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Archive | January, 2012

Troy Knapp: Varietal Infidelity

Troy Knapp: Varietal Infidelity

By Troy Knapp

Troy Knapp is executive chef at Hyatt Hill Country Resort & Spa as well as a certified sommerlier

Troy Knapp is executive chef at the Hyatt Hill Country as well as a certified sommelier.

I will always remember the first time I had a truly remarkable and well-aged vintage port. The bottle I speak of was 36 years old and well taken care of. Pulling the cork was like opening a buried treasure and from the enormous amount of sediment in the bottle a beautiful purity emerged as it was decanted. The glasses were poured. I took my first sip. My first thought: “This is amazing, perfect, truly beautiful.” And after I took it all in, my second thought: “Damn! Where had this been? All this time, it had been missing from my life.”

Chardonnay, Cabernet or Merlot may be your loved one; however, they are not your spouse and will not be heartbroken if you experience different wines. The vast world of wine has much to be explored and the diversity is intriguing. Don’t be afraid to play the wine field a bit. One of two things will happen; you will find that absence has made the heart grow fonder or you’ll discover a new love. Regardless, the journey will be enjoyable, I promise you that. Here are a few tips while you allow your palate to gallivant around.

Put the sommelier to the test

Looking for wine can be intimidating. In the restaurant setting, the sommelier [saw-muh-LYAY]  can be a good ally to have. No sommelier? Ask for a wine steward or someone who knows the most about the selections offered. If the restaurant doesn’t seem to offer a good selection, stick to beer or cocktails. Don’t go looking for an experience where there is none.

A sommelier, wine steward or any industry professional truly wants to lead you in the right direction and to assist you in selecting a bottle that will align with your specific needs. That is his or her role. Be vocal. Let preferences be known along with what you are eating and your budget. Wine experts love a good challenge and will want to deliver the best experience for you; after all, their pride is on the line.

Sample around the wine world for a great many unique flavors.

Purchase for the season

Wines from a warm climate are typically richer, heavier and fuller in body than wines from a cool climate, which are lighter in body and have greater amounts of acidity. Drinking cool climate (refreshing) wines in the summer and adversely warm climate (richer) wines in the winter is a good seasonal approach, and can lead to a better experience.

Wine regions can be quite diverse. California, for example, has a range of climates varying from hot to very cool, based on their proximity to oceanic influence, elevation and a host of other factors. This can be a little confusing. An easier way to decipher if a wine is going to be full or light bodied and the climate it came from is to simply check the alcohol level on the bottle. I prefer wines with the alcohol of 13.5 percent and under in the summer and 14 percent and upwards in the cooler months.

Pursuing similar traits

Seek out unique varietals that may have similar traits to the wines you are familiar with. These general relations may steer you to something new:

  • If you like California Napa Chardonnay you may like other full bodied whites such as Viognier, Fiano from Southern Italy or the fleshy (fuller) wines of Alsace, such as Pinot Gris.
  • If you like Sauvignon Blanc, you may like Albariño from Spain, Grüner Veltliner from Austria or Pinot Grigio from North East Italy.
  • If you like Pinot Noir, you may like Barbara d’ Asti from Piedmont Italy, Cru Beaujolais from Burgundy, Agiorghitiko from Greece.
  • If you like California Cabernet Sauvignon, you may like Shiraz from Australia, Malbec from Argentina, Carmenere from Chile or Nero d’avola from Italy’s island of Sicily.

New World vs. Old World

If you like fruit-driven wines, purchase selections from the New World, such as California, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand and Australia. If you like earthier wines, seek out Old World selections, in other words, wines from traditional producers in France, Italy and Germany. Spain, Oregon and Washington state offer the best of both worlds and are known to offer traits that are reminiscent of the New and Old World wine-producing regions. They typically display generous fruit with an integration of earth or minerality.

Points and critics can cause confusion

Let’s face it, wine is quite subjective and with the world of facts, figures and opinions it can get rather convoluted. I usually take critics’ scores with a grain of salt when selecting wine. These common ratings are abundant on retail shelves, in magazines and on the Internet. In theory, a 90-point wine should be very good. Not always, I’ve had my fair share of highly rated wines that ended up disappointing me. The point system is fairly one-dimensional and doesn’t take into consideration several variables that should be considered when selecting wine. Time of year, temperature, personal preferences as well as what you may be eating are all important factors that the point system shows no consideration for. I feel these ratings are overly influential and frequently under deliver. Keep in mind that a critic’s score is merely one person’s opinion. Does this critic know what you like? And seriously, is there truly any good “one-size-fits-all” approach, let alone with something as personal as wine?

Remember, variety is the spice of life and while heading down the wine trail remember, the journey, as well as the destination, will most definitely be sure to reward. Enjoy!

Troy Knapp is executive chef at the Hyatt Hill Country and a certified sommelier.

Posted in Featured, Wine, Beer, Spirits Q&A1 Comment

Say ‘I Love You’ by Making Reservations Early

Say ‘I Love You’ by Making Reservations Early

You can treat your sweetheart to breakfast, lunch or dinner on Valentine's Day.

Valentine’s Day vies with Mother’s Day for being the biggest dining out day of the year. That means you need reservations, and the sooner you make them, the better. Otherwise, you may have to wait an hour or two with your loved one for the possibility of a table opening up.

Many places are offering specials over the weekend before Valentine’s Day, for those who want to celebrate a little earlier to avoid the crush.

Some prices listed below are per person, others are per couple. A few are listed per dish. Tax and tip are not included, unless otherwise indicated.

18 Oaks at JW Marriott Hill Country Resort & Spa, 23808 Resort Parkway, 210-491-5841 — The special Valentine’s dinner menu includes a series of appetizer choices, such as oysters on the half shell ($16) or roasted beet salad with goat cheese ($14) as well as the following entrées: 8-ounce filet mignon ($38), 16-ounce rib-eye ($45), baked stuffed lobster ($50), Windy Bar Ranch short ribs ($36), seared Scottish salmon ($34) or olive oil-poached monkfish ($35).

Achiote at the Grand Hyatt, 600 E. Market St., 210-224-1234 — The Valentine’s menu is available Feb. 10-11 and 14.   The special consists of a Spicy Smoked Avocado Cucumber Shooter and Seared Ahi Tuna Skewer with Citrus Ponzu, followed by Infused Watermelon and Fried Goat Cheese Salad with Arugula, Frisée, Radicchio and Thai Basil Vinaigrette. The entrée is Angus Beef Filet and Gulf Red Fish with Shiitake Mushroom Ragu and Rock Lobster Papaya Salsa. Dessert is Chocolate Hazelnut Cake with Tahitian Vanilla Custard and a Dipped Strawberry. The cost is $50 a person and includes a glass of Champagne. www.achioterivercafe.com

Aldaco’s at Sunset Station, 100 E. Hoefgen St, 210-222-0561 — Live flamenco and Spanish guitar will be offered on Valentine’s Day at 7 and 9 p.m. The restaurant is also offering a five-course special: bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with goat cheese, Ensalada de Patatas y Atun (Russian salad with seared tuna), Gambas con Chorizo y Pan de Tomate (shrimp sautéed with chorizo and garlic, tomato garlic toasts), Champinones y Puntitas de Solomillo al Ajillo (roasted mushrooms and beef tenderloin with garlic sauce) and Flan de Cafe (coffee flan with Grand Marnier cream and shaved chocolate). Cost is $55 a person.

Red and gold beet salad.

Antlers at the Hyatt Hill Country Resort, 9800 Hyatt Resort Drive, 210-647-1234 — The special Valentine’s menu begins with an amuse bouche of  roasted pepper, goat cheese and basil, followed by a choice of  open-faced petite lobster rolls, brioche and tarragon oil or chile-crusted antelope medallions, crispy shallots and orange oil. A golden and crimson beet salad with blood orange, fennel,feta and roasted hazelnuts is served before your choice of cider-glazed rack of lamb, basil and mint gelée, carrot parsnip purée, warm potato salad with wild boar bacon; grilled salmon, smoked pepper and lemon quinoa, spicy Napa cabbage slaw with cilantro dressing; Niman Ranch filet, pan-roasted morels, purple flowering kale, sweet potato matchsticks, consommé of veal and fresh herbs; or Chile black bean cakes, avocado salsa, cumin and lime yogurt sauce.  Dessert is dark chocolate custard, roasted balsamic strawberries and vanilla crisp. The cost is $68 a person.

Biga on the Banks, 203 S. St. Mary’s St., 210-225-0722 — The special Valentine’s menu begins with a choice of carrot soup with lemon, honey and cumin; shrimp croquettes with olives; or roasted asparagus salad with raspberries and brie. Second course is a choice of hot-smoked salmon with roasted broccolini and hazelnuts, purple mashers, tomatoes and dill or beef tenderloin with corn pudding, poblano chimichurri, and guajillo chile sauces. Dessert options include Strawberry Rhubarb Fruit Soup with strawberry sorbet, strawberry rosewater mousse, rhubarb chips and rose petals; Turtle Cheesecake with caramel sauce, toasted pecans and pecan lace tuille; Chocolate Amaretto and Raspberry Pavé, layers of chocolate cake soaked with amaretto, raspberry ganache, candied almonds and raspberry coulis; Orange Canolli, citrus cookie filled with orange cream, vanilla citrus salad and mint oil; and Coconut Dacquoise, coconut pastry cream, tropical fruits, passion fruit sorbet and pineapple chips. the cost of the special is $57 a person or $75 with paired wines. La Rosa’s Photography will be here to take Valentine pictures.

The Bright Shawl, 819 August St., 210-225-6366 — Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for a special Valentine’s dinner, which include your choice of Wild Mushroom Bisque or Bright Shawl Signature Salad Greens with Sautéed Goat Cheese Dollars and Cranberries. Main course options are Stuffed Breast of Chicken with Wilted Spinach, Cream, Greek Feta Cheese, Garlic Confit and Lemon Butter Sauce ($26) or Angus Beef Steak Medallions á la Diane, Surf & Turf ($34). Dessert is a Fresh Berry Fruit Tarte or White Chocolate Chambord Napoleon. www.brightshawl.com

Cibolo Moon at the JW Marriott Hill Country Resort & Spa, 23808 Resort Parkway, 210-491-5841 — The Valentine’s Day special is offered from 5 to 10 p.m. It begins with a choice of appetizer: foie gras with fig bacon jam and brioche or grilled jalapeño poppers wrapped in bacon and filled with cream cheese. Choice of entrée: redfish on the half shell with red chile butter and vegetable; filet and scallop with corn purée, jalapeño and smoked gnocchi; or the Blue Plate Special with seasonal vegetable. Dessert is a duo of dark chocolate Snickers torte and banana pudding.  The cost is $55 a person plus tax and tip. The full dinner menu will also be available.

Crumpets, 3920 Harry Wurzbach Road, 210-821-5600 — Dinner hours on Valentine’s Day are 5:30 to 10 p.m. All  entrées are served with appetizer, cup of soup or house salad, fresh vegetables and dessert. Main course options include Breast of Chicken with Montrachet Sauce ($35), Fresh Salmon Filet with Lemon-Butter and Capers ($35), Shrimp Lyonnaise with Wild Rice Blend ($45) , Tenderloin of Beef Savoy ($45), and Veal Scalloppini with Mushroom and Cognac Sauce ($45). The following is served with appetizer, cup of soup and house salad, fresh vegetables and dessert: Trilogy of Lobster Tail with Lemon Butter, Rack of Lamb Provençal and Tenderloin of Beef with Rossini Sauce ($55). Gourmet breakfast delivery, including a flower for Valentine’s Day, is available for $28.50 a person, plus tax and delivery fee.

EZ’s Brick Oven and Grill, various locations — EZ’s will be open 10 a.m.-10 p.m. on Feb. 14 and will offer two specials. The three-course dinner for two, starting with an organic spinach salad tossed with blueberries, artichoke hearts, toasted walnuts and house-made lemon ginger vinaigrette or a Caesar salad. It’s followed by an 11-inch Mediterranean pizza or calzone, featuring sweet Italian sausage, mozzarella cheese, roasted peppers and more or another favorite pizza or calzone.  For dessert, choose between a Blue Bell ice cream hot fudge sundae or a Valentine’s Day Big Red Blue Bell float!  Two glasses of wine and a bottle of sparkling Pellegrino water are included for $25 per couple. Exchange the two glasses of wine for a full bottle for $32.  If you just want dessert, Be My Big Red features  Blue Bell Ice Cream and Big Red for $4.

Fig Tree Restaurant,515 Villita St., 210-225-2111 — A three-course Valentine’s special is available Feb. 10-14. It begins with a choice of Ahi Tuna au Poivre and Hearts of Palm with Uzu Dressing or Seared Diver Scallop with Truffle Nage and Braised Leeks. Main course is a choice of Braised Waygu Short Rib, Creamy Polenta, Fresh Oregon Truffles and Natural Jus or Lobster and Saffron Risotto, English Peas, Spanish Chorizo, Pequillo Peppers and Lobster Foam. Dessert is either Chocolate Pavé with Berry Sauce or Raspberry Frangipane Tart with Almond Anglaise. Each meal is served with a glass of Champagne. Cost is $75 a person. Regular menu is also available.

Filet mignon a popular choice for a romantic dinner.

Francesca’s at Sunset at the Westin La Cantera, 16641 La Cantera Parkway, 210-558-2253 — The Valentine’s special is a three-course dinner that begins with the following appetizer choices: sweet white asparagus vichyssoise with shaved black truffle, white truffle-mint oil, white asparagus; surf and turf ensalada with organic romaine lettuce, chilled-steamed black mussels, Texas orange vinegar drizzle and pecan dust; or Haute Caprese with Burrata cheese, heirloom tomato, hoja santa herb, Champagne vinegar, Hawaiian black sea salt and extra virgin olive oil.  Main course options: Grilled lamb T-bone with mint chimichurri, Peruvian potato croquettes, yellow wax beans; seared lemon fish with fresh roasted beet and spinach rounds, mini kiwi blocks and orange foam; filet mignon with wilted red Russian kale, heirloom carrot crisps, purple carrot-cauliflower purée; or Scallops Salteado with multi-colored fingerling potato salad, quinoa pilaf, mustard vinaigrette. Dessert is a choice of a   banana split or tiramisù. Cost is $65 a person. Holiday hotel packages are also available for those with more than food on their minds.

Frederick’s, 7701 Broadway, 210-828-9050;  Frederick’s Bistro, 14439 N.W. Military Hwy., 210-888-1500 — The special menu includes choice of Seared Jumbo Sea Scallops with Leeks Ragout and Caviar, Spring Rolls with Mint Cilantro and Lettuce, Stuffed Quail and Mousse of Foie Gras  Terrine Platter, Assorted Seafood Delicacy or Tuna Tartar with Citrus Vinaigrette. Second course is Frederick’s Salad and Champagne Hazelnut Oil Vinaigrette, followed by a choice of Glazed Duck Breast with Orange Ginger Sauce with Wild Rice, Beef Tenderloin with Jumbo Shrimp and Roquefort Fresh Herb Sauce, Sea Bass and Jumbo Lump Crab Meat Napoleon with Champagne Caviar Velouté, Fresh Maine Lobster and Crab Navarin served with Spring Vegetables on a Bed of Parppedele Pasta or Veal Strip Loin with Foie Gras with Mushroom Duxelle and Madeira Sauce. Dessert is a choice of Frozen Lemon Grass Parfait with Mango and Passion Fruit Purées, Chocolate and Raspberry Mousse Cake or Dark and White Chocolate Terrine. The dinner is priced at $90 per person.

Kirby’s Steakhouse, 123 N. Loop 1604 E., 210-404-2221 — The special Valentine’s menu begins with a  choice of one of the following: Maryland Style Crab Cake,  Grilled Herb Polenta with Sautéed Baby Spinach and Robiola Cheese, Peppered Lamb Lollipops with a Cognac Button Mushroom Sauce and Totten Bay Oysters on the Half Shell with a Cilantro Lime Mignonette. Course two options: Chopped Salad,  Classic Caesar Salad,  Salad Lyonnaise with a White Truffle Vinaigrette  or Lobster Bisque.  Main course options: 7- or 10-ounce Blue Ribbon Filet with a choice of sauces,  18-ounce Rosewood Smoked Rib-eye with Signature Rub,  16-ounce prime New York strip, Lobster Newburg, Australian Barramundi Oscar or  Braised Lamb Shank.  All entrées accompanied by Lobster Mashed Potatoes, Sautéed White Truffle Wild Mushrooms and Grilled Asparagus. Dessert is Belgian Dark Chocolate Nirvana Cake with Tahitian Vanilla Bean Strawberry Compote. Cost is $85 a person.

Las Canarias, Omni La Mansion del Rio, 112 College St., 210-518-1063 — Executive Chef John Brand has created a special three-course and five-course menu to celebrate Valentine’s Day. The three-course menu includes choice of Roasted Shiitake Mushroom Bisque or Blue Bonnet Farms Hot House Green Lettuces; entrée choice of Pan-Roasted Local Farm Raised Chicken Breast with Swiss Chard, Yukon Gold Potato Purée and Natural Jus or Creekstone Farm’s Braised Beef with Lamb’s Grist Mill Polenta, Baby Carrots and Veal Demi-Glace. Dessert is a Valrhona Chocolate Tasting with Guanaja Chocolate Cake, Equatorial Mousse, Caraibe Panna Cotta and Caramelia Gelato. The five-course menu includes Dungeness Crab and Jerusalem Artichoke Velouté with Sea Urchin Roe; Gundermann Acres Beets with Local Watercress and Chèvre; Lavender Honey-Lacquered Duck Breast and Hudson Valley Foie Gras with Torched Figs and Fiddlehead Ferns; Tasting of Wagyu Beef Prime Rib with Chanterelle Risotto and Sauce Perigourdine; and Valrhona Chocolate Tasting of Guanaja Chocolate Cake, Equatorial Mousse, Caraibe Panna Cotta and Caramelia Gelato. The menus are available Feb. 10-14. The three-course meal costs $125 a person, while the five-course costs $150 a person. The regular menu will also be available.  Las Canarias’ regular champagne brunch offering will be available on Feb. 12 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The cost of the Champagne brunch is $39.95 a person.

Little Rhein Steak House, 231 S. Alamo St.,  210-225-2111 — The four-course Valentine’s special is available Feb. 10-14. Start with a choice of Shrimp and Crab Cocktail or Bacon Wrapped Quail Legs, followed by either a Caesar salad or Beefsteak Tomatoes with Blue Cheese Crumbles. Main course options are served with asparagus, sautéed wild mushrooms and au gratin potatoes plus your choice of the following: Prime Rib Eye, Filet Mignon, Grilled Salmon and Lobster Tail. Desserts include New York-style Cheesecake or Crème Brulee. Glass of Champagne is included. Cost is $68 a person. Regular menu is available.

Luce Ristorante e Enoteca, 12255 Huebner Road, 210-561-9700 — The restaurant is offering a three-course special beginning with a choice of  Zuppa di Aragosta (Lobster Bisque), Carpaccio Cipriani (Raw Thin Cut of Beef Tenderloin),  Baby Arugula Salad and Shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano, Mustard Aioli, Caesar Salad, Insalata di Mare (Cold Salad, Shrimp, Calamari, Scungilli, Diver Scallops, Garlic, Celery, Extra Virgin Olive Oil) or Caprese (Tomato Slices and Fresh Mozzarella di Latte, Basil and Olive Oil). Main course options:  Filetto e Capesante (Grilled Filet Mignon and Diver Scallop, Toasted Garlic Vegetables and Basil Mashed Potatoes, Veal Reduction) or Pesce alla Luce (Pan Seared Chilean Sea Bass, Shrimp and Asparagus Risotto, Toasted Garlic Vegetables). Dessert choices are Spumoni,  Crème Brûlée or Chocolate Lava Torta with Vanilla Gelato. The cost is $36.95 per person.

Lüke, 125 E. Houston St., 210-227-5853 — The restaurant will host a private dining event featuring a prix-fix four-course dinner with wine pairings on Feb. 14. Seating begins at 7 p.m. in Lüke’s upstairs private dining space. Menu highlights include pan-seared scallops with Allen Benton’s bacon and spiced pumpkin “love letters.” Dark chocolate torte with blood orange sorbet is dessert. Cost is $75 a person. Prepaid reservations required. The downstairs dining room is also accepting dinner reservations.  lukesanantonio.com

Max’s Wine Dive, 340 E. Basse Road, 210-444-9547 — The Valentine’s Couple’s Menu begins with the Chef’s Choice Amuse Bouche and a half glass of bubbles, followed by Baked Jalapeño and Oysters “Max-a-fellers.” Second course is a choice of Pan-seared Veal Chop with balsamic red onion confit, twice baked white cheddar new potatoes, and Crab and Asparagus Bavorois or Cracklin’ Chicken and Butternut Squash Risotto Dessert:  Pandora’s Chocolate Box of Love (filled with fresh berries and a white chocolate and port mousse). A take-away Valentine’s treat: chocolate and gold laden truffles. The cost is $75 a couple; wine pairings available at an additional $25 per person. The regular menu and items from the couple’s menu will also be available. www.maxswinedive.com

Mike’s in the Village, 2355-3 Bulverde Road, Bulverde, 830-438-2747 — Mike’s will be offering a Valentine’s special Feb. 10-14 (the regular menu will be available Feb. 10-11). The multi-course meal will include Lobster Bisque, followed by Shrimp and Grits with Jumbo Shrimp. Entree choices include Pan-seared Sea Bass over Warm Fresh Spinach, Wild Mushroom and Crabmeat Salad with Lemon Scented Creole Cardinal Sauce; Tender Filet Medallion over Feta and Green Onion Potato Cake, Haricot Vert and Wild Mushroom Marchand de Vin Sauce; Pecan and Herb Crusted Lamb Chops with Apple Mint Chutney with Garlic Mashed Potatoes & Haricot Vert. Dessert, served with a glass of Prosecco, is a choice of Chocolate Tort with Warm Chocolate Glaze, Raspberry Sauce and Fresh Raspberries; Molten Chocolate Lava Cake; or Strawberry Shortcake with Balsamic and Black Pepper Syrup. The cost is $60 a person.

Ostra at Mokara Hotel & Spa, 212 W. Crockett St., 210-396-5817 — Ostra’s regular a la carte menu is available during its normal hours throughout Valentine’s Day weekend. Additionally, on Valentine’s Day only, Ostra will feature specials during dinner service, beginning at 5:30 p.m.

Paesanos 1604, 3622 Paesanos Parkway, 210-493-1604 — The Valentine’s dinner is served with your choice of a bottle of Solletico Prosecco, La Crema Chardonnay or La Crema Pinot Noir. It accompanies two entrées of Classic Shrimp Paesano with pasta and two house salads, plus bread, followed by Limoncello Cheesecake. The cost is $95 per couple plus tax and tip.

Paesanos Riverwalk, 111 W. Crockett St., 210-226-8490 — Valentine’s seatings are at 7 and 9 p.m.  Dinner begins with an optional appetizer sampler for two (for an $14.95 a person) of Parmesan Crusted Artichoke Hearts and Giant Calamari with Duet Of Sauces and Crab Cake Croquettes. The special begins with  House Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette, Olives, Tomatoes and Feta Cheese.   Entree choices include Shrimp Paesano with Lemon Butter and Garlic; a Grilled Ribeye Steak and a Herb Garlic Béarnaise Sauce; Parmesan Crusted Chicken Breast with Linguini, Capers and Lemon Butter Sauce;  Grilled Ahi Tuna and a Basil Parmesan Vinaigrette; or Cheese Tortellini with Basil Pesto Cream and Pine Nuts.  Dessert is Lemon Mascarpone Cream Cake. The  children’s menu is a choice of Lasagna, Manicotti or Spaghetti with Butter or Tomato Sauce. Iced tea and soft drinks included.  The cost for the meal is  $51.95 a person plus tax and 20 percent tip; the cost for children ages 9 and under is $25.95 per child plus tax and 20 percent tip.

The Cupid Quesadilla at Paloma Blanca.

Paloma Blanca, 5800 Broadway, 210-822-6151 — The restaurant is offering the following specials Feb. 10-16: Sabor de Amor ($29.99), includes a 7-ounce filet mignon grilled “au” carbon and topped with chipotle butter; Cajita Corazón (19.99), a chicken breast filled with champiñones (mushrooms), corn and Oaxaca cheese, covered in a creamy poblano sauce and topped with melted cheese; and Quesadilla de Chocolate Cupido ($9.99), Chocolate Abuelita ice-cream sandwiched between two flat chocolate buñuelos drizzled in a Kahlua reduction.

Q on the Riverwalk at the Downtown Hyatt, 123 Losoya St., 210-222-1234, ext. 4240 — The Valentine’s menu will be available Feb. 10-11 and 14. It begins with an amuse-bouche of  Gulf Blue Crab Cake Paddlefish Caviar, followed by Hearts of Locally Grown Organic Romaine Lettuce with Heirloom Tomato, Aged Asiago Cheese and Moët-Blood Orange Vinaigrette. After an intermezzo of Passion Fruit Sorbet, dine on Chateaubriand with Fennel Bulbs, Swiss Chard, Baby Patti Pan Squash, Golden Beets and Chateau Potatoes with a choice of sauces. Dessert is Strawberry La Bomba, an explosion of strawberry and amaretto cream in an almond-flecked cake. The cost is $100 per couple and includes a glass of Champagne per person. www.qontheriverwalk.com

Romo’s Cafe, 7627 Culebra Road, 210-521-7666 — The four-course Feb. 14 special includes she crab bisque and foie gras garden, followed by a palette cleanser of tarragon sorbet and Champagne. For entrees, choose two of the following: beet and potato wrapped seabass with citrus beurre blanc; crab raviolo with crab aioli; handcut Texas rib-eye with red wine redux; lamb with a green peppercorn demi; and pheasant with herb l’orange. Choose your sides: potatoes gratin, haricot vert, spinach saute or herb roasted potatoes. Dessert is a trio of raspberry devil’s chocolate cake, cheesecake with honey and figs, and RoMo’s chocolate bar. Cost is $80 per couple.  A wine pairing including two special blends from the Boerne Wine Company is available for an additional $35 per couple. Book your reservation before Feb. 8 and receive a special gift (chocolate-dipped strawberries) and a rose for your date. On Feb. 11, the restaurant will celebrate Singles Awareness Day with a special menu for those Anti-Valentines.

Texas de Brazil, 313 E. Houston St., 210-299-1600 — The restaurant is offering special Valentine’s Day cocktails and a decadent chocolate dessert in addition to the regular offerings. Drink specials, priced from $7 to $9, include the Brazilian Rose, the Brazilian Kiss, the Raspberry Cream Dream and the decadent Milky Way Martini. The special dessert is a Triple Layer Chocolate Mousse Cake just right for sharing.

Tost Bistro and Bar, 14415 Blanco Road, 210-408-2670 — The Valentine’s Day special includes a multi-course meal that begins with a seared scallop on top of crispy roasted red beet risotto cake with spicy chimichurri, followed by Tost Bibb Salad with lardons, shaved carrots, cherry tomatoes with creamy buttermilk chive dressing or Butternut Squash Bisque. Main course choices are a pan-seared filet topped with truffle hollandaise with roasted wild mushrooms, grilled asparagus and creamy Yukon gold mash potatoes or crab-stuffed red snapper with roasted fingerling potatoes, spinach and a Champagne thyme beurre blanc. End with a choice of white chocolate mousse with fresh berries or house-made sorbet. The cost is $58.00 a person.

Two Step Restaurant and Cantina, 9840 W. Loop 1604 N., 210-688-2686 — The special Valentine’s Day menu includes a shared entrée, with your choice of 12-ounce Prime Rib Slow Smoked for 10 hours or 10-ounce Blackened Beef Tenderloin with Poblano Pesto Cream Sauce. Either choice is served with six Hot Buttered Shrimp with Tabasco Lemon Sauce and Horseradish Mashed Potatoes. Dessert is El Rey Chocolate Silk Custard. Two glasses of wine, your choice of Robert Mondavi Private Selection Chardonnay or Cabernet, included. Price is $50 per couple. twosteprestaurant.com

Z’Tejas Southwestern Grill, 15900 La Cantera Parkway, 210-690-3334 — Z’Tejas will offer a three-course Valentine’s Day menu Feb. 11–14. The menu features a Baja shrimp martini to start, followed by a choice of ancho grilled pork tenderloin, peppercorn-crusted filet, pan-seared sea scallops or pepita-crusted chicken. A white chocolate mousse with raspberries and PAMA pomegranate syrup will be available for dessert. Accompany the meal with Valentine’s Day cocktails featuring PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur. Menu items are priced individually.

Restaurateurs, if you would like to add your Valentine’s information, email griffin@savorsa.com or walker@savorsa.com.

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Pan-Roasted Snapper with Pickled Slaw, Corn Maque Choux Purée

Pan-Roasted Snapper with Pickled Slaw, Corn Maque Choux Purée

Paul Terrebonne's winning Pan-Roasted Snapper dish.

This is the winning recipe, by Paul Terrebonne, presented at the “Almost Famous Chef” Competition, sponsored by Acqua Panna and S. Pellegrino on Jan. 23 at the Culinary Institute of America, San Antonio.

Terrebonne is a student from the  Chef John Folse Culinary Institute of Nicholls State University in Thibodeaux, La., won the competition. His winning recipe as well as presentation style gave him the right to advance to Napa, Calif., where he could win up to $22,000 and an apprenticeship with a master chef.

His dish was Pan-Roasted Snapper with a Pickled Slaw, Corn Maque Choux Purée and Abita Beer Rice. Judges felt the dish was balanced in its flavor profile, all parts worked toward a cohesive whole, and it was straightforward in presentation. And, it tasted delicious — a very important factor as well!

Pan-Roasted Snapper with a Pickled Slaw, Corn Maque Choux Purée and Abita Beer Rice.

Pickled Vegetables

2 cups distilled white vinegar
2 ½ cups water
2/3 cup white sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons cloves
2 tablespoons pickling spice
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
2 teaspoons caraway seed
1 mirliton
1/3 red onion
2 carrots
2 English cucumbers (skin only)
1 red bell pepper

Add the vinegar, water, sugar, and all the spices together in a medium pot and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain out all the spices and then cool down the pickling liquid. Cut all the vegetables into julienne slices and then place into the cooling liquid for 2 hours. (Makes 10 servings)

Corn Maque Choux Purée (Creamed Corn Sauce)

2 tablespoons butter
1 orange bell pepper (fine dice)
3 ½ cups corn (5 ears corn, kernels cut off the cobb)
½ yellow onion (fine dice)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream

Add butter, orange bell pepper, corn, onion, salt, sugar, and cayenne pepper to a medium pot and gently sauté on medium heat for 10 minutes. Add the milk and cream to the pot and simmer for an additional 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Purée the mixture while it is still hot (use blender or immersion blender) and then strain through a fine mesh strainer or china hat. (Makes 12 servings)

Abita Beer Rice

½ yellow onion (fine chopped)
2 tablespoons butter
2 bay leaves
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups Abita Amber beer
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 cups jasmine rice
2 lemons (juiced)
½ cup thinly sliced chives

Saute the onions, salt, and bay leaves in the butter for 5 minutes. Add the beer, stock, lemon juice, and rice. Bring it to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Then cover and cook for 17 minutes. Fold in the chives. Discard the bay leaves. (Makes 8 servings)

Pan-Roasted Snapper (or other firm-fleshed white fish)

8 fillets of red snapper (or any white flaky fish, skin off)
2 cups flour
Vegetable oil, for frying
Kosher salt
Cajun seasoning
Directions:

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Heat a large skillet on high heat until it just begins to smoke. Add oil until it covers the bottom of the skillet. Season both sides of the fish with salt and Cajun seasoning. Lightly flour the side of fish where skin was, if it is skinned (or flour the skin side if skin-on). Place the fish into an extremely hot pan, floured side down. Allow it to sear for 30 seconds and then place it into the oven for 5-6 minutes.

For serving: Put a one-serving mound of cooked Abita Amber rice in the center of the plate. Put the fish, skin-side up on top of the rice. Top the fish with a little more of the corn sauce, then put the pickled slaw on top. Spoon a little more of the corn sauce around the plate.

Makes 8 servings.

From Paul Terrebonne, winner of the regional “Almost Famous Chef Competition”, sponsored by Acqua Panna and S. Pellegrino

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Cocktail Conference Shakes It Up for a Good Cause

Cocktail Conference Shakes It Up for a Good Cause

Rob Gourley of San Antonio makes a Philly Smash with rye, lime, Averna, simple syrup, berries and mezcal at the Esquire Tavern.

By the time the last drop of vodka had been poured, the last cube of ice chipped and the last mint garnish bruised, the inaugural San Antonio Cocktail Conference could be classified a success.

Adrian Sarabia of San Antonio uses Ranger Creek White in his White and Red.

The four-day event, which included everything from what could affectionately be dubbed “booze cruises” along the river to Sunday brunch, attracted hundreds. Several of the seminars, on topic ranging from ice to making cocktails at home, sold out, all offering the promise of a great future for the event.

The best news of all was the event, planned as a fundraiser for the San Antonio charity HeartGift, raised enough money to pay for the costs associated with the heart surgeries of two children from countries where the proper treatment is either unavailable or inaccessible. The surgical fees are donated by the doctors, but there are costs associated with flying the children in and taking care for them during their recuperation.

Houston Eaves of Austin makes a 3-Piece Suit with Fernet, Campari and Punt e Mes.

Saturday brought a cocktail competition in which more than 30 contestants had to prepare an original cocktail that was judged on taste, presentation and execution. The grand prize winner was John Lermayer from the Florida Room in Miami, followed by Jake Corney of Bohanan’s, which is where the contest was held, and Charles Shelton of Austin.

Lermayer named his winning cocktail Have a Heart and promised HeartGift executive director Cathy Siegel that he would be donating some of his winnings to the charity.

Saturday evening brought a crowd of cocktail lovers to the Esquire Tavern. Along the longest bar in Texas, mixologists whipped up specialty drinks that featured drinks such as Texas spirits, including Ranger Creek White and Tito’s Vodka as well as absinthe, mezcal, the Italian vermouth Punt e Mes, and digestifs such as Averna and Campari. Spray cans of bitters were also used by several to finish off their cocktails.

Wonderful flavors, all, and a great reason to raise a toast to a successful launch of the San Antonio Cocktail Conference.

 

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Judges Select Top Wines for SA Wine Festival in Feb.

Judges Select Top Wines for SA Wine Festival in Feb.

Old hands and new recruits swirled wine glasses and huddled over judging sheets as they scored more than 400 wines at KLRN Public Television’s 2012 San Antonio Wine Competition Saturday.

Wine judge Barbara Jackson evaluates wines in a flight.

By late afternoon it was over, and the television station’s annual fundraiser, which will happen in mid-February, had its slate of bronze, silver and gold-medal-winning wines. These, as well as the overall best red wine and white will be poured at the events.

KLRN event organizer John Costello gave teams their orders, and judges were at their seats in curtained-off areas by 9 a.m. at the La Quinta Horizon Hills. Carts full of tinkling wine glasses were trundled into the room, and breakfast time or not, we set to the task of tasting wine.

If anyone gives you the old “it’s hard work but somebody has to do it” line about wine judging, take it literally. It’s not the picking up and putting down of the glass that’s hard, or even settling with several other people on a judging team upon scores. It’s the noses and palates that take the beating. Attention spans begin to flag after the fifth or sixth flight of wines, each from 6 glasses to a full tray of 12

The alcohol most of us try to not swallow (honest) still manages to seep into the bloodstream and by 2 p.m., more than one person has quietly mentioned the word “nap.”

To say judges don’t drink on the job is not entirely true.  On my team, judges Debbie Penny and David Mollenauer and I set aside a glass or two of a favorite red wine from one of our trays to have with lunch.  One of these ended up being not only our favorite red wine but the wine chosen as top red wine by the final judges.

Wine judge Carol Wong examines the color and clarity of a red wine during the KLRN Wine Competition Saturday.

Another wine, this a white dessert wine, also went to the finals, though it didn’t take the top prize. This was an unusual dessert wine made in Canada called Niege, an ice wine. The flavors were butter, caramelized sugar and apple; the color was a rich gold and the texture was heavy and satiny on the tongue. As it turned out, Niege is made from apples – and was one of best, non-grape wines we’ve  tasted at the competition.

These winning wines, and more, will be poured during the festival events next month.

The San Antonio Wine Festival will be Feb. 12 with the 35th Annual Fine Wine & Cuisine Tasting beginning at 6 p.m. in the Alamodome. The Wine Opener is Feb. 17, at 7:30 p.m. and the Champagne Brunch is February 19, beginning at 11 a.m. These events both are at the St. Anthony Riverwalk Wyndham Hotel. For more information and tickets, go to www.sawinefest.com.

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For the Fee Brothers, Bitters Are Better

For the Fee Brothers, Bitters Are Better

Joe Fee holds a bottle of Fee Brothers Black Walnut Bitters.

It seemed inevitable that bitters would make a comeback. After too many years of ultra-sweet “Sex in the City”-induced cosmopolitans, a great many cocktail lovers are suffering from sugar shock.

Bitters offer a blessed balancing act, using herbs to temper a sweetness in some cocktails that all too often is cloying. It also is used as a digestif, said to settle the stomach. But the big plus of bitters is the way they add live and a greater depth of flavors to your cocktail.

Few people could be more excited about this interest than Joe Fee, whose family founded Fee Brothers four generations ago. The Rochester, N.Y.-based company makes a series of cocktail mixes, cordial syrups, brines and coffee flavors, but it is known to many for its vast array of bitters, which come in flavors, from cherry to mint.

Fee, who is in town for the inaugural San Antonio Cocktail Conference, knows that the resurgence of interest in old-fashioned, handcrafted cocktails has also boosted a renewed interest in bitters. And he’s here to spread of the gospel of what they can add to cocktails and cooking alike.

Lovers of cocktail recipe books, both old and new, know that many a libations writer cautions against using too much bitters in a drink. It’s good advice when you’re starting out and don’t know your own tastes, but it also helps to sample your drink and adjust the bitters until you get the desired result. It’s like adding salt and pepper to food. Some recipes call for more than a dash of salt. And there are cocktails that call for up to an ounce of bitters, Fee says.

“Everyone’s tastes are different,” he says.

The company’s top seller is Old Fashion Bitters, which Fee says is the equal of Angosturra, another well-known bitters, and a necessary ingredient in a Manhattan. It’s followed closely by orange bitters, a dash of which can make a dry martini even more perfect. Other flavors include peach, lemon, grapefruit, rhubarb and whiskey barrel-aged. This March, a gin barrel-aged orange bitters will be introduced.

But Joe Fee is more interested at the moment in another new addition: black walnut bitters, a flavor he developed himself. His sister, Ellen, who usually is in charge of development, took a pass because she’s allergic to walnuts.

One taste of the black walnut bitters is filled with a pleasing nuttiness as well as a spicy tone, a touch of cinnamon and, of course, vanilla, which Fee calls “the salt of the flavor world.” Add a dash or two to a good bourbon or tequila for added dimension, he recommends, or use it at a tiki party in everything from rum pineapple drinks  to tropically flavored food, especially pork dishes.

Each bottle of Fee Brothers bitters, which can be found at Spec’s and Twin Liquors among other local stores, comes hand-wrapped in paper, which gives the product a personal touch. It also makes the bottle look a little like Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce. But the paper prevents the flavors from fading.  Bitters will never go bad, no matter how old the bottle is, Fee says, because of the alcohol in it.

The San Antonio Cocktail Conference continues through Sunday. For information, click here.

The following are a few cocktail recipes that use bitters:

Carte Blanche

3 cucumber wheels
1 1/2 parts Hendrick’s Gin, a cucumber gin
1/2 part fresh lime juice
1/2 part simple syrup
2 healthy dashes orange bitters
Brut sparkling wine

In a mixing glass, muddle two cucumber wheels. Add  gin, lime juice, simple syrup, bitters and ice. Shake well and double strain into a cocktail glass. Top with sparkling wine and garnish with the final cucumber.

Makes 1 cocktail.

Adapted from Hendrick’s Gin

Champagne Cocktail

1 lump sugar
Dash of Fee’s Old Fashion Bitters
2 ounces brut sparkling wine

Soak sugar cube with bitters. Place cube in champagne flute. Fill with sparkling wine. Garnish with a twist of lemon.

Makes 1 cocktail.

From FeeBrothers.com

Come Again

1 teaspoon Fee’s Peach Bitters
1 1/2 ounces gin

Shake bitters and gin with ice. Strain into a 3-ounce cocktail glass. Garnish with 2 mint sprigs.

Makes 1 cocktail.

From FeeBrothers.com

 

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San Antonio Drinks In Its First Cocktail Conference

San Antonio Drinks In Its First Cocktail Conference

Corey Morris mixes cocktails at the launch of the first San Antonio Cocktail Conference.

Can you make a perfectly dry martini? Do you know how to make a margarita that achieves the right balance of natural sweetness and tartness? Do you know how to modify a classic cocktail when using the cucumber-flavored Hendrick’s Gin instead of a regular gin?

The Business 2 ounces Hendrick's Gin 3/4 ounce honey syrup 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice Place all of the ingredients in an ice-filled shaker. Shake until cold and pour into a cocktail class. Garnish with a slice of lime or cucumber, if desired.

Anyone who loves a finely crafted cocktail knows that it takes plenty of studying to get the right mix.

But it also begs another question: Can you think of any studies that are more flavorful and more conducive to partying?

That’s the format of the first San Antonio Cocktail Conference, which kicked off Thursday night with, appropriately enough, a cocktail party.

Chef Mark Bohanan, a driving force behind the conference, opened the bar at his Houston Street place to more than 350 cocktail lovers. The crowd  went from the luxurious interior, where a jazz combo kept things lively, to the neighboring patio.

The balmy January evening was perfect for traveling among the various tables where patrons could drink cocktails made with the likes of tequila, vodka, gin, Cognac and Champagne as well as such flavorings as coconut, ginger, lime and honey.

The whole conference is a fund-raiser for HeartGift, a local charity that provides medical assistance to children from around the world in need of heart surgery.

The overflowing crowd put a big smile on Mark Bohanan’s face. It must also be gratifying to know that some of the seminars today and Saturday have sold out. (For a schedule of events, including river cruises, parties at SoHo, Ocho and the Esquire Tavern, and Sunday brunch at the Sheraton Gunter, click here.)

More than 350 fill Bohanan's for the inaugural event of the San Antonio Cocktail Conference.

Corey Morris, a bartender at Bohanan’s, offered a few tips for making a good cocktail at home:

  • Make sure your ingredients are good. You can taste it when they’re not.
  • Make sure you use good ice. Ice with an off flavor can affect your drink.
  • Don’t shake your drink too much. Ice that melts too soon can water down your drink.

That’s just a taste of what’s to come over the next few days, including sessions in  Forgotten Cocktails, the Wonderful World of Gin and the homegrown Lone Star Cocktails.

While working at Bohanan’s, Morris has studied under several master mixologists, including the internationally regarded Sasha Petraske of Milk & Honey. Petraske is just one of the people who will be leading seminars, which means that anyone with passion for making perfect cocktails can learn what bartenders know. Or you can just sit back and absorb the intoxicating atmosphere that’s marking the inaugural cocktail conference.

 

 

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Thousands Throng to Cowboy Breakfast

Thousands Throng to Cowboy Breakfast

It's time to make the tacos at the annual Cowboy Breakfast.

The Cowboy Breakfast is here. Can rodeo be far behind?

Dishing up biscuits and gravy during the Cowboy Breakfast.

That was on the minds of some this morning, as the 34th annual Cowboy Breakfast got underway at Cowboys Dancehall on Loop 410 near Perrin Beitel Road. Others were talking about how the unseasonably warm weather (a mere 45 degrees at 5 a.m. and no precipitation in sight) had brought them out early to avoid the massive crowds that were expected.

But no matter what time you arrived at the breakfast, there were always long lines for tacos, sausage and biscuits, biscuits and gravy, coffee and milk. Yet the lines moved quickly, so you could get a bit of whatever you wanted, from Johnsonville Brats to sausage and egg tacos, in a matter of minutes.

The lines move quickly despite their length.

The cooks stationed under the large white tents at the east end of the parking lot kept things at a brisk pace as they scrambled eggs with chorizo, sliced biscuits or heated tortillas.

Groups from St. Philip’s College’s culinary school, McDonald’s, Pioneer, Oak Hills and Jordan Ford, among others, formed assembly lines, so dishes were prepared with such haste that people could feed themselves and head back for more — all for free.

Steam rises from a heaping helping of taco fillings.

Will Thornton of St. Philip’s said his crew of chefs in training, about 32 in all, arrived at 2 a.m. Other volunteers have been known to be there all night, to make sure everything runs smoothly.

This year’s event was different from many in recent years at Cowboys because the weather cooperated. No sleet or icy rain, no Arctic blasts of wind driving people to shelter or huddling up as they waited for shuttle buses that moved between Cowboys and the neighboring Rialto cinema parking lot. Instead, the temperatures added to the magnetic pull of the event, which always draws people of all ages.

A number of country music acts filled two stages and provided a break for those who wanted to get in a dance in between tacos.

This year’s event was dedicated to the memory of honorary life chairman Herb Carroll, who died last year.

A hot cup of coffee is welcome at any time.

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Asian Festival: Celebrate Year of the Dragon Saturday

Asian Festival: Celebrate Year of the Dragon Saturday

The Asian Festival celebrates its 25th year Saturday, Jan. 28 at the Institute of Texan Cultures, 801 Cesar E. Chavez  Blvd. Ushering in the Year of the Dragon, the festival includes Asian food and cooking, as well as demonstrations and lectures, entertainment for the children, Asian crafts, henna tattoos, a Lion Dance Parade and more.

You can purchase tickets in advance, which are $8 for adults, $5 for children 6-12 years. Children 5 and under get in free. For more information and tickets, go to TexanCultures.com or call (210) 458-2300.

The festival will be from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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Beer of the Week: Guinness Stout

Beer of the Week: Guinness Stout

 

 

Beer of the Week is sponsored by the Lion & Rose. Each week, we introduce you to a wonderful brew that’s a little bit different and well worth seeking out.

 

 

 

Guinness Stout

Thirsty yet?

Vintage Guinness ads.

Guinness Stout needs no introduction. This beer has been enjoyed by folks from Ireland and around the world for more than 250 years. More than 10 million glasses of Guinness beers are poured every day.

But here are some facts about Guinness that you might not have known:

  • The Guinness brewery was founded in 1759, when glasseArthur Guinness signed a 9,000-year lease on the property near St. James Game in Dublin. “It costs him an initial £100 (about $147 U.S. dollars) with an annual rent of £45 (about $66 U.S. dollars) — this includes crucial water rights,” the Guinness website says. “The brewery covers four acres and consists of a copper, a kieve, a mill, two malthouses, stabling for 12 horses and a loft to hold 200 tons of hay.” His first beers are porter and ale.
  • Irish people come by their love of Guinness seemingly naturally. In Ireland, new mothers were once given Guinness to drink in the hospital to aid lactation.
  • Guinness is not high in alcohol. Though the stout is hefty on the tongue, it’s not terribly loaded. Its alcohol level is 4.1 to 4.3 percent, which is in the average range of beers. A Busch beer, by example, has 5.11 percent alcohol, while Miller Genuine Draft has 5 percent and a Molson Golden has 6 percent. (For a list of alcohol levels of beers, click here.)
  • Strict vegetarians should not drink Guinness. You won’t find any beef floating in your beer, but the makers do you isinglass, which is made from dead fish. This is used in filtration, and some may end up in the find product.
  • Guinness in Ireland tastes differently from Guinness in America. Believe this all you want, but taste test after taste test shows that tasters cannot tell the difference in where the Guinness comes from. If you enjoyed it in Ireland more than here, it probably has more to do with the fact of where you were, who you were with or what you were eating with the beer. The Guinness website states it this way: “We always use pure, fresh water from natural local sources for the Guinness stout brewed outside Ireland. That said, in blind tests (with a bunch of highly cynical journalists) none of our sample could tell the difference between Irish-brewed Guinness and the locally produced variety. All the Guinness sold in the UK, Ireland and North America is brewed in Ireland.”

You can also cooked with Guinness. Here is a recipe for Irish Lamb Stew with Guinness Stout. (Use beef if you don’t have or like lamb, but don’t use any stout but Guinness.)

 

 

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