I had the incredible luck to join my mother and her MOAA (Military Officers Association of American) friends for lunch today at Lago del Pino, a new 11,000 square foot restaurant set on a private lake, just off Highway 31 West near Tyler. The impressive operation opened for business last week.
Once we stepped through the front doors, I had to keep reminding myself I was in East Texas, not Napa Valley.
According to their website, Lago del Pino is the brainchild of Randal and Donna Brooks and their three sons, Trey, Derek, and Daren, of Tyler, Texas. Throughout their years of domestic and international travel, the Brooks family cultivated a love for the dining experiences they shared. They dreamed of creating a restaurant in Tyler that offered a diverse menu, an eclectic atmosphere, and provided live music from local and regional artists.
After purchasing 240 acres, which included a private 40-acre lake, on the west side of Tyler, the Brooks knew that the beauty of the land and the lake needed to be shared with others. They also realized that this was the perfect location for the restaurant concept that they'd been dreaming of for years. The boys began sketching ideas for the interior and exterior features of the concept, and Randal and Donna took those sketches to local architects, Fitzpatrick & Associates, where they became true renderings. After much thought and many drafts, the restaurant was ready for a name. The lake that highlights the Brooks' land is called Lost Pine Lake, and from that name, they developed a shortened Spanish version, Lago del Pino, meaning lake of the pine.
The inside dining area includes two main rooms and a full service bar on the main floor and a fabulous lounge area on the second story, complete with a fabulous view of the lake and another full service bar.
The 4,500 square feet of outside dining area features a stage for live music, a fireplace and open air heaters to keep you safe from the evening's chill. Sitting outside in the evenings will also offer a view of the restaurant's Bellagio-style dancing waters fountain.
There were about 15 of us seated at a lovely table on the right side of the main floor. Our group ordered everything from soup and salad to sandwiches, burgers and chicken panko.
I started with the Trio, a serving of house made hummus (some of the best I've had), a white bean-rosemary dip and an olive tapenade, served with warm pita bread and crostini ($8).
My mom had the crispy chicken panko ($12), topped with white wine-tomato sauce(lovely and light) and served over, linguini with a cilantro-pecan pesto sauce that really brightened up the flavor.
One of our dining partners had the smoked ham and brie sandwich ($12), topped with a raspberry aioli, apples and herb-roasted tomatoes, served on a beautfiul Kaiser roll.
Another friend had the Greek pasta salad ($10) and a bowl of the soup of the day (tomato basil). It looked lovely and she said everything was perfect.
After everyone finished, our servers asked if we'd like dessert. Today's choices were a dark chocolate creme brulee ($9) or a brownie "13," ($9) a double chocolate brownie with vanilla bean ice cream, chocolate sauce, crispy bacon bits and a dusting of cayenne cocoa. I was the only one to order the brownie and gosh, am I glad I tried it. Bacon is the new basil when it comes to dining trends, but to combine it with a brownie and ice cream was something altogether new for me. It was fabulous and I'll order it on every trip back. I mean, seriously, how do you beat bacon AND chocolate?
Ashley Hotchkiss is the executive chef at Lago del Pino. She might be young, but she's earned her title. According to the webiste, Chef Ashley is a native of Amarillo who earned her culinary arts degree while living in Austin. Chef Ashley worked and trained with some of the finest chefs in Austin, diversifying her repertoire in fine dining, casual fare, and gourmet catering. Much of her experience was gained while performing culinary duties at Sweetish Hill Bakery & Café in Austin, Barton Creek Country Club of Austin, and at The Y Bar & Grill in Oak Hill, Texas.
Chef Ashley's culinary career has taken her to the Caribbean where she first worked as the sous chef at the Mafolie Hotel & Restaurant on the island of St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. She later worked as a private chef on yachts and sailboats and learned to please every passenger and crew member under the Caribbean sun.
Chef Ashley's influences come from all over the world, and she specializes in fresh flavors and beautiful presentations. At Lago del Pino, she focuses on New American cuisine, a marriage of fresh and seasonal ingredients prepared with a southern sensibility. Here, the humble Smoked Jalapeno Meatloaf is transformed into an experience of the senses. Crispy Panko Chicken and Shrimp & Grits marry perfectly on a menu that also includes Seared Duck Breast, Lamb Chop Lollipops, and Prime Rib Enchiladas. Lighter dishes include Chili Seared Tuna Steak and Caribbean Grouper en Papiote. Chef Ashley can also recommend a wine that pairs perfectly with any menu item you choose.
Chef Ashley came out to our table to visit. When asked how her first week had been, she said, "It was hard. I slept really well on Sunday night [her first day off since opening]. I ordered a pizza."
If she keeps serving good food like what we enjoyed at lunch today, she'll be able to write her own ticket at any kitchen on the planet.
A young lady named Kaitlyn (I hope I'm spelling this correctly, as I forgot to ask) was our server and she was delightful. Ask for her if you visit. She's top notch, as were the young men assisting her during our service.
Lago del Pino is located at 14706 CR 1134. Their phone number is 903-561-LAGO. They are open Wednesday through Friday from 11 a.m. until midnight, Saturdays from 11 a.m. until 1 a.m and on Sunday for brunch between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sunday dinner service is available from 2 p.m. until 10 p.m. At the present time, they are not taking reservations, so be prepared to for a long wait in the evening, as good news travels fast. A limited menu is available in the upstairs lounge and each bar area. For more information, visit their website, www.lagodelpino.com
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