Culinary Chameleon Chef John Tesar from Seafood to Steak (Video: #WhoIAm)
John Tesar hit a home run last year with Spoon Bar and Kitchen, an ode to seafood that makes adventurous seafood lovers swoon. It’s the kind of restaurant Tesar would eat at if he was in New York, Chicago or LA. However in a landlocked city, Tesar’s Spoon has brought seafood to Dallas in a way our city has never known. Spoon overnights fresh caught whole fish, live oysters, scallops, lobsters and the like on a daily basis, focusing on high quality seafood and sustainable sourcing. The happiest time of the day in the kitchen at Spoon is when the whole fish are being broken down, it’s truly a sight to behold.
Now Tesar has done it again, only this time with steak! Knife, a modern steakhouse located in the posh Hotel Palomar, opened last week and the place has all the makings of another big hit. Having worked for chef Tesar in the past, I was excited to get caught upon his recent JBF nomination, the newly opened Knife Dallas and his plans for the future.
I asked, you’ve accomplished a lot this past year, were you disappointed to not make it past the semifinal rounds of James Beard? Isn’t a James Beard Award a big item on your bucket list? Tesar – “When you stop to consider how many great chefs there are and that there are millions of restaurants all across America, to be singled out for something like JBF is really big. You can’t take it for granted or be upset if you don’t win, it’s just such a huge honor to be recognized and it’s very humbling. The fact that I’ve been recognized as a Semifinalist on three occasions in our region is something I’m very grateful for. I know Matt McCallister and David Ugyur, the other semifinalist chefs here in Dallas. Matt’s food is great, FT33 is probably the most progressive modern restaurant Dallas has seen. David Ugyur’s style is old school classic Italian, food with integrity, his wife Jennifer is an amazing sommelier and they run a beautiful restaurant at Lucia. People like that are really changing the Dallas dining scene, giving more focus to smaller boutique restaurants. All of the chefs nominated have accomplished something really special and being put in that group very talented people like that, the 20 best from your region, it’s an incredible thing. If I was to ever make it to the finals, I think I’d faint and after that, I wouldn’t even know what to do. My bucket list includes a JBF award for sure, but just to make it to the finals list one day, that would be enough for me.”
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Tell me about Knife. How has the evolving dining scene played into your plans for Knife, and how do your goals for Knife differ from that of Spoon? Tesar – “With both concepts I put a lot of pressure on myself to create something truly special and unique, but Knife is very different from Spoon in that it’s much more affordable and approachable, so hopefully more people will be able to experience it. I would consider Knife to be more of a meat restaurant than a steakhouse, but Knife is more fun and less stuffy than a traditional steakhouse experience. Today’s diners are more savvy and are eager to try new things which is opening the door for chefs to be more creative. Knife offers high quality meats, steaks, underutilized specialty cuts, pork and wild game with a wide variety to choose from, so there’s really something for everyone on the menu, even for those who don’t eat meat.”
The menu at Knife covers all the bases. Those familiar with Tesar’s cuisine will recognize a few of Tesar’s signature items like his Penne Black Truffle Pasta, Avocado Fries and CVap Burgers, one, “THE OZERSKY,” is named after four-time James Beard Award winning video journalist and food writer, Josh Ozersky. Just as he did with seafood at Spoon, Tesar has really gone all out with respect to meat, even investing in a custom-built dry aging room where he can produce his own specialty dry aged cuts in-house that are aged anywhere from 45 to 240 days depending on the cut.
What does a 240 day dry aged steak taste like? The dry aging process and the fat of the cut (outer layer and marbling) helps to tenderize the muscles of the meat. Depending on the cut, some steaks are only aged 45 days but the 103 long bone in rib eye reaches it’s dry aging potential at 240 days. The result is an intense heady musky aroma of black truffles, blue cheese, foie gras and buttered popcorn that is so tender and juicy it melts in your mouth and might make you shed a tear of joy. It is suggested that the 240 day dry aged steak, at $80/inch, be shared by a table of 2-4 diners. Knife also offers a few seafood options that make sense for a steak place like oysters, lobster and such. There are also many other delightful surprises like a Ham or Bacon Tasting, or an 18-Hour Braised Crispy Pig Head that I, personally, can’t wait to experience. And for those people who are not fans of meat, Knife has plenty of inventive salads, pastas, soups and sides. Like Spoon, Knife’s space was also designed by Breckinridge Taylor. The interior is comfortable, warm and inviting, wrapped in rich warm woods and highlighted by striking contemporary art work and lighting.
***WARNING*** The following image gallery contains gratuitous meat shots! Vegetarians may want to look the other way.
Chef Tesar is currently developing several other new restaurant concepts, including another seafood restaurant in a hotel in North Carolina and Tesar is also writing a book titled “Seafood Without an Ocean.”
At Hotel Palomar
5680 North Central Expressway
Dallas, TX 75206
8220 Westchester Dr.
Dallas, TX 75221