A ‘Jewel Box’ Hideaway in Fort Worth


by Courtney E. Smith Apr 16, 2024, 8:00am CDT

Preston Paine stepped into large shoes when he agreed to take over the kitchens at the Crescent Hotel in Fort Worth. The job was initially given to Dean Fearing. Fans of Fearing’s kitchens will recognize the layout as having his touch — lots of chrome accents, an open kitchen with a minimalistic vibe that gives diners an X-ray view in, and a beige palette that gives timeless quiet luxury.

Paine, previously the chef at one of Dallas’s most Instagrammed restaurants, Paradiso, in the popular Bishop Arts district, describes Blue Room as “a jewel box” inside the hotel’s restaurant, Emilia’s. In fact, diners have to go through the Circle Bar, into Emilia’s, and only if they notice the sliding doors to the left will they find themselves guided into the Blue Room. It’s not a speakeasy, although it has that hidden mentality to it — something Fort Worth has loved going back to its cattle trail days.

The idea of the Blue Room is that it is a more bespoke, limited, and longer dining experience than the average. The menu is short, focused on coastal Mediterranean fare, and features rotating daily specials based on availability. The idea, Paine says, is to serve the highest quality ingredients and food slowly with tableside presentations for the Dover sole and roasted rack of lamb for two. “We wanted to slow things down and get back to dinners that are based on the experience around it, the service, and the people you share the table with,” Paine says. “A lot of diners have gotten away from the reason they came to the restaurant. We want to give people an old-school dining experience.”

The room seats 48 people, and dinners run, on average, around two hours or longer served in a multi-course meal. Paine says that is about all the staff can handle during this detail-oriented service. In the kitchen, Paine’s method is what he terms “low-intervention” cooking in which classic techniques are employed and food isn’t gussied up — the scallop special may have a special set-up where they are shucked to order for service, but it’ll be recognizable as scallops on the plate. Paine explains that the only cooking was warming the scallop shell on a wood-fired grill, a meek cook to warm the scallop through in grape seed oil, and placed it in the other half of its shell to serve with a Japanese citrus oil, beurre blanc, and compressed green apple in yuzu vinegar, verjus, and tarragon. Food that is simple, but not home cook-simple.

“We wanted to do a dish that, when you break it down, is really just a few ingredients: apple, tarragon, scallops, and butter,” Paine says. “We let the beautiful live Boston scallop shine through. We want to do things that are elevated and closely associated to fine dining but still welcoming. This space isn’t unattainable.”

It’s not exactly the kind of fine dining Fort Worth is used to, and yet it is. As heavy as the menu is on seafood, there are also cuts of wagyu from West Texas and venison — a menu isn’t a menu without wild game in Cowtown. There’s the classic and way over-the-top seafood tower or caviar service and enhancements including caviar, black truffles, and uni. And lobster pasta — in this case, lobster fra diavolo, loaded with spicy Calabrian chili.

The collaborative dinners are a key part of introducing Fort Worth to this kind of restaurant, Paine says. In March, the Blue Room did one with Oklahoma City restaurant Nonesuch, an artistic, tasting menu restaurant with a mneu inspired by its home state that seats 22. “There are a lot of ideals we share with Nonesuch,” Paine says. “They care about where and who they’re getting their products from, they don’t have a set menu, and they’re a talented group of people.”

And that will be followed by chef Dean Fearing and his crew, who will swoop in to give the Blue Room a look into the elegance of Southwestern cuisine for a collaborative dinner on Tuesday, April 30. Paine notes there is a ton of history and tradition to the city that he and his staff want to honor, and the Blue Room is conscious of the wealthy, traveled denizens who’ve seen and eaten it all. “When chef Graham Elliot came out here and opened Le Margot, classical French dining wasn’t something you could find here. Having people like that start to call Fort Worth home and push the envelope of what’s expected here is super encouraging,” Paine says.