The dining area at the Terrace Grill.
COMFORT — Several weeks ago, while getting lost in the back roads around here, I passed a rather imposing gate bearing the name Riven Rock Ranch. My eyes drifted up the hillside to a beautiful resort partially hidden in trees, but I didn't give it much thought until I spotted a brochure for the place at one of the nearby wineries. The information on the card promised dining at the ranch's Terrace Grill on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
I was intrigued, to say the least. So, the first chance my schedule opened up, I was ready to go. But who would go with me? Not everyone was charmed by the prospect of dining in a "lovely outdoor venue," as the website calls it, even with an overhang to protect you. "Check back in November," one emailed me. But a pair of intrepid diners were up to the challenge, so off we went up I-10 and wound our way to Hermann Sons Road outside of town. We passed the gate and kept going, glad we were there before sunset because of the numerous turns and signs on the property that lead you to the Terrace Grill.
At the door, we were greeted by an overhead fan blowing a welcome trace of mist. It was a sign that we were going to feel right at home. Our table was in the middle of the L-shaped dining area, so we could see the rock fireplace on one side and a waterfall leading to a reception area on the other and a sliver of the sunset peaking through. In the middle of the comfortable area, across from our table, was an open kitchen where chef Joseph Brantley and his staff prepared some of our dinner in the wood-burning oven.
The menu online, with its healthy mix of local favorites, was in place, but so were eight specials, ranging from appetizers to entrées, which our friendly waitress patiently outlined for us. We started with a mixture of a special, sliders made with grass-fed beef, and a regular item, Mediterranean Salsa. We would have to toss a coin to decide which of these treats was better.
A Charolais slider
The miniature burgers, made with Charolais beef raised on the ranch, were juicy, deliciously medium rare and full of flavor. The wheat bun, the garlic aïoli and a dab of cheese just carried it over the top.
The salsa, meanwhile, featured exactly what the menu promised: "fresh lump crab, capers, tomatoes, kalamata olives, red onions, cilantro and green onions" all finely chopped in just a few drops of fresh lime juice and olive oil." That is the recipe, and it's so good that I'm making it for myself this weekend.
Our entrées were somewhat mixed. A wild boar schnitzel pounded thin, breaded and pan-fried was an excellent combination of German tradition and Texas ingredients, which carried over into a Rebecca Creek whiskey glaze. Sweet potato spaetzle added a nice touch on the side.
A naturally raised Angus ribeye was tender, had good flavor and was cooked medium rare to order. A generous side of steamed spinach was a pleasant complement. The meat is supposed to be served with Fredericksburg red potatoes, but I told the waitress I didn't want a starch. Imagine my surprise to find corn (!?!) sautéed with cabbage and bacon as the substitute. I ate the cabbage and, of course, the bacon. (The same side dish also appeared with the schnitzel.)
The open kitchen.
I did taste the potatoes because they were served with my friend's special, which included a deep-fried soft-shell crab and two jumbo fried shrimp. The shrimp were fine, especially with a dab of the accompanying rémoulade sauce, but the soft-shell crab wasn't fried long enough to become crispy, and as a result, it was, well, too soft. The potatoes, coated in peanut oil, were also a little lackluster and tough — certainly no competition for attention with the spinach, which also appeared on the plate.
In a restaurant world where side dishes are often afterthoughts, it was welcome to find substantial, home-style portions on each plate. Hopefully, they'll be just a little better next time.
We brought our own wines to go with the meal, using the restaurant's $10-per-bottle corkage fee. There is a nice wine list balancing choices from wineries far and as near as a mile or two from the restaurant.
The ribeye steak at the Terrace Grill.
The dessert list is as extensive as the specials list, and the sight of a foot-tall sundae with chocolate-Rebecca Creek sauce caught our eye as it went past. We opted instead for a key lime tartlet topped with torched meringue and strips of candied lime peel. It managed to balance sweet, tart and creamy in one beautiful treat.
We also tried the crème brûlée, which arrived topped with raspberries and Chambord. The sugar topping was dense, protecting the silky cream that just kept beckoning our spoons back for just one more taste.
We certainly enjoyed both of those desserts, but it was the whole evening at the Terrace Grill, from the setting to the food, that had us smiling.
The Terrace Grill at Riven Rock Ranch
390 Hermann Sons Road, Comfort
(830) 995-4045 or 877-RANCH90
Lunch/dinner: Friday, Saturday, Sunday