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Archive | July 16th, 2009

Daily Dish: Beer on a Mission

Daily Dish: Beer on a Mission

We received the following from local beer guru Travis Poling, who’s working on a good cause to which we wanted to alert you:

“What could be better than tasting and learning about seven great beers and beer styles and snacks with a bunch of friends at Blue Star Brewing Co. this Friday? How about doing it for a good cause?

“Beer Across Texas is presenting ‘Beer on a Mission’ this Friday, July 17 at 7 p.m. in the private room at Blue Star, a fun-filled evening — with snacks — and to benefit the 11-country mission trip of a remarkable young woman trying to make a difference for the hungry, poor and oppressed of the world.

“Marissa Villa, a journalist whom many of you may know from her byline in the San Antonio Express-News’ Hispanic publication Conexion, has committed to helping people all over the world as part of The World Race mission group. Beginning in August, she will spend a total of 11 months in the poorest of conditions to help people in Ireland, Romania, Uganda, Kenya, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. She will be living on as little as $6 a day even as she helps others with so much less, but travel expenses are still a concern. …

“Come hear from Marissa how this mission, which is the ‘Amazing Race’ meets hardcore humanitarian work, will change lives. You also can read her blog entries leading up to her August departure here. http://marissavilla.theworldrace.org.

“By coming out and having a good time drinking fine craft beers and learning more about them in a relaxed atmosphere this Friday, you can help Marissa attain her goal. There will be no ticket sales. Instead, we are relying on the caring and generosity of San Antonio to make this benefit a success. A donation of $20 a person is suggested to cover the parts of the event that are not already donated and still leave enough to make a difference for Marissa’s mission. Cash and checks will be accepted at the door beginning at 6:30 p.m., but we need a hard count on how many will attend by Friday at noon so please RSVP to Travis@BeerAcrossTexas.com or call mobile number (210) 827-9643.”

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Bistro Bakery: The Feel of Paris

Bistro Bakery: The Feel of Paris

bistrobakery1I fell for Bistro Bakery the moment I stepped in the door. The ambience of the place is so perfect for its location, just off Olmos Circle, that I thought it had been a fixture on the scene for years instead of weeks.

This is the type of neighborhood place that one would love to walk to for a cup of coffee and a French pastry or a light sandwich with friends.

The bright white walls, the metal ceiling, the buffet table of pastries and the accents of much of the staff all give the place a feeling of its having been transported straight out of Paris, rather than the authentic replica feeling you get from too many corporately produced places.

Food:3
Value: 2.5

Rating scale:
5: Extraordinary
4: Excellent
3: Good
2: Fair
1: Poor

It’s small wonder the space feels right. Bistro Bakery is the latest offering from Damien Watel, whose justly praised Bistro Vatel and Ciao are just across the street.  Yet the feeling evoked by Bistro Bakery is closer to that of Watel’s Le Frite Belgian Bistro in the King William district. Both are wonderfully minimal in decor, with each item carefully chosen to prompt a casual, comfortable feeling.

I loved seeing both staff and customers feel at home enough to move tables and chairs around the dining area of Bistro Bakery without any sense of formality. And as someone who drinks copious amounts of water, I loved being able to help myself to refills (the same is true of coffee and iced tea).

I also enjoyed much of the food, which is also casual despite the inclusion of lobster, foie gras and beef Wellington on the menu.

A crab salad with freshly picked meat was nicely partnered with grapefruit and mango.

Steamed leeks with a vinaigrette may not have been visually appealing and were not necessarily easy to eat, as the fibrous quality of some of outside layers had to be cut away. Yet the flavor was spectacular. The sweet nature of the leek offered a counterpart to the tart herbal dressing. It was fresh, summery and refreshing.

The same could be said for a plate with separate orders of paté and duck mousse. Both rustic treats were chilled and accompanied by olives and onions as well as some soft, nondescript bread that didn’t interfere with the flavors of either meat spread.

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The crusty appeal of a baguette would have helped not only the paté, but also a smoked salmon sandwich, which was practically perfect except for a soft, overly sweet roll.

A breakfast visit featured a light yet substantive ham-and-cheese croissant.

No trip to Bistro Bakery, or any bakery, would be complete without some sampling of desserts. The best we tasted was a mouth-puckering lemon tart that was bursting with flavor. A linzer-style tart had a buttery dough matched with raspberry jelly, though a hint of almond extract would make it even better. The list of house-made ice creams, from pistachio to passion fruit, is calling me back.

My friends were not quite as genial as I was. Though all liked the space, they had some suggestions about how to make it better. One wanted French press coffee in the morning. Another wanted the refrigerated pastries better protected, because several with a creamy filling or frosting had picked up some definitely odd flavors. A third called for larger portions, saying he wasn’t full even after eating a salad, a sandwich and a dessert.

Bistro Bakery has certainly made itself at home in its space. A few adjustments will help it not only flourish but grow.

bistrobakery4Bistro Bakery
4300 McCullough Ave.
(210) 824-3884
Open daily for breakfast and lunch (Sundays only until 12:30 p.m.)
$-$$

$ = $10 or under per entrée
$$ = $10-$20
$$$ = $20-$30
$$$$ = $30 and up

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Erick’s Tacos: Embracing the Heat

Erick’s Tacos: Embracing the Heat

erikstacos8

The setup of Erick’s Tacos is different. The part of the kitchen where you get your tacos is housed in a mobile unit on one side of the dining area. The other part, where you order your raspas and licuados, is on the other side.

Food:3.5
Value: 4

Rating scale:
5: Extraordinary
4: Excellent
3: Good
2: Fair
1: Poor

In between is a former garage with no fourth wall or door. That means you are sitting in the heat of the day while you eat some incredibly spicy tacos. Only a few overhead fans keep the air circulating.

Yet no one seems to mind.

Maybe it’s because the tacos are so good. Maybe it’s because the Mexican Coke is almost as icy as a raspa. Maybe it’s because the scene feels just right.

Whatever the reason, I found myself looking forward to a return visit almost as soon as I had finished the first.

On that discovery day, I encountered a slight language barrier as the cook spoke no English and my Spanish was a bit rusty. I somehow managed to get the plate of tacos al pastor on small corn tortillas that I had wanted. The appearance was dazzling to the eye, as the tacos arrived showered with an abundance of cilantro and onion.

erikstacos3With a squirt of lime juice and a squeeze of fiery green salsa, they tasted even better than they looked, and the tortillas were so hot they singed my fingertips.

The heat of the seasoned pork and a welcome touch of grease made each bite reveal depths of flavor that went beyond the usual world of Tex-Mex. I washed it down with a Mexican Fresca made with real sugar instead of corn syrup or nasty chemical-tasting artificial sweeteners. The zing of the soda’s grapefruit flavor was a perfect complement to chiles.

Who needs air conditioning with food this good?

I was so pleased with the meal I returned with a friend the next night. This time it was for tacos made with a mixture of chorizo and bifstek while he had tacos al carbon covered with crumbled white cheese. We ordered the dinner plates for $5.50, which came with four mini-tacos, grilled onions and one of the hottest cooked jalapeños in some time.

The tacos al carbon were pristine compared with the others, dripping in chorizo juices. Yet I wasn’t sorry with my order.

While some might blanch at the mention of the grease in a few of the tacos, it helped me understand the popularity of Erick’s. The place is busiest, one employee told us, after midnight, after folks have been partying and need a little fortification to face the next day. The tacos de cabeza are probably a big seller then. On weekends, you’ll sometimes find people there after 4 a.m.

The tamales we tried — chicken, instead of the pork that we’d ordered — were plump, full of meat and moist without being greasy. A bit of the cilantro-heavy red salsa added a welcome bite.

Lime and chile proved an unbeatable combination whether we were ordering a fruit cup laden with fresh mango and watermelon or a corn in cup with sweet kernels just cut from the cob. The later was also slathered in mayonnaise, offering a tantalizing balance of sweet, sour, hot and spicy.

Most everything at Erick’s Tacos is eaten with your hands (you can get a spoon if you need one). But good food needs no pretense.

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Erick’s Tacos
12715 Nacogdoches Road
(210) 590-0994
Hours are 11 a.m. until at least 3 a.m. daily.
$

$ = $10 or under per entrée
$$ = $10-$20
$$$ = $20-$30
$$$$ = $30 and up

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