I work in Downtown Dallas every Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5 pm. During those hours, it’s a bustling scene with hectic downtown driving and people hustling to and fro. But come 7:40 pm on a Friday, it’s a ghost town. Other than a handfull of popular hotels, it feels empty, which is exactly how I would describe City Hall Bistro as Hanna and I strolled in, 10 minutes late for our reservation.
City Hall Bistro is a beautiful restaurant inside the Adolphus Hotel, capturing the sentiment of “City Hall” (there were plans for Dallas City Hall to be where the Adolphus is today) without losing any of the crisp, clean sensations that a nice sit-down restaurant should demonstrate. Mustard booths surround white marble tables and small white tiles form the walls. Golden lighting fixtures, that look like they might be from Grand Central Station, hang over each table. It’s elegant and comforting at the same time.
I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned anything like this in a previous review, but I love the size of City Hall Bistro’s menu. 16 menu items for the table, two pasta dishes, one paella, and there are seven items under “FOWL, FISH & MEAT.” The variety of the starters lessen the opportunity for buyer’s remorse (I surely can’t order all 16!), and each menu item after that is distinct enough to where the decision I make cannot justly be compared with something else on the menu.
City Hall Bistro’s cocktail menu is a fun one to peruse. The combinations of ingredients in each beverage are somewhat familiar, but the names are unique. Hanna ordered the Western Revue (tequila, aperol, lime, grapefruit, and agave) and enjoyed it very much. It’s tang and refreshingness are reminiscent of a margarita, but the aperol and grapefruit elevated the favor profile significantly. I went with A Bitter Night (rye, vermouth, coffee-steeped campari, and orange) and liked the twist on my favorite standard Manhattan.
The first dish to arrive in front of Hanna and me was the Vegetable Gratin. A light flavor of gruyére lives through the entirety of the gratin. The parmesan crust provides contrast to the otherwise soft texture. I ate some of it straight off my fork, but eventually went on and scooped a generous portion onto a slice of ciabatta, still hot off the grill. Hanna said to me, “It tastes like fall.” Well said, Hanna. While we were digging into the gratin, the Farro Risotto arrived. It’s rich, savory, and fluffy – a high-quality comfort food. We finished off our “FOR THE TABLE” dishes with the Crispy Pork Belly. It’s aptly named, with every bite delivering a satisfying crunch. The succulent coins of pork sat on top a sweet muhammara. If you order it, every bite is worth savoring.
The main courses: the Blistered Tomato Tortellini for Hanna and the Wagyu Short Rib for me.
I’ve now reviewed four restaurants and I’m realizing that pasta is a differentiator between good and great. I don’t mean pasta dishes, I mean the noodle itself. I’ve tasted pasta dishes at Salum, Parigi, and now City Hall Bistro. The Oxtail Tortellini at Salum is a good dish because of the oxtail and sauce, but it breaks the threshold into greatness because of each tortellino. The oxtail is encased by something with perfect consistency and delightful taste. At Parigi, my pappardelle was chewy and dull. At City Hall Bistro, the texture is there but the tortellini is a bit on the eggy side. The dish was quite good otherwise. The “blistered” tomatoes brought a rush of smoky and sweet flavors together, a bold combination.
If you go to City Hall Bistro, order the Wagyu Short Rib. It’s fantastic. Had I accidentally dropped my fork and it landed on the short rib, it would’ve left a clean cut. If there were a bone involved, it would have been falling off. Each bite is juicy, bursting with flavor, and magically tender. On top of that, it’s topped with escargot butter. I commend City Hall Bistro for taking the ingredient that allowed snails to become the main part of a popular dish and pouring it over something that didn’t need it in the first place. It’s over the top and I mean that in the best way.
City Hall Bistro has a great menu. From my experience, there’s an excellent chance that whatever you order is going to be something that is made from tasty ingredients which are prepared thoughtfully. It’s elegant, comfortable, and a place that would make a great dinner destination for a group of friends. We saw a lot more diners as we left the restaurant than we did coming in, which made me happy. Downtown Dallas needs restaurants like City Hall Bistro. It’s bright, welcoming, and it serves food worth coming for.
The folks at the restaurant are doing their part. Now it’s time for us to do ours. I know that parking is difficult. I know that Downtown doesn’t have as many walkable destinations to go after the meal. But it never will if the restaurants that deserve your business never get it strictly because of their location. Go to City Hall Bistro, order the short rib, and then check out a swanky Downtown cocktail bar (I like Midnight Rambler).
I’ve rarely regretted planning my night around a great meal, I don’t think you will either.