Belated Valentine’s Celebration at The Tasting Room at Lola

24 Feb

Valentine’s Day is a great excuse to go out for a romantic dinner, just not on actual Valentine’s Day when the restaurants are packed.  I can just picture it.  Me, sitting in a cushy chair, looking across the candlelit table at my better half, whose eyes are watering not from my thoughtful Hallmark card but at the outrageous bill presented to him after an evening of rushed service and mediocre food.  “The extra $50 is for the ‘complimentary’ rose, honey,” I would try to comfort him.

That’s why on actual Valentine’s Day, we stayed at home and exchanged simple presents: some dreadful looking tulips from Kroger for me (he admitted they were the last ones left at the store) and a giant peppercorn-garlic crusted steak (cooked by yours truly) for him.  We sat not at a dimly lit table but rather at a television-lit couch, screaming at yet another probability and reasoning challenged contestant on Deal or No Deal (seriously, how many million dollar cases does Howie have to put up on that board until someone wins a million bucks?!?!), all the while downing a bottle of Circle S Ibello.  By 10:00pm, we’d both passed out from a long work week and the emotionally exhausting Deal or No Deal episode.

As much as two twenty-somethings can appreciate reality TV-induced drama on this commercially hyped holiday, the Saturday following Valentine’s presented a better romantic dining opportunity, an evening at the Tasting Room at Lola.  The Tasting Room is an intimate space of eight tables, where patrons enjoy ten petite courses of the chef’s selection (menu varies, sample menu here) for $69 ($79 with foie gras supplement), and if they so desire, wine pairings for the courses for $32.  The progressive menu is perfect for those seeking an adventure for their tastebuds, and the quiet cottage setting of the restaurant (a welcomed relief from the hustle and bustle of Uptown) provides the ambiance for a romantic dinner.  And yes, the valet parking is complimentary.

Immediately upon seating, we were presented with glasses of water and Bisol Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Crede, an Italian sparkling wine to complement our first three courses, and, as it turned out, a fantastic pairing to the first course, Indian Point oyster with champagne mignonette and fine herbs.

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An oyster dish for a starter seems to be a signature move at the Tasting Room based on Dallas Morning News and DallasFood.org reviews and this visit.  The pristine and chilled oyster, though a seemingly daunting task for me, someone who has had less than favorable experiences with oysters in the past, impressed with its simple, clean flavors.  My concerned demeanor melted away with the sliding of the oyster down my throat, I was ready for more.

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Second course: Sauteed squid with arugula, blood orange, and salsa verde.  Though the salsa verde wasn’t pronouced in this dish, the bitter arugula contrasted against the citrusy sweet blood orange provided an excellent backdrop to the meaty squid.  The only improvement that I could suggest for this dish is a tad less olive oil to really emphasize the crisp and refreshing qualities of the arugula and blood orange.  Still, it was a flavor combination not to be soon forgotten, I think my next dinner party salad will have to include some combination of arugula and citrus.

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Third course: House-cured lonza with frisse and a pear/walnut vinaigrette.  Does Chef Uygur teach a salad course somewhere?  The combination of the bitter, peppery frisse with a sweet and nutty dressing was again ingenious.  House-cured Italian style lonza had a mildly spiced flavor, but couldn’t steal the show from the salad bed that it topped.

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Fourth course: Cauliflower soup with creme fraiche, capers, and raisins.  This soup dish was actually my favorite course of the evening.  Given that I have a rather eccentric love for cauliflower and soup, that’s not a surprising declaration.  But that’s not the only reason, there was something eerily familiar about the combination of the caper almond raisin sauce with the nutty cauliflower cream soup… something that tasted almost like a mild curry.  I investigated the similarity with each spoonful, but alas, the bowl was fast gone before I could put my finger on the culprit ingredient invoking this familiar feeling.  With this course, we were presented with the second wine pairing of the evening intended for the next three courses, Vina Godeval Godello 2006, a citrusy Spanish white.

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Fifth course: Scottish salmon with watercress, pistachio, and potato.  Though I enjoyed the texture of the crispy skin on the salmon, it was far too salty.  It’s a good thing this was a petite course, for a larger portion of the salmon would have rendered my tastebuds useless for the remainder of the evening.  The pistachio puree and the roasted potatoes helped balance the overpowering salmon skin, but still, I found myself reaching for the water glass for a little relief.

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Sixth course: Cape Cod granita, or as our waiter described it, “essentially an alcoholic snow cone.”  Just as fun as the adult beverage it’s named after, with bits of grated lime zest to add some extra zing.  If the tone of the food has been serious so far, this course certainly lightened up the mood, just two adults licking some alcoholic shaved ice from a paper cone and having some hands-on fun.  And it served as an excellent palate cleanser for the subsequent meat courses.

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Seventh course: Duck breast with mashed parsley root, garlic, and red wine jus served with a 2003 Fonseca Domini Douro from Portugal.  Tender slices of duck breast atop the best mashed item I’ve had all year.  If it wasn’t for the waiter’s claim that the mashed parsley root is a 6-hour cooking process, I would try to recreate this dish for Thanksgiving.  The classic flavors of the red wine sauce were lovely against the comforting bed of mash, but the duck, though tender, tasted as if the skin had been soaked in brine.  Again, too salty.

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Eighth course: lamb loin with lentils and Texas Arbequina olive tapinade.  The paired wine, made from the same grape as port, was perfect in bringing out the velvety richness of the lamb.  Sweet pearl onions were delicious with the salted lentils, though the olive tapinade flavor wasn’t very pronouced.

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Ninth course: The supplement seared foie gras course with roasted grapes, vincotto, and caramelized bread.  Apparently the transition from savory to sweet is often done through a foie gras with fruit course at the Tasting Room (as expressed in the DallasFood review and confirmed again on this visit).  Though I loved the decadent dish, I felt like I needed something to cut down the richness a little.  The paired 2004 Marenco Scrapona Moscato d’Asti was just a tad too sweet to serve that purpose.

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Tenth course: Assortment of cheeses with medjool dates and focaccia crackers.  The cheese selection included an Oregon goat cheese, a Spanish blue cheese, and a sheep’s milk cheese from Montana.  The sweet and nutty date puree brought out the creamy sweet undertone of the goat cheese, contrasted the robust flavors of the blue cheese, and added a touch of moisture to the mild sheep’s milk cheese, a concise representation the chef’s understanding of flavor complement and contrast. 

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Eleventh course: Dark chocolate fondant with fig puree, almond brittle, and vanilla bean ice cream.  A satisfactory sweet ending to a meal of many adventures, kept on the verge of exciting by the crunchy almond candy and fig puree.

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Mignardise: House-made shortbread cookies, candied orange peel, and richly bitter dark chocolate truffles. 

An eleven course meal with the wine pairings (about $150 per person when tax and gratuity are added up) at the Tasting Room isn’t the cheapest meal in town, but is an excellent value considering the varied adventures your tastebuds are exposed to throughout the evening.  This meal is not a pre-show dinner or the after thought to afternoon affairs, but rather an event in itself and worth every second of the anticipation.  Sure, there are little tweaks to the dishes here and there that would make them more suitable for my taste, but the overall value of the experience, complete with impeccable but not so-formal-that-it’s-stiff service, made for an enchanting and memorable Valentine’s dinner for this food enthusiast. 

Rating: 5 / 5

The Tasting Room at Lola
2917 Fairmount St
Dallas, TX 75201

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3 Responses to “Belated Valentine’s Celebration at The Tasting Room at Lola”

  1. Fatcap 02/25/2008 at 8:43 am #

    Sniff…the kids, they grow up so fast, you know…sniff..I mean, they’re eating oysters now….and…and…Cauliflower soup…sniff…I’m so proud…and vincotto…Waaaahhhhhhh!!!!

    😉

  2. donnaaries 02/25/2008 at 10:30 am #

    I admit, I had to Google vincotto as well as a few other ingredients on the menu when I got home to figure out exactly what I had eaten 😛

  3. luniz 02/25/2008 at 4:11 pm #

    great review, I’m glad to see that y’all went and had a nice time.

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