The boards obscuring Savor, the new dining pavilion in Klyde Warren Park, have finally come down. How is the interplay between design and food working out?
photographs by MANNY RODRIGUEZ
MARK LAMSTER, architecture critic: I’d been anxious to see what architect Tom Phifer had under wraps. I’ve admired his work for a long time; he brings the fastidiousness and clarity — and whiteness — of Richard Meier, his former boss, but without the showy formal gestures. He’s more of a Miesian. Here, he’s given us a glass box that speaks the same language as his neighboring Muse Family Performance Pavilion: shiny steel columns and a hovering roof plane. I do wish the two buildings had a more dynamic relationship, however, or, really, any relationship. But that’s one of the issues with Klyde Warren Park, generally: It’s a bit of a programmatic dog’s breakfast, with too much going on for such a small space. One thing that surprised me is how big the pavilion is. Even with its diaphanous glass-curtain walls and its reflective metal surfaces, this takes a big chunk out of the park. But don’t let me color your judgment. What were your first impressions of the place?
Glass walls dissolve the barrier between outside and in at Savor in Klyde Warren Park
LESLIE BRENNER, restaurant critic: Well, I feel a little self-conscious riffing on a restaurant’s design with you in the virtual room! But walking into the restaurant, I was surprised that we were led on what felt like a long march through the bar, around the side of the kitchen and into the dining room. The coolest part to me was getting the views of the park from that side, but the dining room felt oddly squeezed. That lovely French 75 cocktail restored my equilibrium. How did you feel about the dining room?
A curvy bar: An odd fit for a rectangular room.
M.L.: I think you’ve hit on the essential problem with the design; placing the kitchen in a central service core divides the space into a front and rear that don’t communicate. Is this one restaurant or two? I’m not sure it’s sure. And the big news is that the interiors are not by Phifer. My understanding is that his aesthetic was a bit too clinical for the restaurateur. The end result, from Johnson Studio in Atlanta, is warm in tone and comfortable on the body, but lacks the courage of the architecture’s convictions. If you’re going to buy a Tom Ford suit, don’t wear a shirt from Eddie Bauer. The ovular bar is a particularly poor fit.
L.B.: Fortunately it doesn’t seem to be adversely affecting the bartender’s skills! Meanwhile, you seemed to have had a transformative experience when faced with one of our starters. It cracked me up that it was your first time tasting okra. At Savor, chef John Coleman roasted it, which was nice. Alas, the season has passed, and it’s no longer on the menu.
Pork Milanese with arugula-caper salad
M.L.: I had my napkin surreptitiously prepared for a deposit, I will admit, but that okra was crisp and savory. But now I am hedging into your territory, where I am an amateur at best. So what were your impressions of the menu, and its rather interesting categorization of dishes: Grab, Share, In Between, During. During?
L.B.: I know, right? I’m seeing silliness like this all over the place. What’s the difference between Grab and Share? Deviled eggs are Grab, so, what: The idea is grab as fast as you can without sharing? What did you think of the In Between: the “high marbled” pork schnitzel strewn with arugula-caper salad, and the lemon-rosemary chicken with fingerling potatoes?
Butternut squash and fontina flatbread
M.L.: I was impressed. I especially like the flatbreads, which are now becoming a cliché, but I thought were carried off nicely. I was, however, persistently reminded of how much I enjoyed them by our rather insecure waiter, who had a habit of nervously approaching to make sure everything was “wonderful.” I just wanted to give him a hug and tell him everything was going to be OK. Or maybe we should have ordered him one of those narcotic French 75s?
L.B.: Would have been an idea! Pastry chef Julie Vorce was much more at ease when she stopped by the table. Positively bubbly, in fact. They’re really pushing her sweets, with that menu that lets you order her mini-desserts by the half-dozen. So, in the end, what do you think: Does it feel to you like a natural or desirable gathering place that’ll draw people from the park? Will it be an architectural landmark, or is it more like a restaurant designed by committee that could have been much more?
Pastry chef Julie Vorce’s mini-desserts
M.L.: Can we say both? In that it mirrors the park that is its home: For all its flaws, it’s a pleasant environment and a nice addition to the city. Bottoms up!
French 75 cocktails
Mark Lamster is the architecture critic for The Dallas Morning News and is on the faculty of the David Dillon Center for Texas Architecture at the University of Texas at Arlington. Reach him at email@example.com.