Evan Smith: Your restaurant, Fearing’s, at the Ritz-Carlton in Dallas, was just named number one in the country in hotel dining by the Zagat Survey. What does recognition like that say to you?
Dean Fearing: The great thing about Zagat is that it’s the people’s award—people vote on it—unlike the AAA and the Mobil guides, where one or two critics come in, eat one or two meals with you, and decide your fate for the next year. This is the way people want to eat: No rules, come as you are, but let’s eat off of Rosenthal bone china, let’s drink out of real glassware, let’s eat with German silver.
ES: It’s about the experience as much as the food.
DF: Yet what woke me up for so many nights before we opened was, were we doing the right thing?
ES: What were you worried about?
DF: Would people get it? Would people come in and go, “This is the goofiest idea in the world. Why would you have four different atmospheres with one menu all under one roof?” What makes me sleep better at night now is the fact that people are saying, “Yes! This is the right thing!” You want to get dressed up? Come on in. You want to be in a T-shirt and flip-flops? Don’t forget your wallet. You want to be in a white-tablecloth room? We have that. You want to be in a kitchen room, loud and wild? We have that. You want to be in a glass pavilion with a gorgeous chandelier? We have that. What’s funny is that everybody has their room now. It’s like any other restaurant.
ES: Did you ever consider doing different menus?
DF: For half a second. That would be the nightmare of all time. I’d need a kitchen three times as big as the one I have now. The Royal Arms up in Toronto did that: three different rooms, three different menus, one kitchen. I remember going up there one time, and the guy said, “This is the worst mistake I ever made,” and I learned from him. Our menu fits in all the rooms. You go outside, and the menu fits. You go to the bar, and the menu fits. I finally figured out, after leaving the Mansion, that you can have a menu that’s fun and approachable and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg but everybody can find something that they want. Cutting-edge people can have their food. Regular Texans—all they want