Restaurant Week, now morphing into Restaurant Three Weeks (several places are offering the $35 prix fixe menu through Sunday; check www.krld.com), has got to be the greatest culinary invention of all time.
It’s a win-win-win! First, it benefits the North Texas Food Bank and the Lena Pope Home, which receive $7 from each dinner. We, the food-loving public on a budget, or on a teeny expense account, get to check out new-to-us upscalies at bargain-basement prices. (Thus avoiding that sinking omigod I could have bought shoes with what I just spent on that lousy meal feeling.) All the restaurants have to do is show us their best, inspiring us to applaud, “Wow! This place is incredible! I’ll be back soon with all my friends to pay full price!”
Lanny’s Alta Cocina Mexicana (3405 W. 7th St.) blew that last one. Here the Restaurant Week “menu” was a no-choice edict, and you can guess what the entrée was: yep, chicken. Which isn’t even on Lanny’s regular dinner menu. It was ancho-dusted tasty and all, and nestled on a pleasant goat-cheese polenta, but Chow, Baby was hoping for even a demi portion of Lanny’s famed black sea bass with poblano and asparagus sauce (full portion $38), or maybe just half a rack of lamb with mint chimichurri (whole rack $42) to show off to its dining companions. Could we at least order some huitlacoche (corn fungus) tamales ($12) from the main menu? Denied; the kitchen was doing only Restaurant Week dishes that night. Fine; just give us some Restaurant Week crème brulee whose top doesn’t even crackle like it should.
Lanny, Lanny, Lanny: Restaurant Week isn’t the time for you to try to make your price point. We appreciate your charity, but if you’re not going to do this right – give me your all at a discount, trusting that I’ll make it up to you later – don’t waste your time and mine. Certainly Chow, Baby’s three Lanny-newbie companions aren’t planning to return someday to pay full price, given that the only clue they had of Lanny’s truly brilliant cuisine was in Chow, Baby’s pouty-lipped disappointment.
On the other end, Cacharel (2221 E. Lamar Blvd.) did everything right. It helps that their regular fixed-price menu is just $44.50 (listen to Chow, Baby: “just” $44.50), so they didn’t have to cut too deeply: More than half of the Restaurant Week choices (yes, plural) were straight from the regular dinner menu. And they were fantastic. It was the little touches that blew Chow, Baby away: the dazzling champagne-dill sauce under the beautifully edge-crisped Norwegian salmon; the adorable carrot mousse; the expertly sautéed shrimp atop the beef medallion, with a bracing curry sauce that brought out the best of both. At meal’s end, the house-special soufflé was like eating a chocolate cloud.
The place is a little strange. Though it’s in the top of an office building, Cacharel has sort of a cozy French farmhouse feel. The much-touted view is of Six Flags. The clientele runs toward old people – not cool-old, but grandma-old – most of them celebrating an anniversary. Still, Chow, Baby can’t wait to visit again and is telling everybody it knows that Cacharel is well worth full price. Win-win-win: Lena Pope gets its cut, Chow, Baby got a fantastic meal, and Cacharel gets a new big-mouthed admirer. See, the system works.
Contact Chow, Baby at firstname.lastname@example.org.