Just returned from Dallas, and I must say I'm glad we didn't eat at the Tasting Room at Lola on our first night, because we probably would have eaten there on all our subsequent nights as well. Which would have been a very fine thing, but not the range of experience I needed.
Our first dinner was at the Mansion on Turtle Creek. I'm sure I don't need to tell folks here about the gorgeous space or impeccable service -- some of the best service I've ever had, actually. I thought this place might be stuffy, but the servers seemed to take their cues from us, kidding around with us, telling us about the kitchen setup, bringing us the basketball score at halftime (sorry about the Mavericks, BTW -- y'all had a great run). If we had wanted more formal service, I'm sure we would have received it. Also, it was my birthday, and I was presented with a card signed by the maitre d' and assistant maitre d', which I thought was a nice touch.
The food was fine, though I can't say it impressed me like the service did. I had the 4-course tasting menu. My first course was an ahi tuna carpaccio with black truffle emulsion, a goat cheese salad, and a pasta tuile. The tuna was nice but the tuile was stale. Second course was the ubiquitous (in New Orleans too) and IMO overrated Copper River salmon with butternut squash gnocchi, cinnamon cap mushrooms, and a smoked shrimp cornbread pudding. The pudding was particularly tasty. Third course was a roasted pheasant breast with redeye peach sauce on a delicate corn hotcake topped with a saute of pheasant pastrami, broccolini, and sweet potatoes. This was my favorite overall course and I wished I had more room for it. I finished up with creme brulee. For tasting portions, the dishes were very generously sized and full of premium ingredients. I can't say I was disappointed with the Mansion, just not as overcome with pleasure as one feels one should be when dining at a legendary restaurant. My companion started with an orange-caramelized scallop and seared foie gras on a pheasant confit crepe with red currant sauce, then had a very toothsome buffalo filet on posole with a smoked crawfish enchilada and fried squash blossom. I think the buffalo was the overall favorite dish at the table. I don't recall his dessert.
Our second dinner was to be at the Green Room, but they decided at the last minute not to open on Memorial Day, so we substituted Nana and didn't regret the change at all. It's a comfortable space with a wonderful view of your gorgeous skyline (I love the Superdome, but overall our N.O. skyline falls somewhat short of spectacular). Good service and nice, nice food, not too adventurous, but that's not what they are going for. I had a foie gras appetizer with roasted grapes and citrus caramel sauce that was delicious, an asparagus soup that was a little dull, and a bone-in ribeye that had been dry-aged 45 days. When that steak arrived, I wished I had ordered nothing else. It blew away every other piece of beef I've ever tasted, even Wagyu. I wanted to pick it up and gnaw on it, growling at anyone who dared approach me. In fact, I may have done just that; the details are hazy. Companion had the popular fried lobster appetizer, which did not impress him at all; a leek. potato, and artichoke tart with quince paste and cured foie gras shavings, which he liked pretty well; and the Copper River salmon with purple hull beans, serrano ham, chanterelles, and wild asparagus, which he enjoyed very much despite my assertion that if I saw another piece of Copper River salmon, I would throw it back to the Copper River. He is a chef and likes to support non-farmed salmon.
A touch we particularly liked at Nana was the pink coral sea salt on the table. It was delicious sprinkled on their selection of LaBrea Bakery bread. I was too taken with my ribeye to order dessert, and I cannot remember what Companion had, though I think there was Valrhona chocolate involved.
Our third, and only really disappointing, meal was at Abacus. We both ordered the tasting menu, and mentioned to our waiter that we'd noticed some of our previous tasting menus tended to feature the more accessible, "safe" dishes; could the chef possibly go a little wild for us? The waiter said he (sous chef Tre Wilcox was in charge of the kitchen that night) would be happy to, but what arrived at our table was a predictable array of scallops, shrimp, Copper River Goddamn Salmon, venison, and grilled beef with mashed potatoes. A palate-cleansing sorbet was counted as one of our nine courses, which I found seriously chintzy. There were some very nice touches -- an addictive Indian-spiced lavash in the bread basket, a selection of Cowgirl Creamery cheeses we hadn't seen elsewhere -- but overall we felt that we had given the kitchen a license to show off its best work and instead had received a fairly pedestrian meal, not at all bad, but nowhere near as exciting as this restaurant's reputation would seem to suggest. Perhaps we were presumptuous. The service was good, if a little rushed (the dining room wasn't full, but seemed a bit understaffed).
Our final dinner was at the Tasting Room at Lola. Ah, Lola. Ah, Chef David Uygur. Ah, ah, ah, why am I not there this minute? Why did I ever leave?
Lola has apparently been open for about three years, but nine weeks ago the owner opened the Tasting Room, a "restaurant within a restaurant" with its own separate kitchen, to showcase the considerable talents of former sous chef David Uygur. This was a brave and fine decision, as Uygur is a 29-year-old culinary genius who deserves whatever he wants, including my left kidney on a plate if he should happen to ask. When he visited our table at the end of the meal, I believe I may have told him I loved him ... but I'm getting ahead of myself.
The Tasting Room does one seating per table per night, serving between 14-16 small courses for $65 (with wine pairings for an additional $25). The complete menu may be seen on their website, but the particular highlights of our meal were a perfect Winterpoint oyster with a champagne-horseradish mignonette; a tartare of Scottish salmon and sevruga caviar with sorrel and Meyer lemon dressing; a butter-poached turbot with potato and oyster gratin; a tangy, rich sauteed skate wing with fondant turnip, sea beans, and beurre noisette; a milk-braised veal cheek with polenta and broccoli puree; and a buttermilk panna cotta with tender-crisp thin-sliced rhubarb. Uygur has a masterful ability to balance textures and flavors: soft and crisp, sour and creamy, oily and astringent. I hesitate to rave further for fear of being thought a Lola shill, but I'm not; this board was the first I've heard of the place, and I wish to confer a thousand blessings on the person who recommended it. It was probably as close to perfection as any meal I've ever had. The service was exemplary too, but I think that food could have been served by evil clowns on unicycles and I would scarcely have noticed or minded.
For lunch we visited cheap local/ethnic places: La Hechezeria on Maple, Dallul Ethiopian (though the sign says Italian) on Inwood, Sonny Bryan's on Inwood. All very good. We also greatly enjoyed our visit to Ifs, Ands, & Butts, a shop in Oak Cliff that carries seemingly hundreds of varieties of soda pop from all over the world (with an emphasis on original-recipe Dr. Pepper and specialty root beers and cream sodas). Lots of fun. Overall one of the best trips I've had in quite a while, and I look forward to returning.