Tag Archive | "Nosh"

2012 Was a Year of Eating Well

The Pearl has become a food lover’s center for festivals as well as restaurants.

Bliss is aptly named.

As we approach the end of 2012, it’s time to look back on the many great flavors that we sampled. The list is lengthy, thanks to a decided upturn in culinary offerings across the city, both on the dining scene and for the food lover in general.

One of the biggest food stories of the year was the continued growth of the Pearl Brewery, which saw the opening of three praise-worthy eateries and a trendy bar. It also was the location of an increasing number of food festivals, meaning thousands from all over the city were showing up on a regular basis for cooking demonstrations at the Saturday farmers market, for paella, burgers and barbecue or tamales, and for the restaurants, all in the quest of good food.

A glimpse into the kitchen at the Granary.

The list of new restaurants includes the Granary ‘Cue and Brew, which restored beer making to the premises. Artisan barbecue, fine brews and an irresistible condiment known as ‘cue butter all made this a welcome addition. The Boiler House Texas Grill and Wine Garden delivers on the belief that quality grilled meat is prerequisite in the Lone Star State, and the massive setting, covering two stories, is epic enough to complement chef James Moore’s ranch-style fare.

The most intriguing addition, though, is NAO, the Culinary Institute of America’s full-service restaurant, which has provided San Antonio with its broadest and most authentic taste of South and Central American cuisines to date. These exciting flavors, from seafood stews and roasted meats to an inviting cocktail program, have somehow not been able to secure a foothold before in a city that values its Tex-Mex above all; yet in just a few months, NAO has developed a local following, and its client base should grow as word continues to get out to the rest of the country that the school has a campus and a destination restaurant here. When the visiting chef series returns, with culinary stars from countries as diverse as Brazil, Peru and Argentina, you’d be wise to make your reservations as soon as possible.

The CIA’s flagship restaurant in San Antonio.

NAO is also built on the concept of small plates, which has also not been widely popular in San Antonio. Yet Bite in the Southtown area and a revitalized Nosh on Austin Highway are joining in the effort to break that mold.

Southtown continued to attract diners from across the city, as Mark Bliss returned with a new restaurant, the aptly named Bliss. The warmth of the place, the impressive setting and the comfort of the food, especially when enjoyed at the chef’s table in the kitchen, all help place it among the city’s best.

Johnny Hernandez opened two distinct venues in the Southtown area, if not Southtown proper. They include the Frutería at the Steel House Lofts, where you can get everything from market-fresh fruit for breakfast to an impressive array of, you got it, small plates for dinner, and Casa Hernán, an airy catering facility and brunch spot in his own home.

Another welcome addition to the Southtown scene was the Alamo Street Eat Bar, a food truck park that featured crazy good burgers from Cullum’s Attaboy, the Peacemaker combination of pork belly and fried oysters from Where Y’At and the DUK Truck’s duck confit tacos. Add Zum Sushi, The Institute of Chili, Wheelie Gourmet and a few other visitors, as well as a great beer lineup, and you’ve got some wonderful fresh treats. And what do food trucks provide but small plates, albeit from different plates, giving you the feel of being on a tapas trail?

An “Eat Street” crew films at the Point Park & Eats.

Another food truck park that opened up north in Leon Springs was the Point Park & Eat, which also offers a great beer selection and a wide array of foods from a lineup that has changed in the months that it’s been open. The culinary confections come from trucks such as Skinny Cat, Gourmet on the Fly, Blazin’ Burgers and Say-She-Ate.

Television continued to discover may of these culinary gems. Say-She-Ate was one of four food trucks filmed for the TV series, “Eat Street.” The others include Rickshaw Stop, Tapa Tapa and Society Bakery. Meanwhile, PBS celebrity chef Ming Tsai came to town to film segments of “Simply Ming” with Diana Barrios Treviño from Los Barrios, Elizabeth Johnson of the CIA, John Besh of Lüke (visiting from New Orleans) and Johnny Hernandez at La Gloria.

Sustenio, with Stephan Pyles’ blessing and David Gilbert’s gifts, made people realize the Eilan Hotel Resort and Spa off I-10 was not just a pretty façade. Its menu, with much of the dishes derived from local meats and produce, features an exciting array of ceviches that captured the freshness of the sea and a number of dishes using South Texas Heritage Pork products.

The $13 Burger at Knife & Fork.

The gastropub movement continued with the opening of Knife & Fork in the Stone Oak area. An outgrowth of the Bistro Six food truck, it offered a $13 Burger worth every cent, an extensive cocktail program and a laid-back atmosphere.

Meanwhile, the bistronomy craze — a hybrid of “bistro” and “gastronomy” — could be found in Laurent’s Modern Cuisine on McCullough Avenue. Next door to the still-vibrant and dependable Bistro Vatel, it proved that a segment of San Antonio does love its French food.

For those who enjoy a meal every now and then at home, the number of gourmet groceries grew, thanks to the addition of Trader Joe’s in the Quarry Extension and a second Whole Foods on Blanco Road, north of Loop 1604. The food warehouse Gaucho Gourmet expanded its hours to the public to six days a week, while Groomer’s Seafood reeled in even more seafood lovers, especially when lobsters hit a mouthwatering low of $5.95 apiece.

Classic cocktails have made a comeback.

San Antonio lifted it spirits high during the year. Distilled spirits, that is. Mixed drinks, both shaken and stirred, got a huge boost from the first annual San Antonio Cocktail Conference. But it didn’t stop there. The Blue Box in the Pearl and the downtown Brooklynite joined the likes of Bar 1919 in the Blue Star Complex and the bar at NAO as havens for hand-crafted classic cocktails. A rye sour shaken with traditional egg white, a real martini made with gin and a pisco sour bright with freshly squeezed citrus were all incentives that made exploring these nightspots fun.

Expect beer’s popularity to soar in the new year. Beyond the excellent brews at the Granary, we await Alamo Beer’s ambitious plans for a downtown complex that will feature a restaurant as well as a brewing facility as well as the launch of Branchline Brewery.

What else can we expect? The Pearl will continue to expand with the openings of Jesse Perez’s Arcade Midtown Kitchen and an as-yet-unnamed venture from Steven McHugh as well as the move of Green Vegetarian Cuisine, all of which will add to the draw of the campus. Culinaria has announced plans for a community garden center offering food and agricultural education for the city. Andrew Weissman is taking over the former Liberty Bar site on Josephine Street.

With these strides forward on so many fronts, the city’s culinary scene should continue to offer some enticing new flavors for anyone with a healthy appetite.

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WalkerSpeak: Menus Can Drive You Nuts

When a diner opens a menu and the first thing that greets the eyes is a typo, it’s safe to say this isn’t the beginning of a great relationship.

All writers, including menu writers, commit typos.  But these days typos are having a real heyday. Because anyone can write and publish to his or her heart’s content online, with or without benefit of copy editors, typos really flourish. Misspelled words on popular blogs are not even taken seriously anymore, and sometimes they are done that way on purpose. Consider “Jebus” used to avoid profanity or “prolly,” used by the keystroke-challenged for “probably.”

A simple menu for good, chef-prepared food is offered at Nosh.

A menu that is passed out to customers in a restaurant is a printed product, as much as is a book or the printed newspaper.

Unlike many of the entries on a website or a blog entry, it is generally not typed up and sent out to a million readers in the blink of an eye. It can be read, re-read and even printed out and proofread before going to print. Or, if it comes out of the restaurant printer fresh with changes each day, surely there is time for several pairs of eyes to give it a good going over.

Certainly, as I told someone who asked me to check over some new menu copy recently, if the menu writer must use words from another language be sure they are used and spelled correctly. The word in question was “chiffonade.” The menu writer had spelled it “cheffanaude.” Yikes.

On the other hand, when traveling in another country whose language I do not read, I am pleased that a menu has been translated to English and more than happy to overlook typos as long as I’m getting a sense of what is being served. Yes, some of the typos can be deeply amusing, but when we travel we are ambassadors from our country and we don’t laugh out loud. (We don’t … right?)

Typos are not the worst thing, though. What really dismays me is pretentious menu writing.

A pretentious menu does not make the chef look good. It is as though the customer is being begged to admire the description, then expected to extend that admiration to whatever comes out on the plate — even if the food bears little resemblance to the glowing verbiage.

I’ve noticed in some fine restaurants a trend lately toward words offering a more matter-of-fact descriptions. Such as:

“Choice beef tenderloin with natural jus on wilted spinach, served with sweet potato croquettes.”

As opposed to:

“Our very finest natural beef tenderloin, carefully aged and cut to your specifications à la minute, stacked atop the freshest garden spinach, tenderly wilted then anointed with unsalted, organic butter, and Chef’s delicately crisp sweet potato croquettes fried in pure grapeseed oil and topped with a light snowfall of sea salt.”

The latter example just makes me tired. It’s precious, pretentious, and includes one particularly annoying word, the reference to the chef as Chef. Like the way nurses use “Doctor” in the hospital, which I deeply dislike. I mean, how old were we when (if ever) we called the head of the classroom “Teacher”?

Grilled Cheese Sandwich at The Monterey.

In casual restaurants I’m seeing some promising restraint. We stopped at The Monterey on South St. Mary’s recently, and the menu set down before us was quite simply worded. In some cases, it could have explained just a little more. For example, my eyes slid right past the entry “Grilled Cheese Sandwich.” Not being familiar with the restaurant I envisioned the usual fried white bread sandwich with a thin slab of American cheese inside, accompanied by a few pickle chips and a little paper cup of ketchup on the side.

I would agree that sometimes this is exactly what one wants, especially when one yearns for childhood.

The Grilled Cheese Sandwich at The Monterey, however, was purely an adult pleasure: stacked and tall, toasty and dripping with cheese and inviting you to smash your face in. This we didn’t do, as the sandwich was served to a party at a nearby table.

At Nosh, the casual eatery on the floor below Silo on Austin Highway, the list of salads mentions only ingredients. No preening adjectives; no overwrought verbs. It slips into pretension only once, and even this is with a sort of on-purpose silliness, with “Grilled Flatbread; Chef Robert’s daily gastronomical creation.” At least “Chef” has a name attached to it.

At one of San Antonio’s havens of fine-dining, The Sandbar, the menu just puts it out there: “Salmon Sandwich.” “Fish and Chips.” “Angus Burger.” If you’re into oysters, your server will tell you where they are from and will also tell you about the specials not on the menu. This latter usually comes with a flourish, because you never know what brilliant touch chef Chris Carlson has planned for the day. It could be a deep-fried poached egg, for example, which is an item, with or without deep frying, that will divide some diners.

And wouldn’t all of us prefer a pleasant surprise rather than an embarrassing disappointment? This is why I welcome any trend that gives well-prepared food a chance to shine in its own right. Elegant in its apparent simplicity, even if the chef and staff spent hours on its creation, then announced with elegant simplicity on the menu, as well.

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Great Beginnings: 7 Appetizers to Kick Off Your Meal in Style

Panela en Salsa Roja at Aldaco's.

Starting off a meal with a bite of food, whether you call it an appetizer, a tapa, or a small plate, can really whet your appetite for the meal to come. Here is where you’ll find many a chef letting his or her imagination run wild with the freshest ingredients and the most flair. Or, you will find pure comfort in tradition.

Here are seven great starters to enjoy. Several are new, one has been a San Antonio tradition for years, others are ethnic comfort foods. All are a wonderful prelude to your main course, whether it’s burgers, sushi or a gyro platter.

The dishes on the list are not the only great appetizers to be had in town. They are not listed in any order. They are merely meant to remind you of what the city’s restaurants have to offer.

1. Grilled Chinese Chicken Wings at Nosh, 1133 Austin Hwy., 210-824-8686 — Chicken wings are nothing new. But these beauties, with a taste of both peanut oil and sesame oil, are plump and juicy. You’ll be licking your fingers to catch every last drop of the Asian sauce or the creamy cilantro sauce on the side.

The sampler platter at My Big Fat Greek Restaurant.

2. Panela en Salsa Roja at Aldaco’s Stone Oak, 20079 Stone Oak Parkway, 210-494-0561, or 100 Hoefgen St., 210-222-0561 — It’s hard to describe just how good this appetizer is, given that it is simply a slab of fried Mexican cheese topped with salsa. But put the two together and you’ll discover culinary alchemy.

3. Scotch Eggs at the Lion and Rose, various locations — The Cardiff Clam Strips and the English Chips with Guinness Cheese often call us, but not as often as the Scotch Eggs. The pub grub favorite is made from a hard-cooked egg wrapped in sausage and cheese before cooking. Serve it with a mustard sauce on one side and a pint of Smithwicks or Newcastle on the other.

4. Sampler platter at My Big Fat Greek Restaurant, 19239 Stone Oak Parkway, 210-497-8500 — You want a lot of food? This sampler has it. Dolmas filled with beef and rice, hummus, eggplant dip, spanikopita and more fill the platter. As vast and varied as it is, a party of three managed to clear it and have a fine dinner afterward.

5. Ham and Tomato Shypoke Eggs at Timbo’s, 1639 Broadway, 210-223-1028 — When was the last time you had a skypoke egg? This Alamo City classic originated at Little Hipps Bubble Room and can be found at its descendant, Timbo’s. It’s essentially a nacho made to look like a fried egg, but the addition of silky ham and bright tomato takes it to a new level.

Onion pakoras from Pavani Express.

6.  Beef Sashimi at Sushi Zushi, various locations — Who among us carnivores doesn’t love a generous portion of beef? In this Asian equivalent of Italy’s carpaccio, the seared beef is served with a lively soy dipping sauce, ginger and onions. After one taste, you’ll clear the plate quickly.

7. Pakoras at Pavani Express, 5755 Evans Road, 210-680-3134 — San Antonio’s newest vegetarian restaurant offers several appetizers, including perfect pakoras. These crispy, deep-fried snacks are made with a variety of vegetables, a favorite of which onion.  The tangy tamarind sauce and the cilantro sauce both add to the fun.

Bonnie Walker contributed to this report.

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