Often when I visit a big, stylish new restaurant, I wonder about the cost as much as the cuisine. It was certainly the case when I arrived at the Mexican, which is located a few miles northwest of downtown Dallas in a fabulous building the size of three basketball courts. When my friends joined me, the hostess ushered us to a table in the main dining room, pointing out as we walked such features as the three private dining rooms (the largest seating fifty people), decorated commissioned works of art. She gestured towards the airy well
cigar lounge, then mentioned that if we had an interest in agave spirits, the tequila sommelier might be alerted (the restaurant’s four hundred selections range from barrel-aged amber añejos to charcoal-filtered clear crystallines ). Waiters in light gray vests bustled about, and patrons waved and blew kisses across the room as Latin music from the lounge blared (as music unfortunately does these days in too many hip restaurants). With its bright table lamps and jewel-colored velvet-covered chairs, the space, which seats 320 people, looked less like a restaurant than a gracious home, on a monumental scale.
The cost of construction could be “nearly ten million dollars,” my architect friend said over the phone, as he clicked through photos on the Mexican’s website. He’s been designing restaurants for over twenty years and I had called to get his appraisal of the 15,000 square foot place. Together we looked at photos of the intricate walnut ceiling treatments and sleek black and white tile floors. “With today’s prices,” he said, “a good restaurant will cost five hundred dollars a square foot, and that’s just the construction” – we were already at $7.5 million. – “not to mention the ancillary costs such as architecture, license fees, permits, consultants, engineers. He continues: “And then there is the art, the tableware.” The Mexican is undoubtedly one of the most sumptuous restaurants in Texas.
“Our goal is to bring the best of Mexico to Dallas,” Roberto González Alcalá, a Monterrey-born and raised entrepreneur and chief investor deeply involved in the restaurant, said when I spoke to him after my visit. He’s not a newcomer to town. “I’ve been traveling to Dallas for many years,” he said. It turns out that her late father was longtime president of corporate giant Gruma, one of the largest tortilla producers in the world. A branch of a Gruma subsidiary, Mission, is based in Irving. (González Alcalá himself was CEO of Gruma Mexico at one time, but is no longer involved in running the company.) These repeated visits introduced him to the culinary scene and something that bothered him. “Dallas has some really good Mexican restaurants but not a lot on the high end,” he observed, an opinion I share.
Long story short, he now leads a group of investors and restaurateurs determined to fill that gap. They also feed another motive. According to González Alcalá, “When people read and hear bad things about Mexico in the news again and again, they forget the many good things about our country.” He and his associates want the Mexican to be nothing less than an ambassador for the richness and sophistication of Mexican culture.
As we settled in, my friends and I assessed the menu, which struck me as exactly the kind you’d find at an upscale steak and seafood house frequented by wealthy Mexican executives. The restaurant’s head chef, Rodrigo Lomeli, has made a name for himself at such a place, La Nacional, in Monterrey. (He now lives in Dallas and is busy learning English.) Its executive chef is Oklahoman Christopher Tunnel, a former Omni Los Angeles Hotel and North Italia restaurant chain.
After some debate, we opted for the chicharrón de ribeye starter: a lean Wagyu steak cubed, lightly breaded (if a bit tough) and seasoned with Monterrey’s popular spicy and tangy PiquinLimon sauce. (In Mexico, “chicharrón” can mean fried pork rinds or, simply, something fried and crispy.) We folded the steak pieces into warm, soft homemade corn tortillas and added a dollop of guacamole creamy, which gave a decidedly elegant result. Tacos. (In the taco section of the menu, offerings start at three for $17, one of the restaurant’s relatively affordable options.)
Hamachi sashimi came next, the layered slices of pristine amberjack artfully arranged in the shape of a fish, with a V-shaped tail at one end and a pert nose at the other. It was nice, but I would have liked a little more of the main seasoning, a tangerine-yuzu juice flavored with truffle oil (the latter, thankfully deployed with a light hand, shows up in many dishes here ).
Our next heartier dish, the enchiladas de camarón, featured plump Gulf shrimp that had been sautéed in white wine and tucked into tortillas with mild Oaxaca cheese and grilled onions. In addition, there was a light and fresh ranchera salsa. Like many of Lomeli’s sauces, it contained chili pequin, a fiery chili widely used in Mexico and prized for its subtly fruity flavor. He uses it discreetly in this dish, but that’s not always the case. When your server tells you something is very spicy, believe it.
Moving on, we considered sharing the 33-ounce tomahawk rib eye, for $135, but I can’t imagine it would have been better than our 9-ounce boneless Wagyu rib eye ($52), grilled over oak and heavily smoked mesquite briquettes. It arrived next to a huge, primitive-looking roasted marrowbone and an equally large head of roasted garlic. When our waiter was done extracting the essence from each, we spread it over the steak like butter and added drizzles of a lightly vinegary sauce of red pequin peppers and milder Japanese peppers. Every bite was carnivore heaven.
“I’ve never seen sides like these,” I thought to myself, cheerfully over-ordering one after the other. The lobster elote – creamed sweet corn with beautiful chunks of shellfish – was so incredibly rich in its cheese sauce infused with roasted habaneros and red peppers that I could only eat a tiny amount of it. Ditto the mashed potatoes swirled in a meaty russet-colored sauce made with chorizo and Mexican Manchego cheese.
Our vegetable dishes were considerably lighter. We loved the roasted cauliflower with chopped pistachios and avocado in a truffle habanero
Pad. In fact, it was a table favorite until the advent of dark red beets, which were so sweet they didn’t need the sauce that came with them, a cousin of mustard-spiked aioli. of Dijon and a dash of Tabasco. When we asked about the preparation of the beets, our server pulled out his phone and showed us a video he had shot earlier (answer: parboiled and roasted).
The desserts were as plentiful as expected. The chocolate cake was four large layers of thickly ganache-glazed sponge, with more ganache pouring onto the table and topped with brittle pepita pieces. the
Cuatro leches cake upped the ante with rompope (Latin American eggnog) as the fourth milk, the presentation topped with fluffy whipped cream flavored with vanilla liqueur. We decided to skip the night drinks and dessert wine menu, but were happy to see the digestives listed, just in case.
It will be interesting to return to Mexico in six to twelve months and see how the partners’ ambitious experience unfolded. Will members of the crowd that’s teeming with expensive new restaurants add it to their regular rotation? Will it get the stamp of approval for wedding rehearsal dinners and corporate parties? For congresses? Will ordinary people try it for enchiladas and tacos (expensive but not prohibitively expensive)? Or will everyone visit once and then return to smaller venues for Mexican food? I can’t wait to go back to see if Lomeli’s menu sticks to its original flavor profiles or if it subtly becomes Dallas. The Mexican is certainly a nice place and, for all its high prices, much cheaper than a trip to Monterrey.
This article originally appeared in the June 2022 issue of Texas monthly with the title “Ambassador of Mexico”. Subscribe today.