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Two Chefs Team Up for Toro Taco Bar


Chefs Josh Cross and Rick Frame first met back in the 1990s while working for Bruce Auden at Biga. Both have had plenty of high-end dining experience under their belts since, such as Cross’s Olorosa.

The pickup window at Toro Taco Bar

The pickup window at Toro Taco Bar

So, naturally, they’ve teamed up for a taco bar.

Toro Taco Bar at 114 Brooklyn Ave. is an east side, open air patio with street tacos and quesadillas served up alongside an icy Carta Blanca with salt encrusting its long neck and a slice of lime perched on the rim.

“Rick had the spot and has been doing improvements for about 1 1/2 years,” Cross says. “And one evening at Robbie Nowlin’s Wicked Nights supper club series, Rick told me his idea of Toro and half jokingly asked me if I’d like to come aboard. This version of food and drink was exactly what I wanted to do back here in San Antonio. Basically, we’re two chefs making drinks and snacks.”

toro carta blancaIt’s not really as simple as that, though both Frame and Cross appear to be enjoying the laid-back atmosphere of the place — and the attention the place has received in the two weeks or so that Toro has been opened. Old friends in the restaurant business, curious restaurateurs and hungry diners alike have kept the place busy since it’s been open.

Cabrito guisada tacos

Cabrito guisada tacos

Frame and Cross have kept up with the demand, while settling into their business routine. In the evenings, you can find music, sometimes live and sometimes from a DJ, filling the night air while you savor the likes of cabrito guisada tacos or campechana filled with fresh shrimp, oysters and more.

Cross described the menu as “playful  and interesting” as well as “ever-changing and evolving.” “Our ’empanadas’ so far have been poblano and mushroom pop tarts and cabrito hot pockets. Our quesadillas are nopales, corn, goat and calabaza with huitlacoche,” he says. “I’m toying around with the idea of chicarrone poutine.”

Toro's bar area

Toro’s bar area

What this all means is that “we have a high standard of quality, but aren’t taking ourselves too seriously,” Cross says. “The drink program mirrors the food. We have a ton of tequilas, mescal and sotols. Our beers will encompass all of Mexico and Central America. I’m still working out the wine list.”

Both chefs take pride in the fact that everything is made in house. Everything, that is except for the tortillas. “I couldn’t do as good of a job as Adelita’s,” Cross admits.

Toro Taco Bar is the latest hot spot to open on the east side. It’s near the new Alamo Brewing Co. and not too far from Amaya’s Tacos, Dignowity Meats and the revitalized Tucker’s Kozy Korner, all of which are making the neighborhood and exciting area for really good food and drink.

Toro Taco Bar is open from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Thursday through Monday. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday. For more information, click here.

 

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‘Feast’ Moving into Former Oloroso Location


The Oloroso sign is still up at 1024 S. Alamo St., but that will change before long.  The restaurant, formerly owned by chef Josh Cross, closed in November last year. Now, says businessman Andrew Goodman, his restaurant, Feast, is scheduled to open there in late September.

Andrew Goodman working on interior at Feast, a new restaurant in Southtown.

“It isn’t going to look at all like Oloroso,” said Goodman on Tuesday. He was working on the plastic protected floor in the front dining room, laying down tape so that he could paint baseboards.  The look, he says, will be “very crisp and clean” with white walls, dark wood floors, ball chandeliers over each table and “ghost” (transparent) chairs.

“We want the (atmosphere) to be cool and classic, but with great energy, a little sexy,” says Goodman.

He’s currently working on a menu with his chef, Stefan Bowers, who will be working at Feast beginning the first of September. Bowers is currently at 20 Nine Restaurant & Wine Bar at the Quarry.

The menu will offer a combination of appetizers, entrees as well as smaller plates with more generous proportions than one ordinarily associates with “small plates.”  Goodman describes the menu as being “flexible” — for instance if someone wants to try three of the salads, they can get smaller portions of all three on one plate. The food, at this point, is planned to be “New American with Mediterranean flair.”

He and Bowers will be doing a lot of tasting of food and wine pairings as they develop the menu and wine list, says Goodman. “We want the food and wine to work together well.”

Feast will be open only for dinner for a time after it opens, and will have a full bar, says Goodman. Goodman has had other businesses in San Antonio, including an antique store, Eden, but this is his first restaurant venture.

Main dining room of the former Oloroso.

 

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A Last Supper at Oloroso


Roasted sole with a garlic sauce on the side.

Thursday night offered one last chance for some to savor Josh Cross’ Mediterranean-influenced fare at Oloroso, 1024 S. Alamo St., before it closes Saturday night.

The occasion was a wine dinner featuring St. Supéry and two of its French sister wineries, Clos Poggiale and Maison Bouachon.

What was evident from the start was that Cross is an enormous talent to have on the scene, even if San Antonio seems to be indulging in fine dining less and less these days. We’ve lost many of higher-end independents in recent years, leaving us somewhat malnourished in the creative department. A few years ago, about the time Oloroso opened, San Antonio could boast better restaurants than any other major metropolitan area in the entire state. No more.

The chains that have sprung up on the scene, no matter the cost, have done little to enhance the scene.

The evening started with a Spanish-inspired tortilla (don’t think Mexican-style flatbread) made of shrimp, scallions and garbanzo beans. Two small cakes were perched atop a salad with roasted red peppers and sherry onions. They were matched with a light, crisp French Vermentino from Clos Poggiale in Corsica.

Roasted sole, with a perfectly seared exterior, was crowned with picholine olives and served alongside a sauce made from garlic and potatoes. Its bold flavors stood up to the clean, fruity exuberance of the 2009 St. Supéry Sauvignon Blanc in what amounted to a practically perfect pairing.

Even more delightful was the pairing of the 2008 Maison Bouachon Cotes du Rhone with roasted poussin, or young chicken, with salty Marcona almonds, house-made chorizo and Swiss chard. The intoxicating aromas from the plate greeted you before it arrived at the table and made for a memorable pairing with the pepper Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre blend.

Bone-in veal atop a vegetable-sweetbread medley.

The massive grilled veal chop with an even great bone protruding from it showed Cross at his most inventive. Sure, the meat was juicy, succulent, spectacular. But the real show was the blend of celeriac, parsnips, cippoline onions, tangy sweetbreads and beans in a red wine sauce that had the slightest hint of something like coconut. Parsnips are not my favorite vegetable, yet these were sweet and tender and irresistible. The sweetbreads made the elegant 2005 St. Supéry Élu, a Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated blend, soar.

Crema Caramel, almost a crème anglaise in its sensual soupiness, finished off the meal with a brightly acidic, not-too-sweet St. Supéry Moscato. And with dessert came another realization that this San Antonio restaurant will cease to exist after Saturday night.

The good news is that Cross and his staff have all found jobs, so no one will be out of work. The San Antonio-born chef is headed to work for Jason Dady, but he has plans to return to Spain at some point to continue learning. Let’s hope he brings that knowledge back to town. We can sure use him.

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Oloroso to Close Nov. 13


Olorosa in Southtown has changed its menu for fall.

Oloros0, 1024 S. Alamo St., will close on Saturday, Nov. 13.

“Sadly, we are closing,” owner Josh Cross says. “The finances simply ran out.”

Those who want to have one more visit can still sample Cross’ new fall menu,which includes Seared Scallops with Butternut Purée; Grilled Hangar Steak with Braised Oxtail; Roasted Rack of Lamb with Pumpkin Purée; and Roasted Duck Breast with braised kale, roasted whild mushrooms and bacon lardons. There’s also a house-made fresh pasta with seasonal vegetables.

A three-course prix-fixe is available daily until 7 p.m. It begins with a choice of soup or salad, followed by a choice of the fish of the day, roasted chicken or grilled hangar steak. Dessert is a choice of ginger and cardamom crème brûlée or chocolate pots du crème. The cost is $35 a person.

For reservations or more information, call 210-223-3600 or click here.

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Arts & Eats Brings It Home


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Arts & Eats came home this year.

ArtsAndEats094The annual fundraiser for the Blue Star Contemporary Art Center was held at the center Wednesday for the first time in several years.

The format was slightly different, with only six restaurants offering food and fewer tables with wines. But the selection of both was well-chosen and plentiful, which pleased the sold-out crowd.

Josh Cross from Oloroso offered a cheese plate with aromatic selections from around the world, while Thierry Burkle of the Grill at Leon Springs served up tender stuffed lamb loin. Jason Dady, representing Restaurant Insignia, served a foie gras terrine on a toasted brioche that patrons were told to eat like a taco. Easy instructions to follow.

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2000 Bertrani Amarone della Valpolicella

Bruce Auden of Biga on the Banks offered crepes with chicken, asparagus and “expensive mushrooms.” Damien Watel was represented with two booths, one from Bistro Vatel served up sturgeon parfaits with a crisp blini and a touch of trout roe while Bistro Bakery plated blood orange profiteroles for dessert.

Wines ranged from the Kim Crawford Pinot Grigio and Simi Russian River Chardonnay for white lovers to the Col Solare, Washington state’s answer to Opus One, and the 2000 Bertrani Amarone della Valpolicella. For those who didn’t want wine, Alamo Beer Company popped the tops of more than a few bottles and Grey Goose poured martinis. Some also sipped on bright Blue Cosmos, perfect for the theme of the evening, A Rhapsody at Blue.

All that food and all those spirits certainly made it easy to support a good cause.

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Josh Cross' cheese plate with aromatic selections from around the world.

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Bruce Auden's crepes with chicken, asparagus and "expensive mushrooms."

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Damien Watel's blood orange profiteroles.

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Jason Dady's foie gras terrine on a toasted brioche

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Damien Watel's sturgeon parfaits with a crisp blini and a touch of trout roe

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Thierry Burkle's tender stuffed lamb loin.

Photos by Nicholas Mistry.

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Rabbit Reborn


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Il Sogno's Coniglio in Umido

There’s been a run on rabbit in San Antonio lately.

Josh Cross sells more than 30 plates of rabbit a week at Oloroso, 1024 S. Alamo St.

Il Sogno, Andrew Weissman’s Italian restaurant at the Pearl Brewery, 200 E. Grayson St., has a hit with its Coniglio in Umido, rabbit baked in the restaurant’s massive oven and topped with a red wine sauce.

At Brasserie Pavil, 1818 N. Loop 1604 W., chef Scott Cohen has featured rabbit as a special. The meat is braised and served over goat cheese polenta with parnsips, baby beets and a Cognac-Madeira demi-glace.

How times change. Almost 10 years ago, colleague Cecil Flentge tried offering a cooking class to teach people how to fix this meat that’s prized in Europe among more than merely hunters. Not a single person signed up. Maybe it was just a fluke, he thought, so he scheduled it again. Again, no takers.

We repeat, not everyone is hopping up to the plate here. There are those who would never think of eating rabbit because of some image of an anthropomorphic dancing Easter bunny or memories of a childhood pet. If you are one such person, then why are you reading this piece?

For the rest of us — and I had a pet rabbit, Freddie Joe, for eight years — rabbit is a treat because it adapts so well to the flavors it’s cooked with. “It’s a blank canvas,” Weissman says. “You can do a lot with it.”

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Oloroso's rabbit three ways.

“Rabbit is the new duck,” Cross says. “People call ahead to make sure we have it in.”

Cross serves his rabbit three ways. He braises the legs in a mirepoix, a mixture of onion, celery and carrots sautéed in butter. The loin is wrapped in house-cured pancetta and cooked with roasted garlic and rosemary. The ribs are frenched and placed on top, giving the plate a dainty quality in what might otherwise seem a rustic dish. Flageolet beans, sugar snap peas, roasted wild mushrooms and fava beans, as well as a Marsala rabbit sauce finish off the plate.

The dish is so popular, “I think I’d be lynched if I tried to take it off the menu,” he says.

Both Cross and Weissman get their supplies from local rabbit farmers, so the meat is fresh and ready to cook.

Weissman tried serving it at his French restaurant, Le Reve, 152 E. Pecan St., but it didn’t sell. The rustic nature of the meat is largely the reason, he says. Il Sogno is more casual, so dealing with bones is less of a problem there. And rabbits are bony animals. You can’t bone a rabbit after braising (I learned that first-hand in what proved to be a tasty mess), but you can bone the back legs, if you must.

If you’re cooking rabbit at home, there are a host of options available to you. Among the compatible flavors Weissman recommends are allspice, curry (see related recipe), bay leaves, juniper berries and cinnamon. He likes the way his red wine sauce colors the meat: “It becomes that ruby red of the wine.”

Rabbit is a lean meat, more tender than wild hare, which is gamier in flavor but often stringier, so the cooking methods are different. Rabbit is generally cooked in some type of fat or liquid to keep it moist. Cooked by itself, the rabbit “just turns into sawdust,” unless you tend it properly, Weissman says.

Cross wraps his rabbit loin in prosciutto. Others have used bacon. Some even prepare a confit, in which the rabbit is salted and slowly cooked in oil or another fat.

To choose the right rabbit, look for one that is “firm with pink flesh,” Weissman says. “Let your nose be your guide.”

If the meat is frozen, then ask your butcher. “Deal with a butcher you’re comfortable with,” Weissman adds.

Rabbit meat is often at Central Market in the freezer section, though the store was out on a recent visit. Many local meat markets, such as Culebra, sell it as coñejo.

Il Sogno’s chef, Luca Della Casa, remembers rabbit from his childhood, when it was a staple at Sunday dinner, a time for the full family to gather over food. “For me, every Sunday in my home, it was gnocchi and rabbit,” he says.

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Burning to Cook for You


BigBobsBurgersIt was Harry S. Truman who coined the phrase, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” And he was right, especially this summer in San Antonio.

With temperatures topping 100 degrees for more than 55 days so far this year and August breezes offering blessed little relief, local chefs are turning to many solutions in order to keep their staffs as cool as possible in the heat. Some of their tips would work in your home just as well.

At Oloroso, 1024 S. Alamo St., temperatures over the stove can get much hotter than it is outdoors. And the heat has shown little affect on people’s tastes, chef and co-owner Josh Cross says.

There are still plenty of orders for braised short ribs and hot soup despite the temperature, though some have admittedly switched to the Andalusian gazpacho when the vegetables are at their freshest.

That means a large cooler in the kitchen is filled with Gatorade, and staff members go through several glasses over the course of each evening.

If you were to peak behind the kitchen door, you’d also likely see someone duck into the refrigerator for a brief respite. “There are no shortage of people willing to get in the walk-in,” Cross says with a laugh. He’s often walked in himself only to discover several others also at work.

olorosoThe summer heat has also affected the staff’s hair styles, as all of the men have cut theirs as short as possible.”We couldn’t take it,” Cross says.

One reason Big Bob’s Burgers, 2215 Harry Wurzbach Road, is popular is because its burgers are grilled over an open flame, which can make the open kitchen hotter than anything Mother Nature has cooked up for us.

“It is about 120-140 degrees over the grill, and, yes, it is really hot,” says owner Robert “Big Bob” Riddle.

But it’s not as bad as it seems. Or so he says. “To tell you the truth, you get used to it and don’t really notice it that much,” he says. “The trick is to not drink any soda, just water, or in my case, 6-8 sugar-free Red Bulls with lots of ice.  Sugar makes you sick in the heat.”

Grilling burgers and frying onion rings, tater tots or french fries in an open kitchen also doesn’t bother Riddle or his staff. “I don’t know what people think about being able to see us,” he says.  “We are so busy that we just keep cooking.  They do seem to like the huge flames when we flip the burgers.

“Cooking in front of guests has its good points and bad points.  It is cool to see lots of our regulars, but it is awkward if you drop something or mess something up.”

At his two Papouli’s Greek Grill restaurants, owner Nick Anthony tries to keep his kitchen staff cool with air conditioning, but he knows that isn’t always effective. Fans keep air circulating through the kitchen, and the dress code is as relaxed as the Department of Health will allow.

Anthony gives his employees bottled water to keep them hydrated. He also distributes cold neck wraps that they can wear to keep them as refreshed as possible. At home, a cold, damp towel might work as well.

And if all else fails, Anthony has a fool-proof way to keep his staff cool: “Everybody gets to have margaritas! OK, not really.”

Jason Dady’s foray into barbecue, Two Bros. BBQ Market at 12656 West Ave., is a lot more casual than his other restaurants, including the Lodge Restaurant of Castle Hills, Bin 555 and Tre Trattoria. So, the rules are not as strict, especially since temperatures in and around the smoke pit cause the thermometer to rise drastically.

“We’ve swapped the button-down chef’s coat for short sleeve sweaters,” Dady says, adding that whether it’s 100 degrees or 50 degrees outside, the pit can feel like 200 degrees.

There is an escape for some kitchen workers. It’s a step out the back door for a moment. As Josh Cross says, the heat of the evening “is almost refreshing” compared with the heat in the kitchen.

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Daily Dish: Oloroso to Open for Lunch


The main dining room at Oloroso looks out on South Alamo Street.

The main dining room at Oloroso looks out on South Alamo Street.

Oloroso, the Southtown haven for Mediterranean fare, will soon be open for lunch.

Chef and co-owner Josh Cross says lunch service will begin on Sept. 7. Lunch hours will be 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday, while dinner service continues Tuesday-Saturday.

The restaurant at 1024 S. Alamo St. is also open until 2 a.m. on first Fridays and will stay open later in the evening on other nights if customers want it.

Call (210) 223-3600 or click here for more information.

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