Even if the food weren’t good, the story of Lanny’s Alta Cocina Mexicana would still be epic. Chef-owner Lanny Lancarte II grew up as part of the dynasty behind Joe T. Garcia’s, famous ’round the world for its simple Tex-Mex. Lancarte’s great-grandfather was Joe T. himself.

Lancarte struck out on his odyssey, attending the most important chef school in the country (you know, the C.I.A.), then interning with masters of the genre, including Rick Bayless, Patricia Quintanna, and Diane Kennedy. Finally, he returned to his hometown, triumphant, to open his own place. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Oh, but it does. His food isn’t just good, it’s world-class good, a state-of-the-art Mexican-Mediterranean fusion that encompasses who he is and what he’s learned while simultaneously advancing the cuisine. Lanny’s is original and sumptuous, spontaneous and refined.

Though service is attentive, there’s a kind of “aren’t we having fun?” vibe as Lancarte emerges from the kitchen every so often to pinball through the room. Confident yet boyishly goofy, he clasps hands with Fort Worth’s finest, their silk hankies tucked into the pockets of their pin-striped suits.

If the immaculate room with its blanched walls, wooden beams, and tasteful abstract paintings hasn’t tipped you off, an amuse bouche serves notice that this is serious cuisine. One night it was a fat mouthful of chicken tamale drizzled with guajillo salsa; another time, escolar with roasted tomato vinaigrette.

A wine list with bottles from Mexico offers further proof of Lanny’s intent, as do the Riedel glasses (the quirky O line, with no stem). But make sure someone at your table gets a pomegranate margarita (go on, do it yourself, if you must), because it’s a show-stopper. It comes in a glass cone, also stemless, that’s propped over a fishbowl of crushed ice to keep it cold. Shaken over ice and strained like a martini, with a stick of sugarcane jutting out, it’s a delicious tart-sweet cocktail.

lannys_chef Chef Lanny Lancarte II cooks creative, sophisticated Mexican dishes. photography by Kevin Hunter Marple

The menu changes often, but if Lanny’s has a signature dish, it’s the prime carne asada, the standard Mexican grilled steak designed to be rolled into tortillas, but here it’s elevated to grand stature. Lancarte uses Prime-grade beef and sears the exterior until it is fiercely black and crusty. Inside it is all crimson, juicy, tender. He serves it with Gruyere mashed potatoes and baby carrots, their frothy green tops still intact.

Seafood risotto is strictly top-shelf, with voluptuous chunks of lobster and crab, and shrimp chopped into appealingly ragged chunks. Chefs spend years learning to cut their ingredients into tame, uniform pieces, but Lancarte intuits that unlearning some of that precision gives the food a bit of wantonness, a touch of the rumpled sheet.

He likes butternut squash paired with ham, sometimes in a velvety puréed soup. But the pairing blazes most brightly in the butternut squash gnocchi, strewn with flinty scraps of serrano ham. The gnocchi were firm but not overweight, barely crisp outside but dense and moist within. A savvy hint of nutmeg deepened the complexity and provided dramatic sweet-versus-salty contrast to the sharpness of the ham.

lannys_scallops Sea scallops with squid ink angel hair and anchovy pesto. photography by Kevin Hunter Marple

Lancarte also makes that gnocchi with goat cheese. Other high-end ingredients include foie gras and ceviches with lobster and salmon. Some of these dishes are banded together for a $60 five-course tasting menu; add wine and it’s an additional $30. His approach to ceviche is more elegant and less cluttered than the usual diced-up mess. For salmon ceviche, he lays out thin sheets of the tequila-cured fish and sprinkles over golden raisins, like a wink at New York-style smoked salmon with capers.

Meals, like epics, must come to an end, but at Lanny’s, it’s a happy one with nifty desserts such as the molten chocolate cake. Made with high-quality Valhrona and Oaxacan chocolate, its bittersweet flavor and companion scoop of milk-chocolate ice cream were enough to make you forget the thousands of other versions you’ve seen again and again. In the end, it’s not the story that matters so much as the storyteller. 3

Get contact information for Lanny’s Alta Cocina Mexicana.

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