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Wine Dinner, Las Canarias Features Wagner Wines, including Caymus

Enjoy wines for holiday meals, plus chocolate and cheese at Whole Foods.

Enjoy wines for holiday meals, plus chocolate and cheese at Whole Foods.

Las Canarias, at the Omni La Mansion del Rio, 112 College St., will be hosting a five-course chef’s tasting menu Thursday, Oct. 3, at 6:30 p.m.

The wines will be from the Wagner Family of Wine, which includes the famous Caymus Vineyards label from Napa Valley, in addition to Mer Soleil from the Santa Lucia Highlands of Monterey County and Belle Glos in the coastal areas of California.

The menu’s first course features chawanmushi with uni, sturgeon caviar, asparagus, egg and toast – paired with a Belle Glos Pinot Blanc. This will be followed by foie gras torchon with gargouillou of autumn vegetables – paired with a Mer Soleil Unoaked Chardonnay. Third course will offer prime calotte of beef with bone marrow beignets, foraged mushrooms and a green peppercorn sauce – paired with a Belle Glos Pinot Noir “Las Alturas” Vineyard. Fourth course will be a selection of artisan cheeses served with accompaniments – paired with a Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon. Finally, the meal will close with spiced sponge cake featuring cream cheese Bavarian, gingerbread base cake, carrot gelato, cinnamon moelleux and pecan tuile – paired with a Mer Soleil Late Harvest.

Dinner is $85 per person. To make a reservation, guests can call (210) 518-1177.

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Las Canarias: Classy Setting, Distinctive Flavors

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).

Braised Beef Short Rib with Homestead Grist Mill Polenta, Grilled Scallion and Pickled Okra Relish

Braised Beef Short Rib with Homestead Grist Mill Polenta, Grilled Scallion and Pickled Okra Relish

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.

Braised Beef Short Rib

Braised Beef Short Rib shreds easily with a fork.

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.

Duck Leg Confit at Las Canarias, with House-Made Bacon, Brussels Sprouts Hash

Duck Leg Confit at Las Canarias, with House-Made Bacon, Brussels Sprouts Hash

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.

Las Canarias Sticky Toffee Pudding

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Chef John Brand’s Lunch an Occasion at Las Canarias

We went to Las Canarias at the Omni La Mansion del Rio for lunch Tuesday, planning to take advantage of the Restaurant Week specials.

As it happened, our group strayed off the path and ordered chef John Brand’s tasting menu, which took us a little further afield.

Las Canarias Crispy Smoked Lockhart Quail, with homemade ravioli, wilted greens, roasted figs and pecans, was a highlight of lunch prepared by chef John Brand. Photo by Allana D'Antonio.

“Field” is an apropos term here, as the four-course tasting menu focused largely on locally produced items. The Lockhart Quail, fried in a smoky, crispy batter, stole the show, sending our table of five into that sudden, rapt silence that means: “We’re eating now, don’t talk.”

Las Canaria has always been a favorite of ours. It’s not just the excellent chefs that are traditionally at the helm, but the understated elegance of the dining room. It is Spanish Colonial tastefully done, with our favorite tables offering a glimpse of the River Walk. The chairs are comfortable, the linens crisp and white and the servers among the best in the city. The music ranges from classical Spanish guitar to jazz to the Gypsy Kings, adding a perfect flourish to a cohesive, inviting ambiance.

Our starter was a thick Sebastian Texas Watermelon Gazpacho, thickened with finely chopped pistachios, accented by a round of salty, earthy goat cheese and garnished with sliced avocado. This gazpacho is on the sweet side, though Brand cut some of that sweetness with the more acidic tomatoes and the goat cheese provided more balance. My companions and I ate every bite of the rich, chilled concoction.

This gazpacho, by the way, is part of the Restaurant Week lunch special at Las Canarias. It is paired with a Blackened Redfish Sandwich on challah, with mango salsa and heirloom tomatoes ($15). The dinner menu includes: a salad of Roasted Beets, Cherries, Spinach and Chevre; Prime Top Sirloin of Beef with Fork-smashed Gold Potatoes and Roasted Garlic Spinach; and Cream Cheese Cake with minted blueberries and almonds ($35).

A well-seared scallop perches on a shell atop a pretty, confetti bed of salt. The caviar on top was a nice, salty finishing touch. Photo by Allana D'Antonio.

The second course, beautifully presented, was a perfectly seared New Bedford Scallop, topped with American Sturgeon Caviar on a bed of greens and tiny toasted cauliflower florets. Lots of good flavors working there, from the mellow richness of the fresh scallop to the salty topping of caviar and the aromatic cauliflower. All worked well.

We mentioned the Crispy Smoked Lockhart Quail, with its tempting, bacon-y scent and thin, crunchy batter. While some of us at the table struggled to eat the quail quarters with knife and fork, others decided it was finger food. That worked. We did, however, pick up utensils for the homemade Sweet Potato Ravioli cooked in brown butter, with lots of roasted pecans and figs tossed with lightly wilted greens. There were many facets to this flavorful plate, including a grainy mustard sauce, but it was not too much: All of the contrasting textures, from top to bottom, were just right, too.

Cooper Farm provided the peaches, sliced carpaccio-thin and spread along a long dessert plate. A little bit of glistening “orangecicle cream” was part of the garnish, along with jewel-like slices of deep-red cherries, in season now. The creamy little cake of at the center of the plate was mounted on a neat rectangle of crust. No messy crumbs here, just the buttery taste of sweet graham crackers.

We had no serious criticism: The lemons and lime wedges on the table, for the iced tea, were dried out. This was hardly a problem since thick slices of fresh orange came with every glass of iced tea. The paper-thin peaches on the dessert also had suffered a little drying out (though one might observe the this actually concentrated the flavor).

Our hostess put the crowning touch on the lunch by ordering a bottle of Merryvale Pinot Noir, light-bodied, richly flavored and perfect for both the scallop and quail courses.

Think about Las Canarias as you work your way through Restaurant Week. It is well- prepared food, whether you go for broke and get a spectacular tasting menu or stick to the prix fixe. Executive chef John Brand, who is also in charge of the cuisine at Ostra, at the Mokara Hotel & Spa across the river, has a lot on his plate, to be sure, but his talent and that of his staff are quite up to the challenge.

A light-textured cheesecake atop Cooper Farm Peach Carpaccio at Las Canarias.


La Mansion del Rio’s Las Canarias is at 112 College St. downtown.  Call the hotel at 210-518-1063.

Restaurant Week, presented by Culinaria, goes through Saturday at restaurants all over the city. Check out the list, and many of the menus that are offered, at the Culinaria website.







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