Experiencing the Blue Room at Emilia’s



At one point, four servers encircled our table of two. At other restaurants, I joked with my dining companion, it’s sometimes hard to get just one server’s attention.

One came forth to brush away the crumbs my wife-slash-dining-sidekick had left behind from her appetizer of wagyu beef tartare, scarfed so quickly I barely got a bite in. Another refilled her glass of sparkling water, while a third reached to refill my still water.

This culinary ballet unfolded as a fourth server made suggestions for dinner entrees, speaking with all the knowledge and expertise of the restaurant’s chef, who, yes, would also make an appearance at our table. Did I mention a sommelier and manager swung by, too?

By the time we left, two hours later, the staff knew our names, and if my memory wasn’t so bad, I would know theirs, too. This was a level of service seldom seen in Fort Worth.

And so went our first experience at The Blue Room, the new restaurant-within-a-restaurant at Emilia’s, the in-house restaurant at the Crescent Hotel in the Cultural District. Opened last fall, Emilia’s, on its own, is impressive enough, with its spectacularly grand dining room and Mediterranean-inspired, from-scratch menu designed by executive chef Preston Paine.

The Blue Room, which arrived in February, operates under the same roof as Emilia’s but offers a more elevated — and highly personal — experience. Separated from its mothership restaurant by a pair of frosted glass doors, the room is considerably more intimate than Emilia’s, with seating for about 50. Its riveting, American-inspired menu, too, is separate from Emilia’s, made up of small plates, entrees, and luxurious desserts hand-picked by Paine exclusively for Blue Room diners. A small army of servers cordially dote and chat and deliver a honeymoon suite-level of service.

“When we first started working on the concept, we knew we wanted The Blue Room to be this jewel box inside Emilia’s,” Paine says. “There was a lot of back and forth and conversations about what that would look like. What we ended up going with is not only unique to the Crescent but unique to Fort Worth.”

The dining room is striking: White tablecloths and high windows imbue a sense of grandeur and elegance, while fresh flowers and dimly lit lamps, resting on each table, emphasize the room’s intimacy. As the name implies, there’s a lot of blue: Snug booths are bathed in a light sky blue, an appealing contrast to the plush, midnight blue wall coverings. Overhead is the room’s centerpiece: a large, custom-made chandelier whose arrow-shaped bulbs were inspired by the rare Mediterranean willow tree.

For all of its visual razzmatazz, The Blue Room is both approachable and affordable. We wore khakis and button-downs and sat across from people donning jeans and cowboy hats. Prices are on par with Fort Worth’s upper echelon restaurants, with most entrees hovering in the $30-$50 range.

During our visit, those entrees included venison filet, served upon a pool of blueberry compote, with a side of creamed kale; farro risotto with fresh black truffle; seared scallops over a celery root puree; and, one of the dishes we tried, lobster fra diavolo, an excellent bucatini pasta punctuated with fresh Maine lobster.

For those with deeper pockets, there were big-ticket items, including traditional caviar service; a mammoth shellfish tower; dover sole for two, deboned tableside by a server; and roasted rack of lamb, also made for two and also carved tableside.

Appetizers included the aforementioned wagyu beef tartare, tuna carpaccio, and a small collection of imaginative and thoughtful salads. Hors d’oeuvres were bite-size thrills: a lardo-dipped piece of toasted brioche topped with pineapple-jalapeno jam and rich sea urchin roe; a roasted squash tartlet crowned with caramelized peanuts and pickled mustard seed; an East Coast oyster tricked out with warm chowder and served on a bed of sea salt.

For drinks, there are specialty cocktails and select reserve wines and vintage champagnes, which are made, poured, and served before your eyes at a private bar open only to Blue Room guests.

Many of the flavors we experienced throughout our meal were new to our palates.

“I love to hear that,” Paine says. “That’s one of many things I want to bring to the table here. I want to introduce flavors to Fort Worth, flavors that may be unfamiliar or maybe they’re known on their own but combined with other elements, other ingredients, are new to our diners.”

Although a newcomer to Fort Worth’s restaurant community, Paine has been cooking most of his life, he says. The Dallas native embarked on his culinary journey after high school, moving to New Orleans to attend Tulane University, where he played football and graduated with a degree in business development with an emphasis on the restaurant industry.

After graduating, he returned to Dallas to work for a restaurant management firm. Paine says he grew restless and left the company to travel and cook in kitchens around the world. Much of the culinary inspiration that inhabits his food at Emilia’s and The Blue Room, he says, comes from the time he spent in Manhattan at Eleven Madison Park, a critically acclaimed restaurant honored with three Michelin stars.

Many local diners already knew Paine before Emilia’s arrival: He was one of the contestants on “Ciao House,” a competitive cooking show that aired last spring on the Food Network. When the show hit the airwaves, the Crescent took notice and eventually he was offered the executive chef role.

“It’s actually four jobs,” he says, laughing, reminding me that he’s in charge of four food-related concepts under — and on top of — one roof. In addition to Emilia’s and The Blue Room, he also oversees and creates the menu for The Circle Bar, the Crescent’s lobby bar, where diners can order anything off Emilia’s menu, plus bar bites that are exclusive to The Circle Bar. In addition, he’s curating a special menu of light bites for the Crescent’s forthcoming rooftop patio and bar.

“It’s a lot of work, since each space has a different vibe and different menu,” he says. “But having four concepts in the same space allows me to be so creative. That’s the most rewarding part of this — having someone say, `I’ve never had anything like this before.’ That’s the ultimate compliment any chef loves to hear.”

The Blue Room at Emilia’s, 3300 Camp Bowie Blvd., emiliasfortworth.com/blue-room