San Antonio lost one of its finest foodies last week with the passing of Richard Louis Toupal, 54.
Richard and his wife, Gigi, could be seen frequently at the city’s finest eateries, and I don’t mean the most expensive. He loved exploring the flavors at a small place like Thai Dee on Blanco Road, which looks like nothing from the road, as much as he enjoyed dining outdoors at the elegant Fig Tree Restaurant. Finding a new restaurant, like Pike’s Place in Pipe Creek, was as exciting to him as opening a present on Christmas morning. As long as the food was good, he was happy. He was even happier, actually, if he could bring along a bottle or two of wine from his collection.
He had a great and varied collection, made up of fantastic sparklers, whites and reds from all over the world and also at all prices. Finding a bargain was something he loved. Plus, it pleased him to share his cellar with anyone who also appreciated the beauty of a well-made wine. He kept a wine cooler in his dental office, just in case he was headed out to dinner and didn’t have time to get home to grab a bottle.
I met Richard and Gigi (born Griffin and surely some relation in our knotted family tree) at Le Rêve. Friends and I would go there every Thanksgiving Eve, as would they. It just seemed natural for them to join in the fun. They also came by my house back in the day when I threw an annual radish party, my variation of the Oaxacan gathering, Noche de los Rabanos (Night of the Radishes). Guests didn’t have to bring a radish dish, but I remember one year Richard brought a curried lamb dish with radishes cooked in.
Richard was an excellent cook, whether it was grilling a perfect steak or shaving fresh truffles onto a pasta dish that was based on something Gigi and he discovered on one of their trips. At his parties, you’d find a little bit of everybody, from his favorite restaurateurs and their staffs to fellow wine lovers and even a few political figures, all friends who had come together over food and wine.
Those weren’t his only interests, by any means, and he was a reliable friend when things were less than bright. He was a strong supporter of this website, and he understood that things were not always easy for me after I lost my day job. He was like this with so many others that it’s no wonder many of the same people from his parties were at the hospital last week after he had suffered the stroke that would take his life.
My favorite memories of sharing a meal with Richard happened regularly around Christmas Eve. He would call and I’d find a way to head off to to some place like Van’s Chinese on Broadway to discover how Champagne is a perfect foil for spring rolls. This past December, we met at the Sandbar, because chef Chris Carlson had gotten in some oysters from the Belon area of France for lunch. Perfect with a crisp, icy Sancerre. We marveled over the bold succulence of each one, before making our way through several more dishes, eventually deciding that the bagels, laden with house-cured lox and a schmear, were among the best we’d ever had.
One of Richard’s more extravagant gestures, as least as far I know, was when he rented out Dough on Blanco Road for Gigi’s birthday. The counters were laden with food, the wines were flowing and spirits were high as he honored his wife. It seems fitting that you can see the two of them on the recent episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” that was filmed at the pizzeria. They can be seen having a great time, which is how Richard tried to live his life. And that’s how I’ll remember him.
For information on the funeral services, click here.