Lola’s website certainly does not comport with the level of the food being served at the restaurant. Neither does its service – at least, not in the Tasting Room where I recently had dinner with a good friend. But neither website nor service really stood in the way of our wonderful experience at this unassuming culinary gem in Dallas, Texas.
The restaurant is located in a house somewhat awkwardly situated in a “mixed use” (as my friend insists on calling it) part of the city. But, the house is set back from the road, with only a painted and lit wooden sign flagging the restaurant’s location. The first floor of the structure is composed of a few rooms, all of which seem quite cozy. The grounds, from what I remember, were well-kempt, although it was allowed a wilder existence than a manicured one.
Lola’s Tasting Room is, literally, a room set apart from the main dining area inside the once-residential space (at least, I’m fairly certain that the structure must have been a family home at some point). It serves a unique, $79 prix fixe-only menu, which is set nightly and features 10 courses separated into four sections with a possible foie gras supplement for $10. The $32 wine pairing featured one (generous) pour for each section of the menu. I had been encouraged to order a plate of their house-cured meats, so I asked for one to be supplemented into our meal. With all these bells and whistles, dinner, per person, summed up to about $130 before tax and tip. It was an incredible steal.
To say that the Tasting Room is the upper deck of Lola’s two dining formats is not quite accurate. The regular dining room is no steerage. The food on the dining room’s smaller prix fixe (3, 4, or 5 courses) menu, from what I could tell by both seeing the menu and from stealing glances as I walked through the dining room, seemed every bit as sophisticated and special as the food in the Tasting Room.
The difference isn’t in the formality either – the dining room isn’t the more casual Frontera Grill to the Tasting Room’s Topolobompo. If anything, the people dining in the regular dining rooms seemed more suited and dressed up than the few diners in the Tasting Room.
Here is the menu from my dinner. You can click on each course for a photo, or click here to see the entire Lola’s Tasting Room set.
Lola’s House-Cured Meats
Champagne mignonette and fines herbes
Texas tomatoes and white soy granita
Crème fraîche, salmon belly, dill
Wild Sockeye Salmon
Brandade-stuffed piquillo pepper, olive
Blackberry Acid Float
Vanilla ice cream
Braised fennel and house-cured ham
Bing cherries, polenta and hen of the woods mushrooms
Creamer beans and Colorado sweet yellow corn succotash
Duo of Hudson Valley Foie Gras
Texas figs and brioche
Assortment of Cheeses
Crackers and onion-mustard chutney, and pistachios
Buttermilk Panna Cotta
Blueberries and tuile
Despite my fondness for Chef David Uygur’s food, I can’t say everything was perfect. The Risotto was slightly undercooked, with bits of gritty half-cooked rice, and the Texas Quail course struck me as greasy and heavy, especially for summer.
But overall, the food was much more sophisticated than I had expected – even that risotto, which, though undercooked, was intensely savory, helped along by the thin slice of house-cured ham and the shaving of Pecorino Romano cheese. The accompanying wedge of braised fennel was, perhaps, my favorite part of this dish – it was silky and slightly perfumed with sweet anise.
That quail wasn’t bad either. There was probably a good half of a bird in the dish, and there was more meat on the tiny frame than most quail I’ve encountered. I would have enjoyed the Bing cherries and meaty fans of hen of the woods mushroom more if they hadn’t been slicked with a greasy, slightly sweet (from the cherries) and syrupy sauce that made the underlying bed of silky polenta seem even more wet and mushy. Due to its heaviness, I also would have enjoyed this dish more in the autumn or winter time.
Whether creamer beans with sweet Colorado yellow corn (together, in succotash form served with a beautifully-seared loin of lamb) or cherries with hen of the woods, the accompaniments were seasonal. There were also ripe summer tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, and fresh fruit, like blackberries and plump, fat figs. By comparison, the proteins seemed slightly out of season (quail, lamb, and salmon).
Despite Chef Ugyur’s Turkish background, I don’t think Lola’s cuisine belongs in any one ethnic pocket. The one common thread was the use of seasonal produce and artisanal products. The menu, both our tasting menu and the restaurant’s regular dining room prix fixe menu, seems to draw upon flavors and techniques from all over the world.
From France, a plump Maine Oyster, gleaming with mignonette and fines herbes.
From Scandinavia, Cucumber Soup. Velvety and clean, the chilled soup was an excellent summer treat. The shallow pastel-green pool surrounded a quenelle of chopped salmon belly mixed with crème fraîche, diced cucumbers, and chopped dill. Having always had a secret love affair with dill – especially when coupled with raw fish and tangy dairy – I gravitated toward this familiar combination of flavors.
The enjoyment was heightened by the wine pairing, which, for this course, was the most successful of all of the evening’s very strong matches.
What was truly amazing about the wine pairings was that each pour paired very well with every one of the two or three courses in its set of dishes.
That same Pra Soave Classico 2006 that paired so well with the Cucumber Soup, also worked wonderfully with the subsequent course which featured a filet of Wild Sockeye Salmon – a rich shade of dark orange – with crisp skin and a barely cooked interior. The dish was painted Spanish with a roasted piquillo pepper stuffed with warm, creamy brandade that threatened to upstage the perfectly cooked and well-seasoned fish. Both it and the fish were particularly memorable.
With the Scallop Crudo, a world of flavors and techniques found their way onto one plate. It had the form and figure of a light summer Italian dish – raw slices of sea scallops topped with a colorful mix of summer tomatoes – with all the sensibilities of an Asian palate. Laced throughout were pockets of white soy granité: think clear, soy sauce-flavored shaved ice; a cool and creative stand-in for sea salt.
My favorite dish of the evening was actually not on the tasting menu. In fact, it’s not one you’ll normally get in the Tasting Room. Clued in by some local specialists, I asked for Lola’s House-cured Meats, offered on the dining room prix fixe menu to be supplemented to our tasting. It was phenomenal.
I heard it before I saw it. When it arrived, five different thinly sliced salumi, fanned out around the edges of a large, round platter, ringed in gossamer-thin strips of lardo sweating on hot, toasted bread *and* a puffy, undulating pork rind fresh out of the deep-fryer. Sizzling, the chicharrone *snapped,* *crackled* and *popped* for a good ten minutes while my friend and I sampled our way around the perimeter.
Lola’s salumi is very good. Everything, from spicy coppa to the slightly sweet wild boar sausage, was distinct. Textures and the consistency of the meats were spot-on, as were flavors. The melting lardo was probably the highlight, along with the ultra-crisp pork rind. This selection just added one more layer of padding to Ugyur’s substantial repertoire.
Whether you like it seared or cured, Lola’s foie gras won’t disappoint. My friend likes it hot. I like it cured. Together, we opted for and split an order of the Duo of Hudson Valley Foie Gras as a supplement. Separated by a tuft of arugula and two halves of a fresh fig, the two presentations were great, although I would say I actually preferred the hot preparation better. The seared portion was perfectly cooked – almost charred on the outside – with a molten but not overly greasy center. It came on a bed of figs that had been stewed in some sort of red wine. The combination was outstanding.
The cold cut of foie gras, sandwiched between two crispy brioche crackers, was a more rustic country pâté in consistency than the more light and airy mousse versions. The pâté was alright, but nothing special and the two crackers tasted stale.
And those weren’t the only crackers that were stale that night. Apparently, crackers were just as aged as the cheeses that came out on the Assortment of Cheeses. The puffy wafers (I think there was cheese in and on them) served with the cheeses tasted, as my friend put it, “like old person.” She was absolutely right.
The crackers aside, the cheeses, including St. Francis (an aged white Cheddar) by Bittersweet Plantation Dairy (I’ve had both their Feliciana Nevat at bluestem in Kansas City and their Fleur-de-Lis at per se) in Gonzales, Louisiana and the tried-and-true Fourme d’Ambert from France, provided an interesting triptych of flavors.
The two sweet courses were restrained and well-placed. There were no cheap shot dazzlers like soufflés or predictable chocolate cakes with gushy cores. A bracingly tart and bright “Blackberry Acid Float” with the smallest dollop of creamy vanilla ice cream figured as a refreshing mid-meal break. A tangy Buttermilk Panna Cotta, more rich and creamy than light and bouncy, ended the meal gracefully with a topping of sweet macerated blueberries.
Other than the food, there aren’t many frills to match the thrills. The interior is cozy, but not otherwise extraordinary; I’d call it homey before I’d call it fancy. Actually, I’d never call it fancy; it’s not the first place I’d think of for a business dinner, but I would for an intimate special occasion celebration. There are no table-side performances (at least not during our meal, which included soups and other plates that might be prime candidates for table-side finishing). And the staff, from my observation of at least three servers in the Tasting Room, isn’t in the mood to pamper or coddle.
Although our server was extremely helpful and knowledgeable, he lacked the sort of restraint and comportment that one would expect from the staff in a finer-dining arena. He was a hyper-kinetic gyroscope, whirling through the narrow Tasting Room portion of the restaurant like the Tasmanian Devil beating a warpath. I came to refer to him as our “A.D.D. waiter.” He was loud, too, often shouting things into the kitchen from the dining room.
But, I cannot fault him for his enthusiasm; the food he was serving was truly exciting.
Lola, The Tasting Room
Executive Chef David Uygur
Dallas, Texas 75201