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Chef John Tesar Discusses the $20 million Makeover for the Mansion -
the Original Dallas Restaurant Institution
By Shannon Sutlief, The Dallas Morning NewsMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Nov. 30, 2007 -While some long-time diners at the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek were busy condemning the decision to relax the restaurant's dress code, executive chef John Tesar had other worries about the Mansion's $20 million renovation: What would he serve to all those diners wearing jeans but not jackets?

But Mr. Tesar saw the Mansion's makeover as more than just a change of menus. He says he wanted to establish the Mansion as a place where anyone could dine any night -- without a tie or a reservation -- while maintaining its reputation as a fine dining destination.

His solution was three rooms with three levels of dining: the Mansion Restaurant and bar, which are open now, and the Chef's Room, which will open later this year. Mr. Tesar discussed the results of the renovation during a video interview at the Mansion.

How does the renovated Mansion offer three concepts of dining? We want to break down the walls of the Mansion always being for a special occasion. Just think about it: coming someplace historic that's so iconic and very much a part of Dallas and being able to access it on a much more regular basis, whether it be in the bar or the restaurant. We have a wonderful bar menu. We have a raw bar menu, trios of hamburgers. And then you come to the Mansion Restaurant, and you get that food that I was reviewed for when I first came into town. I make short ribs, homemade pastas and imaginative salads. Then the Chef's Room would be a ultra luxe dining experience with our salon where you would meet your captain, have a canape, an aperitif, some champagne and talk with the chef about what kind of experience you want to have that evening whether it be the prix fixe menu or one of the four tasting menus. Then you'll sit at the table at an 18-seat restaurant and dine at any level you desire.

Instead of "casual," you've described the new Mansion Restaurant experience as "spontaneous." What do you mean? We like to use the word spontaneous because the whole experience should be spontaneous. You really just decide, "Hey, let's go to the Mansion for dinner tonight." You don't have to think, "What am I going to wear? Is my suit ready? Do I have my Hermes tie?" You want to get in the car, drive to the Mansion, have some short ribs, ravioli, a nice bottle of wine, maybe go to the bar, maybe go home. It is going to be more of a spontaneous experience.

What is on the Mansion's bar menu? It's designed to be shared by people, and it's a very light-hearted, fun kind of shared menu. I like to do things in threes. I'm a Michael Mina fan, so it's french fries three ways, hamburgers three ways, foie gras sliders, large shellfish plateaus with oysters, shrimp cocktail, chilled lobsters, ceviches. Then for the person who wants a grilled cheese sandwich with some french fries or a turkey club sandwich, that's on the menu, too. We have some really fun stuff, some really traditional stuff and a little bit of comfort food mixed in.

What will diners find on the Mansion Restaurant's menu? It's a large nod to Texas. Before I leave the state or even the neighborhood, I look for the ingredient here first. And then I'll build on that with fish from the northeast, sturgeon and salmon from the Pacific and wonderful oysters from the Gulf. I'm going to the Gulf for shrimp. Mahi mahi from Florida. And I have my own herd of guinea hens.

What will be offered in the Chef's Room? In the Chef's Room, there will be an entry level prix fixe menu. I believe it's $79 for three courses. Within that there will be eight appetizers, eight entrees and eight dessert selections. In addition to that, there will be a cheese cart, a tea cart and a candy cart. We will have four tasting menus, a smaller version of the tasting menu in four or six courses, and a chef's tasting menu, which will be six, eight or 10 courses based upon your need that evening. I will work with you on those menus. And then there is a vegetarian tasting menu, which is a thought out, deliberate menu specifically for vegetarians designed and created by a chef, not just steamed asparagus on some risotto and mashed potatoes in a bowl.

In addition to the Chef's Room, you have a Chef's Table. What will that be like? There are no menus in this room. There are no boundaries in this room. It is six people experiencing the whims, the desires, the creations of the chef with some of the finest wine in the world.

Was the renovation a way for the Mansion to compete with newer hotel restaurants? To read articles in the paper or hear terms such as we're "trying to keep up with the Joneses" is just totally ridiculous because the Mansion really was the original Dallas restaurant and an institution of Dallas. What we're doing is that we just decided to see what everyone else in Dallas was going to do first and then come up with some other alternative so we wouldn't just be duplicating what other people have been doing. And we are kind of taking it to the next level. Having a 20-seat restaurant and a 70-seat restaurant side-by-side is quite a trend. There many chefs in New York such as Daniel Boulud who have a serious restaurant and a casual restaurant. In Europe, I met many chefs who have that fun, whimsical, spontaneous restaurant and then that really glamorous side. We want to bring the state of the art in dining from the world market into Dallas.

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Copyright (c) 2007, The Dallas Morning News

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