Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Doritos? No. ‘Amusements for the mouth’? Yes.
Lanny’s Alta Cocina
Chef’s Tasting $60
Friendly, Fancy Fusion

High Mexican-based cuisine and great service make Lanny’s Alta Cocina a go-to place.


Lanny’s Alta Cocina

3405 W 7th St, FW. 817-850-9996. Wed-Sun 5:30pm-10pm. All major credit cards accepted.

t most hoity-toity restaurants in town, the best approach is to smile and feign sophistication. When the server announces, “Here’s the amuse-bouche,” the unsure patron should proclaim loudly, “Ah, the amuse-bouche! My favorite part of the meal!” and hope that his bluff isn’t called. To ask the perfectly reasonable question, “What’s that?,” is to risk a scornful glare that says, “Philistine!”

Not at Lanny’s Alta Cocina, the newly opened and richly praised Cultural District destination. Lanny’s staff is extremely hospitable to questions concerning the details of both fine dining in general and the restaurant’s own peculiar but sensational Mexican fusion menu. When you consider the number of people who can afford to dine upscale occasionally but are too intimidated to try, places like Lanny’s should advertise their friendliness: Yes, we have servers who’ll gladly rush into the kitchen to quiz the chefs on certain ingredients and/or preparation techniques. The best part about Lanny’s: They’ll inform and educate you without making you feel like a member of the Clampett family in the process.

If the idea of a culinary safari sounds cool, then the five-course, $60-per-person “Chef’s Tasting” is the only way to go here. A carefully chosen mix of four petite entrée selections and a dessert, the sampler gives a nice overview of chef-owner Lanny Lancarte’s gustatory whims. (The menu changes weekly.)

All meals begin with the aforementioned amuse-bouche, a tiny portion of some taste-intensive dish that’s supposed to get your buds revved up. In French, the term means something like “amusement for the mouth.” (But we’re talking quality here — just because you think Doritos are fun does not make them amuse-bouche.) At this tasting, Lanny’s served a clump of lobster-shrimp ceviche in a white plastic spoon. Even the most advanced palate would have had a hard time distinguishing the sea fruits from each other — their flavors were both so mellow. The dish also lacked the citric jolt common to even the cheapest restaurant’s version.

Things picked up with a hill of braised veal cheeks in a milk chocolate-colored mole sauce, sprinkled with capers and topped with paper-thin folds of pickled Mexican cactus. If such a thing as a “meat dessert” is possible, this would be it. Rich, hearty, and as tender as a teen-ager’s broken heart, these cheeks that probably would have been overpowering in a large portion were heavenly in the form of a few bites.

Next came a salt cod salad with potato pellets and curvy strips of roasted red pepper. This would have made a kick-ass cold summer dish, with the chewy, briny chunks of white fish dominating every mouthful. The chef was no doubt afraid to drown it in dressing, but this hesitation left the salad a little on the dry side.

With few alterations, the fried butternut squash nuggets sprinkled with serrano ham bits and pieces of sassafras leaf could’ve come from a top soul-food kitchen. The squash had a thin crisp shell that exploded into hot, thick butternut eminence that was given a touch of root-beery sweetness by the sassafras.

The fish known as Tasmanian steelhead sounds as if it would attack child swimmers. But this wayyy-south-of-the-border delicacy tastes sort of like mild trout, and the small filet — moist and playfully pink inside — was complemented by a bed of zesty, onion-like, cooked endive leaves and succulent spears of fat, white asparagus.

Folks who genuinely like surprises but still want to be satisfied should make a beeline to the Alta Cocina. Obviously, Lancarte doesn’t offer the kind of food that his greatgrandfather, Joe T. Garcia, made world-famous. But the young’un also does more than just gussy up the tropes of Mexican cuisine — the kitchen re-conceptualizes them and elevates them to a startling and, some would say, strange new place. Just remember: If you’re unsure of anything, don’t be afraid to ask.

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