I am certain that Dakota's Steakhouse, opposite Dallas's Fairmont Hotel at the corner of Akard and San Jacinto streets, may be in the running today to be considered the finest dining spot in the DFW metroplex, certainly for lunch. I have eaten there half-a-dozen times in the last twelve weeks; I have never been disappointed. Indeed, I've been delighted each time, and I've decided that the venerable Dakota's is doing a better job than many of the newer (and flashier!) Additions to the Dallas dining scene.
I first was a guest at Dakota's more than twenty years ago, at a dinner for twelve in honor of a visiting diplomat from Peru. The venue itself attracts attention, and there is indeed an interesting story behind Dakota's magnificently lush underground space. Dakota's was built in 1984 by the Lincoln Property Company, which built a sleekly modern glass tower that still stands next door. The owners wanted a signature restaurant at street level, but the land on which the building went up was purchased from a neighboring Baptist church, and the deed contained a legally binding clause that absolutely forbade the sale of alcohol on the former church grounds, in perpetuity .
Everyone understood that a "dry" restaurant would not be able to compete in modern Dallas. So a group of lawyers at Lincoln Property Company debated the difference between the phrases "on the grounds" and "below ground" – and the upshot of that discussion was an excavation twenty feet below street level to create the underground restaurant we find today. It has as its "roof" the rough asphalt of San Jacinto Street. An elevator peeps up above ground at street level, with valet parking provided. Dakota's can also be reached through a series of air-conditioned tunnels connecting it to the Fairmont Hotel and all the neighboring buildings. In the tropical heat of summer, you don't need to get your clothes wrinkled to eat there!
In the scores of visits I have made to Dakota's, I have never once heard the rumble of a car or truck above me. That is because Dakota's is encased in very solid stuff – the restaurant takes its name from the eight million pounds of Dakota mahogany-colored granite that was used to insulate this gilded dining cave from the noisy world outside. It is a fortress of stone.
I last dined at Dakota's this week. The luncheon menu is traditional and rich and I never tire of it. For starters this time, I ordered the jumbo lump crab cake served with sweet corn puree and a touch of cilantro. It was absolutely free of breadcrumbs, pure slivers of delicious crab, done exactly the right way. My partner ordered a field greens salad served with walnuts, marvelous lumps of snow-white goat cheese, and lightly drenched in blackberry vinaigrette. I stole a few bites. Both dishes are wonderful ways to whet the appetite.
For my main course I ordered what I have ordered consistently for my last three visits to Dakota's, which is the outstanding six-ounce filet mignon. I asked that it be prepared with intense, searing heat so that the outside was blackened and crusted while the tender inside remained pink. The chef at Dakota's is fussy about the cuts he uses – his steaks are corn-fed beef supplied by Allen Brothers. The filet mignon at Dakota's is consistently perfect every time, crusted in black pepper. I was offered a choice of green beans, broccoli, or mashed potatoes. I always take the mashed potatoes, which are creamy Yukon Gold potatoes served with Layla Farms butter and a hint of garlic. They are the best in town.
My partner had the Atlantic salmon, which was seared with a light crust of tomato jam, perfectly cooked, complemented with asparagus orzo. It was a very fine cut of prime salmon exposed briefly to such intense heat that a delicious light crust formed on the surface of the fish. I confess that I stole a bite. I had an espresso after my meal while my partner had coffee.
The restaurant fills up quickly around noon with a local business crowd, mainly well to do lawyers and bankers. I usually ask for a different table each time I visit Dakota's, and I have sometimes dined outdoors in the sunken patio, which is open to the sky above Akard Street and has a lovely little waterfall. Part of the fun of Dakota's is just taking in the décor and the ambience.
Dakota's was built sparing no expense and no visitor should fail to take in the restaurant itself while enjoying the food and service. The floor is hand-cut Italian Carrera marble in a basket weave, the paneling is a dark tropical hardwood veneer with brass gas lamps and some attractive wood columns that were scavenged from a stately Dallas home of the last century. Get up and wander around a little while you are waiting for your meal. Dakota's is worth not just one visit, but many.
Dakota's Steakhouse is at 600 North Akard Street in downtown Dallas. It is always wise to make a reservation, especially for dinner. Call 214-740-4001.