HOW MANY TIMES HAVE I SAID, “Darn! Why doesn’t Texas have more steakhouses with deejays?” How often have I groused, “Where the hell are the steakhouses with mirrored columns and silver-leafed domes?” And most important, “ Where are the steakhouses with $69 margaritas? ” I mean, really—if you want to go out for a hunka hunka primo meat at a Texas beef palace with a little snap and sizzle, you’re out of luck, right? Wrong.
As of this very minute, a new player in Dallas is rewriting the steakhouse playbook. N9NE (an annoying à la mode spelling that is pronounced “Nine”) is not your father’s steakhouse. It’s not even the Gen X or Y steakhouse. It is the steakhouse of the future, or so its daddies hope.
In a nutshell, the idea of creators Michael Morton (of the famous Morton’s of Chicago family) and Scott DeGraff is to add some glitz and a youthful bar scene to the stodgy steakhouse concept and to rejuve its predictable surf-and-turf menu. Thus, in addition to New York strip, you can order sashimi; besides creamed spinach you can get gnocchi. Judging by early crowds, the concept seems to be on the money.
Since I am a member of the dyspeptic group that usually gripes about the noise and light level at places like this, I was a little dubious. But I was curious. And perhaps because my friend and I had an early reservation and we could actually hear each other talk, the evening started on a high note. The show began with the lightest, best-fried little rock shrimp I’ve ever had. They arrived piled in a popcorn box—cute presentation—with a cool lemon aïoli and a red-hot sriracha alongside. Next came a Garbage Salad—disgusting name—which turned out to be a pleasant if routine toss of romaine, matchsticks of salami, butterflied shrimp, and crumbles of blue cheese along with chopped vegetables and a good but oddly ranch-y Dijon vinaigrette.
For the pièce de résistance, we got serious with chef Chris Conlon’s 24-ounce, $45 bone-in ribeye, which was tender, perfectly cooked, and oozing with fat—in other words, heaven. For our other entrée, we decided to have fun with the $25 Kobe burger, which turned out to be overcooked, ill conceived, and devilishly disappointing. Why would anyone take the most exquisite meat on the planet and swamp it with sides of applewood-smoked bacon, aged cheddar, and overwhelming blue-cheese slaw? You might as well use ground chuck.
The rest of the visit was a total roller coaster. The high point was the sashimi platter of pristine tuna, salmon, and hamachi in a citrusy ponzu sauce. The low point was the s’mores. Yes, the tabletop hibachi was a kick, but we were amazed and astounded by a $9 tab for store-bought marshmallows and graham crackers and desiccated squiggles of chocolate ganache.
What’s the bottom line here? Depends on your priorities. Do you want to hobnob with the high rollers and watch the silvery domed ceiling over the caviar bar turn from blue to orange? Does it bother you that your high-priced feed may range from the sublime to the ridiculous? No? Then go for it. You’ll have a blast. But if you’re fussy about your food and protective of your pocketbook, you may not be ready for the steakhouse of the future.