It isn’t downtown Tuesday or thank God it’s Friday. Monday is just a quiet weekday when most of us are clinging to the vestiges of a weekend that’s rapidly vanishing.
But this week is Restaurant Week — Culinaria’s annual bash of budget-priced menus at some of the city’s favorite restaurants and a very good reason to leave home.
Ahead of time, we’d mentally sampled a range of flavors evoked by words on web pages — the menus from participating restaurants are online here. These are specials for three-course lunches ($15) and dinners ($35) offered through Saturday (and in some cases longer).
Las Canarias at the Omni La Mansion del Rio has long been a special-night-out place for my husband and me. Executive chef John Brand has continued its tradition of well-crafted dishes, local sourcing and many happy surprises in the well-constructed offerings from his menus.
Our first choice for Restaurant Week, Las Canarias tempted us with a starter of with grilled Texas Shrimp with Chimichurri Sauce and roasted corn for an appetizer as well as another good choice: Crispy Masa Dedos with aged cotija cheese and lime espelette aioli.
Served in a glass, the grill-marked shrimp had all the fresh, natural sweetness we’d wanted and was a perfect mate to the sugar in the roasted corn. Then, those sweet tastes did a lively two-step with tangy — the fresh herbs and chimichurri sauce.
I’d had the masa dedos at a CIA Latin Flavors class a couple of years ago, and Las Canarias’ version were just as warm and tender: Think airy, tiny little corn pancakes rolled up into flutes, then dipped into the creamy aioli and seasoned with some salty cotija cheese with a little sprinkle of red pepper. Sumptuous but just enough for a starter, interesting but not likely to dull the appetite.
While the Patagonia Salmon, crusted with spice and served with a local farmer caponata and a little lemon curd was tempting, we were on a carnivore’s quest: the Braised Beef Short Rib on Homestead Grist Mill Polenta with Grilled Scallion and a Pickled Okra Relish was what we’d come for — and a great choice it was.
The meat was served cut off the rib and shredded easily with a fork. The warm, strong beefy aroma was lavish but also fulfilled its promise with rich, full flavor that comes from braising.
The pickled okra relish had a lemony tartness that complemented the mellow beef, while the buttery polenta was not just comfort food but also cleared the palate for the next, tempting taste of complex flavors.
My companion shared his Duck Leg Confit with me (just a little), and it was all it should be, with glossy brown skin and fall-apart texture. The side dish that almost stole the show was the combo of house-made bacon with Brussels sprouts hash — a dish related to shredded cabbage, yes, but its rich and very well-appointed cousin. The sweet-tart cherry sauce was the third facet of this dish, a classic for duck but the tiny Montmorency cherries were the jewels that made the difference.
Our Restaurant Week meal at Las Canarias came to an end with plates of warm pudding (think about a just slightly underbaked, large sugary cookie — but better — topped with ice cream and served with the warm sauce served in a little pitcher. We poured the thick toffee sauce until it pooled around the bottom of the dish. And, then we poured some more. A sweet dish and good way to say goodnight to an excellent Restaurant Week meal.
Las Canarias is at the Omni La Mansion del Rio Hotel on the River Walk. 112 College St. 210-518-1063.