Dallas has seen quite a few big new restaurant openings over the last few months, including Americano at downtown’s Joule Hotel. A replacement for the defunct steakhouse Charlie Palmer, Americano, despite what the name might initially convey, is actually a casual Italian restaurant. For all of the fantastic cuisine available in the Metroplex these days, good Italian food remains in short supply, so I was eager to try the place out. A business lunch not long after the restaurant opened in October provided the perfect excuse.
Americano at the Joule Hotel
- 1530 Main Street, Dallas, TX
- Hours: Monday-Thursday 11 am-11 pm; Friday & Saturday 11 am-midnight; Sunday 11 am-10 pm
- Price: $15-30 per person (lunch), no alcohol
Directions: on Main Street between Ervay and Akard. If coming from outside of downtown, the easiest approach is to come via IH-30, take the exit for IH-45 north, then take the exit for Main Street on the left-hand side. Restaurant will be on the left. Valet parking is available at the Joule, or you can park at the Neiman Marcus garage across the street. If using the DART Light Rail, take any line to St. Paul Station, walk south on Ervay, then right on Main (hint: if you don’t like driving downtown, park for free at Mockingbird Station across the freeway from the SMU campus and take the train from there, a 7-minute ride to St. Paul; fare is $5 for a day pass).
If you’re wondering how the name “Americano” became attached to an Italian restaurant, it is in fact the name of a cocktail that was invented in Italy in the 1860s, originally called the “Milano-Torino” but later changed to “Americano” supposedly because of its popularity among American tourists. It was also James Bond’s drink of choice at the beginning of Casino Royale. As for the restaurant itself, it is designed to mimic “the sweet life” as portrayed in the early 1960s film La Dolce Vita. The early 60’s mood is definitely on display with the decor, while I’ll cover a bit later. I’ll start with the food, though. Appetizers today were the “Wedding Soup” and the housemade meatballs. My lunchmates also ordered the marinated olives.
The olives were forgettable. Seasoned with fennel pollen, the chef went too heavy on the fennel, making the dish far too astringent. The other two items, though, were terrific. The soup consists of white beans, escarole, mini-meatballs, mixed vegetables, and a hint of cheese, and it is DELICIOUS. The beans are tender and creamy, and the meatballs give the vegetable base a delightful heartiness. It was a cold November day when I visited, and this might be the perfect cold weather dish. The big meatball was also excellent. It was like a meatball sub sans bread. The meatball itself was tender and hearty, with a nice fatty flavor, while the tomato sauce provided a nice acidic change-of-pace, while also keeping the meatball moist.
For the main course, I went with the porchetta panini with provolone, arugula, and salsa verde, served with shoestring fries.
This wasn’t as successful. For starters, I didn’t really get the arugula, which seemed to get lost in the salsa verde. Ultimately, the salsa was the downfall of this sandwich. It tasted more like pesto than salsa verde; I don’t like pesto to begin with, but it really didn’t mesh with the roast pork at all. The naturally salty pork clashed with the bitter notes of the salsa, resulting in a flavor profile that just wasn’t all that pleasant. It was nicely toasted at least, showing a nice crispy/crunchiness without being too heavy or greasy.
Now, back to the 60’s theme of the restaurant. It’s definitely got an Austin Powers feel to it, with the liberal use of lime green and square furniture.
And apparently this sign is trying to tell me that I’m imagining things, though I’m not sure exactly what that might be…
You’ll also notice the very open layout, which does have a significant drawback – this joint is LOUD. It was actually a little difficult to carry on a conversation with my lunchmates because of how loud it was. Keep that in mind if you’re wanting a peaceful lunch or dinner or need to get business done.
Service was very good. Despite a full house, the hostess seated us promptly, and recognized one of my lunchmates as a regular at her former restaurant. Our friendly waitress welcomed us, took our orders promptly, and was happy to recommend a few items for our group of first-time visitors. She also cheerfully accommodated our request to split two soups three ways.
Rating: based solely on this visit, 3 1/2 stars due to the disappointing panini, but I’m looking forward to returning to try something else on the menu. A welcome addition to the downtown dining scene.