then, like all fine establishments, Fearings presented us with a cheese course, San Pedro cheese from Lucky Layla Farms in Plano, matched with Gruet Brut Rose. Finally, sweet relief in dessert in the form of a warm blueberry crisp with vanilla ice cream, and a fried lemon pie that should make all state fairgoers jealous, and another wine highlight, Quinta Do Noval Silval port. We finished up with several cups of Fearings excellent coffee and a vow to visit again soon.
Throughout our evening, we were assisted by a veritable army of waiters and graced with a visit from The Man Himself. In particular, baby-faced Wine Captain Jeff Bradley stood out for his enthusiasm for life, his job, and food and wine in general. He will go far in this business. Website is http://www.fearingsrestaurant.com/. Once again, the Go Texan website is http://www.gotexan.org/, and you still have the rest of this week to take advantage.
In sum, if this was not our best meal of the year, rest assured that it is firmly placed at or near the top of a very short list. Conduct your own tasting soon.