Dean Fearing has fallen in love again.
A decade ago, the chef and restaurateur opened Fearing’s, his dream restaurant in The Ritz-Carlton in Dallas. It was gorgeous, he said, designed by Bill Johnson of Bill Johnson Studio in Atlanta.
But as the restaurant approached its 10th anniversary this year, Johnson urged Fearing to update the space.
“Bill said, ‘Come on. It’s been 10 years. Let’s put a new spin on it,’” Fearing said. “Now I walk into this restaurant and I’m just in love. I was in love with it before, but now I’m more in love.”
Over the past year, Johnson gave Fearing’s a complete overhaul. The renovations were officially completed this month, and Fearing is already promising to do it again in another 10 years.
The overhaul was possible without closing the restaurant. That’s because Fearing’s has a multiple-setting format, allowing designers to work room by room. The 240-seat venue, including outdoor spaces, is sectioned into seven separate spaces, which all share the same menu.
In the high-energy Dean’s Kitchen room, diners can watch the chefs in the open kitchen. The white-tablecloth Gallery has what Fearing described as an antebellum look and a more refined atmosphere. The light-filled Sendero has an indoor/outdoor dining feel and views of the garden. The Rattlesnake Bar is more social and cocktail focused, although guests are welcome to order a full meal there.
“If I have one pet peeve, it’s that. Why can’t you go to a bar in a great restaurant and order the frickin’ dinner menu?” Fearing said. “If someone wants to sit in my bar and order dinner, well, be my guest.”
In fact, the bar saw the most changes.
“When we opened 10 years ago, it was a cozy little bar, but because it was popular, we didn’t have enough room,” he said.
Adjustments to seating and adding more tables have resulted in an increase of customers ordering food, he said. The two-bartender station was also expanded to three.
“Our bar menu is busier than it has ever been,” Fearing said. “Give them tables to eat food on and they will order food. It’s as simple as that.”
Dean’s Kitchen is the largest dining area, with 66 seats, but most have about 44, besides the private-dining wine cellar, with up to 18 seats, he said.
The multi-format model has arguably helped Fearing’s hold on to its iconic status over the years.
More premium spots have felt the pinch over the past year and a half with the growth of a more casual dining scene in Dallas, he said. But Fearing’s welcomes diners both dressed up and dressed down, and has long catered to those with alternative dining requests, even before it was trendy.
In addition to the regular menu, which changes every month to six weeks, Fearing’s also offers a full vegetarian menu, with various appetizer and entrées — not just one or two vegetable options, as most restaurants in Texas offer, he said.
There’s also a separate “simply prepared” menu for business travelers who want to take clients out, but prefer a simple fish or steak dish.
“If they’re eating out five nights out of the week, I can’t imagine they could eat glorious meals that I want to prepare for them all the time,” Fearing said.
In September, Fearing plans to add a Texas Steak menu that highlights local ranchers, with various cuts and options, like Texas Wagyu, bred from Japanese Wagyu and Black Angus cows.
Fearing already uses Sherman Texas Wagyu filet in his signature surf and turf with chicken-fried Maine lobster. And the locally raised antelope from Broken Arrow Ranch, served with basil-smoked pepita pesto with heirloom tomatoes, field pea salad and fried okra, has been a top seller.
“It’s the only wild game that doesn’t taste like wild game, and it’s so steak friendly, I can’t take it off the menu now, it’s so popular,” Fearing said.
While the renovation has been successful, it involved the usual headaches, Fearing said. Chairs took a full year to arrive, and carpet custom made in India seemed to be delivered “by mule,” only to arrive ripped, he said.
But now that it’s completed, he said, “People come in and say, ‘There’s something different. What did you do?’”
That’s a good thing, he added.
“It wasn’t a 360 turn,” Fearing said. “But we’re having the best summer we’ve had in a long time.”
Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected]
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout