B.Y.O.B. in D.F.W: Nonna Tata in Fort Worth

Meet Howard Marc Spector, a local attorney and a wine collector. He gave up golf in 1998 to pursue his passion for wine. He won’t tell me how much wine he has in his cellar, but to give you an insight into his wine profile, he will allow me to print a breakdown of his collection: 25% German, 33% French, 10% Italian, 10% Spain/Portugal, 15-20% USA.

When he goes out to dinner, he likes to tote his own wine. He has perfected the fine art of B.Y.O.B. Today he starts a series of B.Y.O.B reports. Along the way, he will fill you in on how he and  his wine club manage to drink the wine they want at the restaurant they choose. Welcome him.

Twelve pound vinyl luggage hanging off your shoulder may not seem like a chic fashion accessory, but for wine lovers everywhere, there is no better item of arm-candy than a three-bottle wine carrier with a strap as wide as a scarf. And even if you don’t want to toss around phrases like “tea-infused,” “tannic structure,” “kirsch,” and “essence of wet dog fur,” you may still enjoy the Holy Grail of food and wine — BYOB.

BYOB used to sound cheap – it meant we had a surplus of folks on the party list, but a deficit in the beer budget.  Now we have a more rarefied term for BYOB – corkage, as in “Do you allow corkage?” Over time, I am going to let you in on my local wine group’s corkage secrets.  Who we are, where we go, what wines we bring, and how we decide.  I’ll also explain the etiquette of corkage – how to ask, how to ask again, how to get a restaurant to reconsider, and how not to screw it up for the rest of us.

Jump for the whole story.

This week we donned our Ropers and Stetsons, polished up our belt-buckles, checked the dates on our carry permits, and moseyed on over to Fort Worth’s Nonna Tata. Corkage? Si, grazie mille! because Nonna Tata has no alcohol license.  Website or online menu?  Nope.  Cash only please; no credit cards.  And no reservations.  My “tannic structure” friend even mentioned that we should bring our own wine glasses (except she used the word stemware).

They had glasses, but she was right, the place is spartan. Bar-height tables are flanked with backless stools that seem to have been salvaged from a local margarita hangout.  It’s more Maine lobster shack than osteria. We arrived at 5:15 to find twenty people in line ahead of us waiting for the 5:30 opening. Luckily, the doors were unlocked right on time. Unluckily, there are only seats inside for 20, so we found ourselves displaced to the patio where eau de dumpster wafted over us and the temperature hovered in the high-90s. After frantically relocating to the section of the patio that occupied the sidewalk, we settled in. (About an hour later, a table opened up inside which the hostess kindly made available to us.)

Nonna Tata is not your daddy’s Italian. It’s your Italian grandmother’s Italian.  No fettuccine Alfredo, no fried mozzarella sticks, no meatballs, and no pizza.  Instead, a lovely antipasto plate arrived to start the meal with house-cured meats, a frittata, supple ricotta and warm focaccia. Salads were fresh but uninspired —the Salad della Nonna was virtually indistinguishable from the allegedly more elaborate Nonna VIP version; both were a collection of standard-fare ingredients accompanied by an odd chipotle-based dressing that would have been at home in Houston’s, but not Italy. The Insalata di Cesare, while crisp, lacked any garlic, anchovy or parmesan punch.

The sixteen different pasta dishes on the menu is where Nonna Tata radiates both heat and light. Tortelli di Melanzane (large pasta pockets with eggplant, Parmesan and a pistachio butter) and Spaghetti Aglio Olio e Prezzemolo (garlic, parsley, olive oil, red pepper and Parmesan) were impeccably flavored and prepared perfectly al dente. Pasta ai Gamberi (spaghetti with fresh shrimp, cherry tomatoes, onions, parley and garlic) was equal parts simplicity and precision. A dish of Tagliata con Parmigiano e Olio Tartufato (thinly sliced tenderloin with Parmesan and truffle oil) would have been a go-to item at any other area Italian restaurant, but paled in comparison because the pastas were so sublime.

Desserts also managed to impress. Salame di Cioccolata, a dish of frozen chocolate cookie “salami” slices, was imaginative and tasty, while the Torta di Ricotta con Salsa al Limone (ricotta and almond cake with lemon sauce) was moist, zesty and decadent.  The Tiramisu, on the other hand, was a forgettable mush of cream and ladyfingers lacking any noticeable coffee flavor in the pastry.

For the wines, we opted to bring big reds — a 2003 Pax Lauterbach Hill Syrah, a 2001 La Plazuela Tempranillo blend from Spain’s Castilla-La Mancha region and a 2003 Dezzani Barolo. Of the three, the La Plazuela was the most forceful — inky, and full bodied, with black fruits bounded by leather and tannin. It could easily last five more years in the bottle. The Pax was mature, all red fruit and acid, and a nice contrast to the meatier Spanish wine. The last wine, Barolo, is released no earlier than 3 years after the vintage.  At five years after release, the Dezzani was still just a baby with plenty of fruit, tannin, and acid.  Give it another five to ten years to strut its stuff.

Nonna Tata’s Bottle Count:  (3½ Bottles out of 4)

A QUICK WORD ABOUT MY RATINGS.  BYOB is not a Michelin or, even Zagat, experience. Food is paramount. Value is important. Bring my own glasses? Not an issue.  Open my own bottle? Bring it on – still no demerits. But don’t talk to me about linen napkins, sniffing the cork, or music.

So the “Bottle Count” scale is:

4   Great food, good service, and potential to impress my wife.

3   We’re happy to be regulars.

2    It’ll do.

1   We’ll just open a bottle at the house.

Nonna Tata

1400 W Magnolia Ave

Fort Worth, TX 76104

(817) 332-0250

Lunch:  Tue-Fri 11 am – 3 pm

Dinner: Tue-Thu 5:30 pm – 8:30 pm

Fri 5:30 pm – 9:30

12 comments on “B.Y.O.B. in D.F.W: Nonna Tata in Fort Worth

  1. I actually prefer that the coffee flavor lingered in the background in the tiramisu; didn’t find it completely absent however. Shame you skipped the best dessert (the mousse, which resulted in reactions of eyes rolling to the back of the head like Homer Simpson).

    Overall though, it’s the best meal I’ve had in the DFW area this year. Gotta get on the ball with sharing my details…

  2. Welcome Howard Marc Spector!;

    Congratulations on a great introduction, and thank you for celebrating the many great BYOB’s in DFW.

    We are fortunate to have a number of delicious BYOB options here in Grapevine and even more outlets for purchasing wine. We’re looking forward to your future reports, and hopefully introducing your readers to our friends at Amore, Cafe Italia, Palio and Thai Riverside.

    Welcome indeed and Thank You Nancy & D Magazine for presenting another innovative contributor!

    Cheers,
    Holly D ~ Wine Lover

  3. I look forward to learning some secrets he talks about. Can you take wine in a place with wine? Thanks

  4. Now, this is a column I’m sure to enjoy and learn from.

    I’ve been to Nonna Tata and found it to be a delightful change from the usual Italian restaurants around Dallas and Ft. Worth. The home made pastas were excellent!

  5. What a great write up. Look forward to more of these. In Dallas. I’m also curious about the BYOB question posted above. Can you take wine into any restaurant? Also how do you find a wine club? Thanks

  6. Good column idea, I can’t waait for more, but could you go into greater detail on the wine you’re drinking? I mean you go to all the trouble of selecting, you Mise well share the method behind the madness.
    Thanks.

  7. By far the best and most distinct risotto I ever ate! Fabuloso. Didn’t bring a bottle with me, but ate at the one seat at the bar, on top of a family of four at my elbow. (There are, or at least were, 21 seats.) Still a good experience, and that’s saying something.

  8. Great column that is both informative and amusing. I especially love the rating system. Please add me to your e-mail distribution list. I can’t always count on Jason to forward these to me.

    YLA

  9. Couple of things:

    - Nonna Tata may be BYOB, but they also have a relationship with The Usual a couple of doors down. It’s a Prohibition-era cocktail lounge. Servers from Nonna Tata make the trip all night, back and forth, taking orders and delivering food at The Usual.

    - I realize it’s a Dallas magazine, so there’s the ever-popular Fort Worth stereotypes to play up, but seriously, Magnolia is as far from Stetsons and cowboys as you will find in *the Metroplex*, let alone Fort Worth. You’re far more likely to see 20something tattooed anarchist vegan girls on bicycles than dudes wearin’ them there belt buckles and spurs, yee-haw, etc. etc. Not everything in Fort Worth is “Cowtown”-centric.