We went to Las Canarias at the Omni La Mansion del Rio for lunch Tuesday, planning to take advantage of the Restaurant Week specials.
As it happened, our group strayed off the path and ordered chef John Brand’s tasting menu, which took us a little further afield.
“Field” is an apropos term here, as the four-course tasting menu focused largely on locally produced items. The Lockhart Quail, fried in a smoky, crispy batter, stole the show, sending our table of five into that sudden, rapt silence that means: “We’re eating now, don’t talk.”
Las Canaria has always been a favorite of ours. It’s not just the excellent chefs that are traditionally at the helm, but the understated elegance of the dining room. It is Spanish Colonial tastefully done, with our favorite tables offering a glimpse of the River Walk. The chairs are comfortable, the linens crisp and white and the servers among the best in the city. The music ranges from classical Spanish guitar to jazz to the Gypsy Kings, adding a perfect flourish to a cohesive, inviting ambiance.
Our starter was a thick Sebastian Texas Watermelon Gazpacho, thickened with finely chopped pistachios, accented by a round of salty, earthy goat cheese and garnished with sliced avocado. This gazpacho is on the sweet side, though Brand cut some of that sweetness with the more acidic tomatoes and the goat cheese provided more balance. My companions and I ate every bite of the rich, chilled concoction.
This gazpacho, by the way, is part of the Restaurant Week lunch special at Las Canarias. It is paired with a Blackened Redfish Sandwich on challah, with mango salsa and heirloom tomatoes ($15). The dinner menu includes: a salad of Roasted Beets, Cherries, Spinach and Chevre; Prime Top Sirloin of Beef with Fork-smashed Gold Potatoes and Roasted Garlic Spinach; and Cream Cheese Cake with minted blueberries and almonds ($35).
The second course, beautifully presented, was a perfectly seared New Bedford Scallop, topped with American Sturgeon Caviar on a bed of greens and tiny toasted cauliflower florets. Lots of good flavors working there, from the mellow richness of the fresh scallop to the salty topping of caviar and the aromatic cauliflower. All worked well.
We mentioned the Crispy Smoked Lockhart Quail, with its tempting, bacon-y scent and thin, crunchy batter. While some of us at the table struggled to eat the quail quarters with knife and fork, others decided it was finger food. That worked. We did, however, pick up utensils for the homemade Sweet Potato Ravioli cooked in brown butter, with lots of roasted pecans and figs tossed with lightly wilted greens. There were many facets to this flavorful plate, including a grainy mustard sauce, but it was not too much: All of the contrasting textures, from top to bottom, were just right, too.
Cooper Farm provided the peaches, sliced carpaccio-thin and spread along a long dessert plate. A little bit of glistening “orangecicle cream” was part of the garnish, along with jewel-like slices of deep-red cherries, in season now. The creamy little cake of at the center of the plate was mounted on a neat rectangle of crust. No messy crumbs here, just the buttery taste of sweet graham crackers.
We had no serious criticism: The lemons and lime wedges on the table, for the iced tea, were dried out. This was hardly a problem since thick slices of fresh orange came with every glass of iced tea. The paper-thin peaches on the dessert also had suffered a little drying out (though one might observe the this actually concentrated the flavor).
Our hostess put the crowning touch on the lunch by ordering a bottle of Merryvale Pinot Noir, light-bodied, richly flavored and perfect for both the scallop and quail courses.
Think about Las Canarias as you work your way through Restaurant Week. It is well- prepared food, whether you go for broke and get a spectacular tasting menu or stick to the prix fixe. Executive chef John Brand, who is also in charge of the cuisine at Ostra, at the Mokara Hotel & Spa across the river, has a lot on his plate, to be sure, but his talent and that of his staff are quite up to the challenge.
La Mansion del Rio’s Las Canarias is at 112 College St. downtown. Call the hotel at 210-518-1063.
Restaurant Week, presented by Culinaria, goes through Saturday at restaurants all over the city. Check out the list, and many of the menus that are offered, at the Culinaria website.