Archive | March 22nd, 2010

Beard Overlooks San Antonio

Beard Overlooks San Antonio

The nominees for this year’s James Beard Foundation Awards were announced Monday, and no one from San Antonio was among the nominees. It was the first time in years that one of the city’s best chefs had not made the list.

The nominees for best chef in the Southwest included only one Texan, first-time nominee Bryan Caswell of Reef in Houston. Other nominees included Ryan Hardy of Montagna at Little Nell in Aspen, Colo., as well as Saipin Chutima of Lotus of Siam, Claude Le Tohic of Joel Robuchon at MGM Grand Hotel and Rick Moonen of RM Seafood at Mandalay Bay, all of Las Vegas.

There was a name with a local connection on the list. Culinary Institute of America president Tim Ryan, who has visited the San Antonio campus on numerous occasions, was nominated for the Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America award. He is in charge of the schools three campuses, including Hyde Park, N.Y., and Greystone, Calif., in addition to San Antonio.

SavorSA has written about several of the cookbooks that have been nominated. The list includes:

For a full list of the nominees, click here. Winners will be announced May 2.

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Herbs, Fresh or Dried, for Upset Stomach

Herbs, Fresh or Dried, for Upset Stomach

Q. We’re planting a few herbs this year. While many of them will be for culinary uses, we were wondering what herbs are good for mild complaints, such as a stomach ache and indigestion.                          — S. F.

A. I’m thinking that a book of herbal lore and medicinal uses would be a great book to put on your coffee table this spring and summer. I’m enjoying a book given to me at Christmas by a friend. “Herbs” by Leslie Bremness (D.K. Smithsonian Handbooks, $20) has very distinct photos for identifying plants, and also lists uses for the herbs.

[amazon-product]0789493918[/amazon-product]This book mentions both dill and fennel seed as aiding in indigestion and stomach upset. I can vouch for this. I make tea by infusing several tablespoons of these herbs, along with mint, fresh or dried, for a few minutes in two cups of almost-boiling water. Sometimes I add fennel seed. Drink the tea warm or cool; it seems to work either way.  By the way, all of these are great for culinary uses, too.

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Griffin to Go: Welcome to the Era of the Taco Truck

Griffin to Go: Welcome to the Era of the Taco Truck

Fine dining is dead.

That’s what celebrated chef Mark Miller declared last October at the Culinary Institute of America’s Latin Flavors, American Kitchens conference at the Pearl Brewery.

In the foodie world, that was akin to the New York Times saying God was dead. But God survived, and so will fine dining.

Yet Miller had his point. A growing number of diners are tired of waiting through a three-hour meal while the chef serves up an array of food designed to dazzle all of our senses, not just our taste buds. San Antonio’s own temple of haute cuisine, Le Rêve, closed its doors the same month as Miller’s grand statement, a fact we still mourn.

We still want the connection to the chef that we got at Le Rêve, where we could see Andrew Weissman supervise every morsel that appeared from the kitchen. Yet we want it quickly, so we can rush back home to our video games, our DVRs and our other time wasters.

That’s why Miller hailed taco trucks as the next big thing. The trend has grown from California and New York to cities across the country, including San Antonio, where the number of mobile eateries is on the rise. Why? Because we can walk up to a taco truck, have a conversation with the cook behind the screen, and then sit down to a freshly made plate of food. No fuss, not much wait, generally great food. And we know the person who made it. We know he or she left off the onions or grilled the carnitas a little crispier than average, just as we wanted. We know that what we are eating was made especially for us.

I feel that way whenever I visit one of my favorites, Erick’s Tacos, which I will use as an illustration. This modest little converted garage on Nacogdoches has mini-tacos so good, I sometimes have to drop what I’m doing and drive over for a plate of four covered in carne asada, then crowned with onion and cilantro. Bowls of lime slices are at most of the tables, as are squeeze bottles of the habanero salsa to finish off the treats with an extra charge of flavor. The iciest Mexican Fresca or Coca-Cola substitutes for the fine French Champagne that once bubbled in our glasses. There’s no air conditioning in summer or heat, in the winter, but neither condition seems to stop people from pouring in for more. And at the end of the evening, you have enough to think about another meal.

To me, that last sentence is at the root of the matter. Our eating cycles parallel the width of our wallets. With the country experiencing economic turmoil, a great many of us turn to comfort foods. So when we eat out, we go to a neighborhood joint where we can get a burger, a slice of pizza or a plate of mini-tacos.

That’s the approach behind Johnny Hernandez’s upcoming La Gloria on the Pearl Brewery campus. It will celebrate the type of Mexican street food you find south of the border. The people behind the Pearl project have also tapped Shelley Grieshaber to lasso a few of the mobile units in town to the Pearl for a corral of treats that complements the current Saturday fixture, Saweet Cupcakes.

But is fine dining dead? No. Some of us love to treat ourselves to a regular feast or merely dine out on a special occasion. We just love to have the choice. That’s why Bruce Auden’s new venture, Auden’s Kitchen, features prices that are far less than they are at his Biga on the Banks. Yet Biga remains a beloved fixture on the scene, as do Jason Dady’s Lodge Restaurant of Castle Hills and Weissman’s Sandbar, with its Le Rêve-inspired dishes among a host of other high-end restaurants.

Making room for more flavors at all ends of the price scale is something to celebrate, with Mexican Coke or Veuve Clicquot. I’m off to Erick’s.

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