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My Dinner With Nana

For our anniversary, Jenn and I ate at Nana in Dallas. I’m glad we did: the chef was very experimental, and we had a lot of flavors we wouldn’t normally have tried. I don’t think I’ll ever go back.

A problem that a lot of chefs have is that they focus on a process, or an ingredient, and they forget that ultimately we eat food because we like the way it tastes. Good food with a gimmick is just that: Good food. With a gimmick. It’s not great food, and it’s not enough to make you want to go back again and again. Unfortunately, at least that night, the chef was so concentrated on pushing boundaries and being clever that he lost focus on making food that tasted great. And what could have been one or two surprising and exciting courses became a tedious and overwrought meal.

We enjoy ordering chef’s pairing meals because it forces us to go outside of our normal favorites, so we did just that: seven courses with wine pairings.

There were a couple of bright spots on the menu. The beginning and the end. The meal started with squares of “tuna tartar” (in other restaurants, known as “sashimi”). The twist was a bit of watermelon, which initially sounded a bit odd, but added a nice balance to the other flavors. The surprise was that the tuna and the watermelon were about the same size and color, so you never knew what you were going to get. I enjoyed it. From there, things got…interesting.

The next item was day boat scallops with celery “root beer” puree (more like foam) and maple syrup. On the plus side, the scallops were perfectly cooked. On the down side, I don’t know if there was actual root beer in the foam or not, but it certainly tasted like it. In case you’re wondering, root beer foam and scallops tastes as bad as it sounds.

The third offering was veal sweetbreads on cauliflower couscous with prawns on the side. The “couscous” was imaginative and complemented the richness of the sweetbreads, which were really good. And normally, I’m not a fan of sweetbreads. Rather than being fried, they were grilled, exceptionally rich, and perfectly cooked. Now the prawns…they were an afterthought on the plate for the non-sweetbread fan, that showed a lack of confidence by the chef, and simply didn’t go with the rest of the dish.

The sweetbreads , followed by “snickered” foie gras and then pork belly, were the first of a trio of rich, fatty dishes with nothing to separate or cut them. I couldn’t tell you if the pork belly was any good or not because by the time I was two bites into it, my mouth felt as if it had been coated by lard, and not from the fat of the pork belly (which was not crispy, and so if not bad was at least undercooked). We actually requested passion fruit sorbet instead of the next scheduled dish to try to cleanse our palate a bit prior to dessert.

I have to go back to the foie gras: chocolate, caramel, peanuts and foie gras instead of nougat. This was a daring dish. It tasted good. The chef didn’t know if it was a dessert or main course, as the waiter readily shared with us. Neither did I, but in between sweetbreads and pork belly it was misplaced and confusing. Furthermore, the foie gras was whipped (I guess you can’t make a foam out of foie gras) and had been squeezed through a pastry bag so that it made a little mound that reminded me of a cross between soft serve ice cream and a novelty toy that imitates a bodily substance not fit for discussion in polite company: it was off-putting.

In all, the food was imaginative and well cooked. The wine pairings were generally decent, although nothing knocked it out of the park for me. The food pushed us outside of our normal box. However, the menu was not well thought through, and several of the dishes seemed to be accompanied by an apology or excuse. Ultimately, Nana is not a restaurant I would recommend.