On the strength of Doc's review, I went to Lola's Tasting Room with "Nick" a few weeks ago. (See his twenty-volume collected impressions of Dallas food, including Lola, in the "In-depth Notes" supplement to his "5 Days in Dallas" post below.) I was as pleasantly surprised by my experience there as he was. Our waiter told us that evening that the menu would rotate rather extensively about every three weeks.
Three weeks later, I'm back in the Tasting Room. Rotation, indeed. Of the 16 courses I had last night, only three duplicated courses I had on my prior visit: 1) the butter poached turbot with potato/oyster gratin and asparagus veloute, 2) the milk-braised veal cheek with broccoli/anchovie/roasted garlic quenelle and polenta cake, and 3) the salted chocolate fondant with crushed almonds and caramel. Since each of those dishes was excellent on both visits, the repetition didn't trouble me. If I were to see them on the menu in another three weeks, it might be a different story. (The last thing I'd want is for Lola's tasting menu to become as tiresomely repetitious as Abacus's. The tasting menu at Abacus used to be good. But it's sort of like complimenting your lover on a fantastic night in the sack, only to find him/her seeking that same compliment every other night by punctiliously doing the same things. [Yawn.])
So, on to the new.... Some elements of prior dishes were presented in interesting new arrangments. The oyster on the half shell, for instance, was spruced up with a cool cucumber granita and small heap of Sevruga. The poached skate was dressed with perfectly al dente zucchini strips and slightly lemony sauce gribiche (boiled eggs, capers, shallots, parsley, et al., minced to a coarse pesto-like consistency). The roasted lamb loin was plated with a "salad" consisting of macerated quartered figs and fresh mint. The sauteed foie gras was given a thin gingersnap crumb crust and a side of cider-stewed dates.
Then other courses were entirely new. Sauteed glass eels with Spanish paprika and roasted garlic sauce (olive oil based), for example. The generous tangle of elvers was perfectly complimented by the sweet, warm, slightly smoky sauce. One of the better courses of either visit. (I had to wave the waiter off when he came to retrieve my eel-less plate, to which he gave a knowing nod when he saw me reaching for the bread as sop for the remaining sauce.) Another stellar course was the vol-au-vent of sweetbreads--a puff pastry pillow stuffed with a melange of sweetbreads, mushrooms (morels, chanterelles, and possibly others), a sauteed mirepoix, and other unidentified bits of goodness. The dish combined flavors (salty, earthy, sweet, buttery) and textures (firmness, flakiness, softness) fantastically, all in a clever and appealling presentation (sort of a pancreatic pot pie, if you will). While the new dessert--a peach trifle built in a champagne flute--wasn't as tasty as the recent peppered panna cotta with rhubarb, it was an attractive dessert, placing a heavy emphasis on exploration of textures, with multiple distinct layers of warm sauteed peach, custard, whipped cream, crumbled housemade biscotti, peach jelly, creme anglaise, lady fingers soaked in peach juice, etc. The dessert's only flaw--the spoon provided was too wide to extract every bit out of the flute's narrow base. (I almost asked for a straw.)
The courses, broken into trios, often followed an internal dynamic. Cool to warm and salty to sweet with the first set (oyster, eels, rich artichoke soup). Aromatic to buttery sweet to lemony tart in the second. Increasing sweetness/fruitiness in the fourth. Making each course delicious and well balanced standing alone is a challenge. But having the courses combine into a balanced progression...that's the Holy Grail. Over time, I expect we'll see even more improvement in that goal at the Tasting Room.
Service was prompt and unpretentious. Two waiters served the entire room (with 12 guests) and kept the plates spinning without fail. Lag between courses was a little longer than on my previous visit, but still very reasonable. From seating, through 16 courses (including one delicious off-menu course--bacalhau and potato puree on toasted pain au lait with halved teardrop tomatoes and diced green olives with a yellow tomato coulis) and mignardises (trios of jellies--raspberry, orange, and black plum), to the valet at the curb took right at two and a half hours.
How does this meal stack up to the last one I had there? I think it's a wash. While there are some courses from the prior meal that I think best much that was on this menu, the reverse can also be said--much that was new on the menu was better than most of what was on its predecessor. Both were exceptional meals. (Nick's comparison of his meal at Lola with meals at Charlie Trotter's, Inn at Little Washington, etc., seems appropriate. Chef David Uygur is doing 5-star work.)
I hope it lasts. Expect an update in three weeks.