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Halibut with potatoes, mojo picon and sourdough bread

Searing Ambition

by Mark Stuertz | Photo: Jill Broussard | Modern Luxury Dallas magazine | April 1, 2013

Precise and precious. These aren’t words normally deployed in the world of big steak. Burly and woolly maybe, or thick and woody, even dark and brassy. But precise and precious? Meet SĒR Steak + Spirits.

In this successor to the acclaimed Nana, there is a peculiar lemon meringue pie, a dessert deconstructed into precise, precious little units. Three orbs of lemon custard arranged neatly on the left third of the plate. Two meticulously bronzed coronets of meringue crowning the gaps. A crust reduced to a backwash of crumbs recedes from the custard orbs. Yin-yang-ish swirls of lemon custard are smeared in the upper right corner.

Sure the lemon custard is velvety and brisk, and the crust has a pleasing gritty crunch with just the right amount of salt. But how does blowing up a pie wedge with exquisite choreography enhance the flavor, or the experience?

SĒR is the answer to the deficiencies (rarely culinary, mostly attendance) of Nana, which closed last year. Think of it as deconstructed chef-driven credo applied to steak: bold, urban, provocative “new breed” steak, high-performance steak, the kind of steak that costs as much as a Lamborghini oil filter cap. Roosting near the top of the Hilton Anatole, SĒR takes the talents of heralded former Nana chefs Anthony Bombaci, now the hotel’s chef de cuisine, and Anthony Van Kamp, whose hand is on SĒR’s kitchen throttle as executive chef, and offers sky-high dining reconcepted.

Witness the rib-eye with three dabs of tomato chutney and a large white dish of hollandaise. Wet-aged for 45 days and served on a plank bed of asparagus stalks, this prime cowboy rib-eye falls well short of $56 expectations. It’s loose and flabby, slightly mushy, shy on rich flavor, and void of the crisped char crust that frames a good steak in a lightly sweet caramelized tease. And since when do great steaks yearn for hollandaise?

The New York strip, aged 21 days, is better—much better. It’s black and motley, resembling a wad of curing tar. But it’s loaded with flavor. Juicy. Rich. Firm. It unleashes a range of round flavors framed in smoky wisps—SĒR’s bang-for-buck capstone, at $48.

Precede this beefy pageantry—with polished-yet-relaxed service to match—with the refreshing baby spinach salad with shaved Manchego cheese splashed in warm sherry vinaigrette dressing. Or behold the staged heirloom tomato slices (red, green, yellow) with burrata, an Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream. Heirlooms are treated with chile oil extracted from ghost chile peppers, a variety that is so hot the Indian government studied using these peppers in hand grenades as a way to flush out terrorists. That’s culinary artistry with purpose. Perhaps to play off this incendiary theme, the plate includes a pinch of gin “fizz”—ground “Fizzie” effervescent candy tablets blended with crushed juniper berries and thyme.

Sides hold up their rep as destination steakhouse fare; we loved the crisp tater tots, which a helpful waiter shared went through dozens of revisions until the chef considered them fit to serve. Other high points come from the sea: the delicately crisp half Maine lobster tempura starter with ginger aioli; and Hamachi crudo with jalapeño rings, cilantro and lime—a marvelous lacing of flavors, textures and searing sensations. The buttery sweet seared halibut is jolted with mojo picon, a sauce with a Canary Island pedigree rendered from pepper, almonds, capers and rice vinegar.

But beware the steak tartare, a stripe of glistening mini-stew chunks of pink-red woven with bits of cornichon, dots of caper and sprigs of micro greens. In the tartare genre, it’s texturally jarring. But you can experience this same sensation with tuna if you wish.

SĒR is a gaping hollow of a room that radiates slightly feminized masculinity—hairy chest and weathered mitts meets metrosexual facial treatment gloss and manicure sheen. Pronounced grain of dark wood. Black, gray and chocolate modulated by swashes of yellow and splatters of red. Open kitchen spilling rays of white twined with amber filaments into the dining room. Back bar composed of wooden blocks embedded at irregular depths. Cinematic skyline glints and glitters through floor-to-ceiling windows.

It’s almost worth the price of steak admission. Even if your mouth is ambivalent.

SER Steak + Spirits
27th floor, Hilton Anatole
2201 N. Stemmons Freeway

Daily 6-10:30pm

Hoodie Art
Steak and hood ornaments. Now that’s an out-of-the-box marriage. SĒR hosts a glass display case containing Dallas real estate developer Harlan Crow’s collection of hood ornaments from early 20th century motorcars. Birds. Beasts. Classic busts. Busty aerodynamic art deco goddesses. These unique ornaments were the era’s mobile boasts to luxury and craftsmanship. Now go enjoy that bone-in fillet.

Taste Tech
SĒR’s iPad wine list is a robust compilation of intriguing global bottlings at monthly cable subscription prices. But it’s a skittery challenge to browse: One errant slip of the finger and the pages slide and shift and you lose your place. We landed on the Four Graces Willamette Valley Pinot Noir: sturdy tannins, juicy cherry and a silky finish. Advice: Don’t drink and sort or you might end up washing down your lamb chops with a heady brew from Trappist monks.