Food & Drink
Sustenio's New Southwestern provides a trip down memory lane
Published: June 6, 2012
Eilandia (my name, not theirs) on I-10 near Fiesta Texas looks for all the world like a Tuscan hill town as imagined by Disney — with one exception: instead of scaling things down to, say, three quarters full size, everything has been pumped up by 25 percent or so. The horizontal banding suggests churches in cities such as Orvieto, towers may recall Siena … and one, this one at least, fervently hopes that fading and weathering will occur quickly rather than slowly. Full occupancy, too, can't happen soon enough; the presence of people will take the edge off quicker than anything else. (Though fading is likely regardless, the recently announced divestment of all the Dutch owners' U.S. properties may mean that lease-up will take even longer than hoped.)
There is already activity at the Eilan Hotel Resort & Spa, the development's anchor, and that activity centers around Sustenio, its signature restaurant.
Much of the initial interest in Sustenio is likely due to its marquee-name consulting chef, Stephan Pyles. A true treasure of the Texas culinary scene, Pyles, who is called "a founding father of Southwest Cuisine," captured the state's attention first with Dallas's Routh Street Café in the mid-1980s and then went on to open more restaurants, write cookbooks, star in a PBS series — the usual path to stardom of a talented chef. At his most recent restaurant, the truly exciting Samar by Stephan Pyles in Dallas's theater district, Pyles seemed to have reinvented himself, featuring a menu influenced by sources as diverse as Spain and India. The debut Sustenio menu, however, largely reads like a greatest hits catalog of the past 27 years.
There are far worse people to emulate than oneself if you're Stephan Pyles, but it's hard to escape the feeling that it's not yet time for a revival of New Southwestern cooking. It's also hard to imagine that, despite the lure of a number of technologically advanced pieces of equipment in the kitchen, Executive Chef David Gilbert, a man with global experience of his own, would be happy repeating tamale tarts with roasted garlic custard (we could use more garlic, BTW). Perhaps inventing new ceviches keeps his creative side occupied while waiting to put more of his stamp on things.
The ceviches, and there are eight of them, are front and center at Sustenio; you can sit at a bar in front of the assembly action, such as it is. At a tasting early on, I found the lobster with mango too sweet, the bronzino with fennel and vanilla a little heavy on the latter. But at a recent dinner, a tasting of three ($28), tuna with passion fruit and coconut, scallops with golden tomatoes and aji, and rock shrimp with orange and popcorn on the side, yielded three winners — edge to the tuna. And an appetizer of pork belly with vanilla-scented grits ($12) proved that the currently fashionable belly needn't come across as unduly fatty (the texture, perhaps coaxed along with sous-vide preparation, was exquisite, the tiny bits of crisp skin just the right contrast) and that when used with restraint, vanilla is a beautiful thing.