When Five Sixty first opened in Reunion Tower about 3 1/2 years ago, I was blown away by the food â" tender pork-belly dumplings; juicy morsels of suckling pig; crisp-hot salt-and-pepper calamari with pea shoots; gingery Shanghai-style Maine lobster. The outsized, bursting-with-flavor Asian fusion plates, brilliantly executed by then-chef Sara C. Johannes, clearly amounted to five-star cooking. Only serious service issues stood between Five Sixty and a five-star review.
Now, with a different chef in charge (Patton Robertson, whoâs been running the kitchen since 2010), a general manager who took over last year (Bruce Wills) and a menu that continues to evolve (a dim-sum brunch will be launched Sept. 16), it feels like the moment to check in again.
Itâs hard not to get excited going to Five Sixty by Wolfgang Puck. First thereâs the dizzying ride up 560 feet in a glass elevator, then the spectacular views of Dallas as the dining room slowly revolves and then plates that, at their best, can dazzle. It still adds up to one of the most compelling nights out to be had in a Big D restaurant, whether youâre a Dallasite celebrating a special occasion or a visitor looking for the best of what the city has to offer.
Surprisingly, that includes some of the best cocktails in town. If, like me, you suspect the craft cocktail movement may have run its course, that things are getting too complicated, too precious, too sweet, the drinks at Five Sixty will have you thinking again. They certainly have pizazz, as in a Pepinoâs Revenge â" Patron Silver tequila with Japanese cucumber, basil, lime juice and a wee touch of simple syrup, or a Rolling Fog, which blends 12-year-old Hibiki whiskey with Aperol, lemon juice and egg white. Careful mixing keeps them sophisticated and polished, and both are served on a crystal-clear hunk of hand-chipped ice. Theyâre beautiful drinks, and they pair well with house-made Japanese pickled vegetables from the sushi menu, or a trio of sashimi, all expertly cut from top-quality fish. We chose albacore, snapper and hamachi â" a good sampler, the first two sauced gently with yuzu ponzu, the hamachi naked. They came with a frilly seaweed salad.
Generally, though, Five Sixtyâs appetizers donât have the same impact they used to. Those morsels of suckling pig, cooked to the point of falling apart when you pick them up with chopsticks, are not the succulent little miracles they used to be, though a dusky-bright flavored plum purÃ©e revives them somewhat. I feel the same way about the pork belly pot stickers that used to burst with juiciness. Now theyâre satisfying, if not exciting, mouthfuls, enveloped in wrappers more supple than fragile, browned to just-crunchy and set on a nice little black vinegar sauce flecked with Fresno chiles.
A row of crisp sesame cones filled with spicy tuna tartare and topped with a flurry of shaved bonito and delicately crunchy tobiko (flying fish roe) arrives in a metal holder. The presentation feels dated, and the cones are sweet enough for dessert â" not the way Iâd spend $17 in the future. âChinois-styleâ chicken salad is just as nostalgic, recalling the dish from Puckâs iconic Santa Monica, Calif., restaurant Chinois on Main, founded in 1983 and still going strong â" thatâs slices of roasted chicken on Asian greens dressed in a lively Chinese mustard vinaigrette and flanked by mounds of candied cashews. Nothing exciting or forward-looking, but itâs nicely done.
Lamb samosas are bolder â" tender pastries filled with beautifully spiced sautÃ©ed lamb that are even better when pulled through the two sauces mingling on the plate, a cardamom-scented cucumber raita and emerald-green chile-mint oil.
Itâs disappointing that the starters donât make a stronger impression, especially as appetizers are usually the course with which chefs express their creativity most freely.
Here the ideas play out more convincingly on a larger canvas: the main course. Take the wok-fried whole sea bass. What an incredible presentation! A waiter, not our regular server but a specialist in the art of filleting, presents the gorgeous whopper of fish (about 2 pounds), fried to a lovely, pale gold. He then fillets it tableside, somehow managing not to compromise its wonderful crispness, and putting the two perfect sides back together minus the bones. Itâs a tremendous performance, and a great dish, the fish delicately sweet, infused with ginger and cilantro. Itâs even better with its shallot-chile-ginger sauce spooned over. It does, however, deserve an accompaniment more interesting than plain rice.
Thatâs true too for the lacquered Chinese duckling, whose lo mein noodles in plum wine sauce are a shrug. The duckâs crisp, crackling skin is superb, but I wish the flesh â" which has terrific flavor â" could be a little more succulent.
No such reservations with the quail, carved into manageable pieces, crisply fried in a super-light batter, set on a fruity chile-soy sauce and topped with a lively Asian slaw. Go ahead â" pick up one of those perfectly sized, juicy pieces by the bone with your fingers and go to town.
Of course thereâs beef, but Five Sixtyâs grilled New York strip was considerably less compelling than Assam curry prawns, one of my favorite dishes. These huge shrimp are stunningly good quality, swimmingly fresh, perfectly cooked; they luxuriate in a rich, lightly coconutty curry sauce. Jasmine rice to soak up all that wonderful sauce makes more sense with this dish.
The formal, highly orchestrated tableside service has improved at Five Sixty, but itâs still uneven. One night thereâs a wait for everything â" menus, cocktails, appetizers, main courses. Another night, the timingâs right on the money and the service is outstanding. One night thereâs no one available to explain a wine weâre curious about; another night a sommelier appears with well-considered advice after a server fakes his way through a description. Itâs an interesting list, offering not just whites that work with the Asian flavors but also some more unusual light reds, like a 2009 Joguet âCuvÃ©e Terrroir,â a Chinon from Franceâs Loire Valley.
And huge though the main courses are, you donât want to skip dessert: Isla Vargas, who has served as pastry chef from Day One, provides some very persuasive endings indeed â" a baked Alaska surrounded by brilliant sautÃ©ed strawberries, a delicately flavored coconut cream pie on a flaky crust. But best of all is a bittersweet chocolate soufflÃ©, which stands tall and proud even as the waiter pours in chocolate sauce and adds a scoop of gianduja gelato.
Itâs just the kind of climactic finish you want in a place thatâs not just a Dallas landmark, but one of the cityâs finest and most engaging restaurants.
Follow Leslie Brenner on Twitter at @lesbren.
Five Sixty by Wolfgang Puck (4-stars)
Price: $$$$ (sushi menu $8 to $39, appetizers $14 to $19, main courses $35 to $63, desserts $13 to $15; seven-course tasting menu $135 per person, $200 per person with wine pairings)
Service: The formal, highly orchestrated service can be quite impressive, but itâs very uneven. Tableside filleting of fish, priming of wine glasses or serving of a soufflÃ© can be quite a show.
Ambience: The striking, contemporary dining room at the top of Reunion Tower slowly revolves, offering dazzling views of the city.
Noise level: Pleasantly buzzy, with music playing at a reasonable level, so normal conversation isnât difficult. The choice of music can be perplexing, though: On one visit, Pink Floyd played all evening.
Location: 300 Reunion Blvd., Dallas. 214-741-5560. wolfgangpuck.com/restaurants.
Hours: Dinner Monday-Thursday 5:30 to
10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 5:30 to 11 p.m. Bar and lounge are open Monday-Thursday 5:30 to 11 p.m., Friday-Saturday 5:30 to midnight. Brunch Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Reservations: Accepted up to two months in advance. Please see restaurantâs website for business casual dress code.
Credit cards: All major
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Full bar. The craft cocktails are some of the most polished and sophisticated in town. A pricey, 18-page wine list offers interesting whites and light reds that work well with the Asian flavors, along with sakes and the expected big-ticket trophy wines.