It's been so long since I've lived in Fort Worth that I forgot what a mad-house Joe T. Garcia's is on a Saturday night. The line snaked from well outside the building through to the inner patio into a raucous sea of customers. A word to the hostess that we were there for Lanny's Alta Cocina Mexicana, and we were led past the noise, mob, and Tex-Mex, ending up in a cozy room near the back of the patio where chef Lanny Lancarte II (4th generation from Joe T., CIA graduate, Bayless alumnus) does his work. There we met some others who had also converged in Cowtown with high hopes for the seven-course Nouvelle Mexican degustation menu Lanny had planned for us. On to the food...
The evening's opener was an elegantly presented lobster and crab "napoleon." The bottom layer consisted of lobster ceviche with lime, mint, and coconut milk. Above it lay a thin layer of guacamole. The top layer was a tangle of peeky-toe crab, dressed with caviar. All of this rested on thinly sliced rings of cucumber, garnished with a zucchini blossom. Some of these crustacean layer cakes were triangular, while others were pear shaped (depicted below). Regardless of shape, this was a delicious course. The dominant sweetness of the meats (and coconut milk) was accented nicely by the acid lime and refreshing mint.
Next up was a huitlacoche crepe plated with a smooth tomatillo sauce and roasted corn. The crepe, tied shut with a scallion, was stuffed with huitlacoche, along with a touch of epazote and some meltable cheese (Oaxaca maybe?). The tomatillo's tanginess was softened by a touch of cream, making for a mellower contrast to the crepe's earthiness. A solid preparation of a Mexican fine dining classic.
The third course--probably my favorite of the night--consisted of skate wing sauteed in a chipotle beurre noisette, topped with fried capers, served over a cassoulet of cannellini beans. Lanny knocked this one out of the park, maintaining a perfect balance between the flavor elements in the dish.
This was a shiitake and nopalito risotto, served with roasted duck breast, garnished with a parmesan tuile. Though it was probably the least Mexican-influenced course of the evening, the sweet duck morsels and able risotto made this very popular at the table.
The concluding entree was prime beef tenderloin carne asada with a mild guajillo demi and chanterelles, served with a banana-leaf-wrapped tamal, and baby haricot vert. The beef was very good, but I loved the tamal (filled with queso fresco and roasted poblano rajas) both alone and with the sauce. Another winner.
Dessert was a warm chocolate cake, garnished with a pineapple gooseberry, whipped cream, and a tuile, plated with a thin Kahlua anglaise and raspberry sauce. A simple-sounding course, but it was so well executed that even the lone chocophobe at the table (who will remain nameless) fell for it.
Earlier in the evening, some of us had been reminiscing about El Moro, Mexico City's legendary churreria. This course couldn't have come at a better time. The churritos, warm, fluffy, and lightly cinnamon-sugared, were as perfect an example of that dessert as I've ever seen. The thin, but delicious, goat's milk cajeta had an unexpected dimension that we puzzled over for several minutes before Lanny came to the table to help us out. (It was brandy.) The cajeta was so enjoyable that, when some still remained after dipping the churros, I had to throw back the leftovers as a shot. Good stuff.
Service was polite and attentive throughout the evening. There were no unreasonable delays as we moved through the menu. And Lanny emerged from the kitchen shortly after the arrival of each course to explain and field questions.
Lanny Lancarte is the real deal. And, if this meal is indicative of what he's doing every night, Lanny's Alta Cocina Mexicana should be regarded as a destination restaurant. I will go back for more.