Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, May 04, 2005
Heir Lanny: Joe T. Garcia’s great-grandson has the skill and charm to make his solo restaurant endeavor a hit. (Photo by Vishal Malhotra)
T-ing Off

A big player in Fort Worth’s most famous Tex-Mex eatery
is breaking free to launch his own restaurant.


Lanny Lancarte II is a little stressed right now. “I woke up at 3 a.m. the other night and started making a to-do list,” he said. “It was three pages long.” The 30-year-old chef is standing in his private dining room inside his family’s legendary Northside restaurant, Joe T. Garcia’s. For years, the fajita smoke of the main public dining room appeared to magically part as Lancarte’s buttoned-up guests made their way through the jeans-clad regulars and margarita-downing TCU students to the rear, where Lancarte’s oasis awaited. Pretty soon, however, the trip to taste Lancarte’s delicacies — such as poached Maine lobster and elk carne asada with mole poblano — won’t be as treacherous. Over the next few weeks, Lancarte will be closing his private dining room in Joe T.’s, to reopen it in new digs on West Seventh Street in the Cultural District. Lanny’s Alta Cocina Mexicana is scheduled to open in June. Of course, that’s if Lancarte makes it through his to-do list in time. “I’m excited, proud, terrified,” he said. “Pretty much all at the same time.”
At six-foot-two with dark hair and rock-star sideburns, Lancarte is exactly the sort of skilled, good-looking chef you could see chatting it up on PBS or gracing the cover of a glossy new cookbook. Sure enough, the foodie buzz factory is squarely in his corner. He’s already been featured on television and in Texas Monthly magazine, and in August he will travel to New York City as only the fourth Fort Worth chef ever to cook at the prestigious James Beard House. Lancarte seems destined for culinary celebrity, whether he likes it or not. “I’ve actually already had an offer to do a cookbook, which would be really enjoyable, but being [photographed] makes me a little nervous,” he said. The young chef also confesses to feeling a bit shy in large groups. Fortunately for him, the kitchen tends to be a more intimate place. And the kitchen is exactly where Lancarte has spent most of his life.
As the great-grandson of Jesusa and Joe T. Garcia, Lancarte spent his childhood roaming the family restaurant and helping his great-grandmother in the back kitchen. As he grew older, Lancarte filled whatever position was needed in the family business, working as everything from bus boy to server to cook. As a result, he learned the restaurant business from the ground up — experience that he would later put to invaluable use.
As an adult, Lancarte followed his interest in food by traveling throughout Mexico and the country’s Central Valley to experience and study authentic Mexican cooking. He spent time with renowned Mexican cookbook author Marilyn Tausend. After returning to the states, Lancarte headed to New York and enrolled in the toney Culinary Institute of America. He then studied with celebrated Mexican food guru Rick Bayless at both of his Chicago eateries, Topolobampo and Frontera Grill. Lancarte also spent time studying under Diane Kennedy, Patricia Quintana, and Ricardo Zurita Muñoz. “I was lucky,” Lancarte said. “I had a chance to really hone my skills under some of the best, and it gave me an even deeper passion for food and for my craft.”
Like so many good sons, Lancarte eventually made his way back home. He needed a space in which to combine what he had learned in his travels and training with his own culinary heritage. The goal was to create his own cuisine. Lancarte had something most starting chefs don’t — a major, well-known restaurant to work in. At Joe T.’s, Lancarte and his father added a small additional dining space and kitchen (complete with a Virgen de Guadalupe above the door), and the private dining room was born.
Lancarte begin shaping what he calls nouvelle Mexican cuisine, which is essentially classic international fare with a decidedly Mexican spin, such as duck breast with butternut mole and sautéed Chilean sea bass with three-beet escabeche. The chef began inviting guests, booking small parties, and building his menu from scratch. Within two years, some of Fort Worth’s biggest names were reserving tables at “Lanny’s Kitchen.” The “small” space soon became too small. When Lancarte realized it was taking too long for servers to carry hot food from his kitchen to the small dining room, he created a pass-through in one of the walls. Servers could then reach inside a discreet opening and magically extract plates of ornately styled cuisine directly from the kitchen.
Lancarte won’t need any pass-throughs in his new West Seventh Street space. The locale is plenty spacious, even though, Lancarte says, it will remain intimate, with just 65 seats. A lot of Joe T.’s workers wonder about competition. “Sometimes they kid me,” he said. “But my family is really proud and happy for me. Joe T.’s will always be an institution, so there’s no competition there.”

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