Eat & DrinkFeaturesShowcaseSlideshowSpotlight

Emilia’s off to hot start thanks to Chef Preston Paine’s Mediterranean-inspired menu

By David ArkinJanuary 22, 2024April 30th, 2024No Comments

Emilia’s off to hot start thanks to Chef Preston Paine’s Mediterranean-inspired menu

By June Naylor
Photography by Olaf Growald

As Preston Paine readies for a photo shoot at the white-hot new restaurant, Emilia’s, he finishes a quick email, closes his laptop and heads back into the kitchen to style a dish. “That was Bobby Flay asking if I want to do another Food Network show,” he explains. So what did he tell Chef Flay? “That’s a yes,” Paine confirms with a smile.

Such is the executive chef life at one of Fort Worth’s two new luxury hotels, the dazzlingly contemporary Crescent. Opened in November after several years of anticipation, it’s the first of the two new posh places — the other is Bowie House (see our story on Page 36) —  that bring long-awaited superior resort experiences to the Cultural District.

The trek 30 miles west from his native Dallas to Cowtown took a circuitous route through New Orleans, New York and Italy. Moving to Fort Worth three years ago during the pandemic shutdown proved an easy choice, as his wife Chandler’s family calls this home. “I always knew I’d rather live in Fort Worth than Dallas when I moved back to Texas after working in New York.”

His Big Apple work laid much of the groundwork for his brand of elevated cuisine found on the artfully designed plates he serves now. In Manhattan, he worked at Eleven Madison Park, one of the most honored restaurants on the planet and the holder of three coveted Michelin stars. Back in Dallas, he helmed a restaurant group called Exxir Hospitality (Paradiso and Mermaid are two of the company’s showplaces) when Food Network came calling. “Ciao House” was a cooking competition show that aired last spring and took Paine and other American chefs to Tuscany for four weeks to film. As it began airing last spring, Paine was contacted by the Crescent to see if he’d like to take a prestigious job in Fort Worth.

“The commute from Fort Worth to Dallas was pretty crazy, which I did for two years at five restaurants. But I told them I was happy and declined the interview,” Paine says, adding that he did some research afterward and found out who John and Cami Goff, the Fort Worth power couple behind the Crescent, are. “I said, ‘Uh-oh, I’ve made a huge mistake.” He quickly called back and said he wanted to talk.

“They didn’t even know I was already living in Fort Worth. The sequence of events leading to the job was pretty incredible … It was like a series of dominoes falling in just the right way. Their plans meshed perfectly with my style.” By early May, he was on the job.

As to what Emilia’s brings to the table, so to speak, Paine’s Mediterranean-influenced menu balances the beautiful (heirloom beet carpaccio with pumpkin seed brittle; Sicilian-style tuna, salmon, scallop crudo; and bone-in pork chop with green tahini) with rustic (cloudlike burrata with roasted tomato jam; handcrafted pasta like rigatoni with Bolognese made with dry-aged steak trims and baking spices).

Things not previously seen around here will include bycatch, a term used for lesser-known but delicious, sustainable fish — like tile and skate — that are swept up in nets used for fishing popular species like tuna and cod. Paine is also dry-aging duck, a delicacy he’ll feature in the Blue Room, a smaller space that shares a kitchen with Emilia’s, but offers a wholly different menu for “a more focused and technique-driven experience.”

The Circle Bar, accessed from the lobby and providing a view into Emilia’s, falls under Paine’s purview, too. Guests there can order anything from Emilia’s menu but are also served a special menu of snacks, including charcuterie, beef tartare and delightfully surprising olives, tasting of tangerine zest and dried Calabrian chiles. A rooftop bar set to open in the first quarter will offer cocktails, nibbles and spectacular views.

And while his menus continue to evolve with seasonal goods, Paine will continue to dabble in various food TV shows, all in development now. That his interest lies there is a no-brainer, as Paine’s path to cooking was inspired by no less than Emeril Lagasse, one of the network’s original stars.

As a boy of 10, Paine — a devotee to Lagasse’s cooking shows — asked for pots and pans from Emeril’s cookware line as a special gift. After graduating from high school in Dallas, he chose Tulane to be in Lagasse’s home city of New Orleans. He also knew that New Orleans would be the place to teach him about great dining. Playing for the university’s Green Wave football team (he was center and left guard), Paine earned his degree in business development, focusing on restaurant concepts. Though he loved football, it wasn’t enough to pursue professionally. His calling was cooking and creating places where people would celebrate the joy of food and breaking bread together — which is what he manifests today at Emilia’s.

“It sounds like a cliché, but I believe great food brings people together. No matter who you are, what politics you believe, what you do, food transcends boundaries,” Paine says, adding that the Goffs’ vision for offering Fort Worth such a distinctive experience inspires him each day he steps into the kitchen, “To be able to help them by bringing this along is very special to me.”

For their part, the Goffs share their chef’s sentiment. “Preston’s commitment and passion for creating culinary experiences that take you on a journey is truly incredible,” the Goffs said in a statement for 360West. “That he has put so much time and care into creating each dish and sourcing the best ingredients speaks to his expertise. We are confident that Emilia’s will become a community favorite and are excited to be on this journey together.”

What to drink: Paper Plane, blending Sazerac Rye, Amaro, Aperol and lemon in an antique crystal coupe

Addictive snack: Portobello and asparagus “fries” with confit garlic and lemon aioli

Fun brunch choice: Lemon ricotta pancakes with mint, maple syrup and lemon curd

Sweet finish: Croissant bread pudding with candied yam and black pepper ice cream

Top table: Ask for one facing the kitchen, where you can watch Paine and his team at work.