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Stephan Pyles Brings His Brand of Southwestern Cuisine to San Antonio

Stephan Pyles

Stephan Pyles is known as one of the progenitors of the Southwestern cuisine movement, which introduced all corners of the nation to a host of beloved dishes, including the cowboy rib-eye and a variation on the caesar salad that includes a welcome kick of chili powder and a jalapeño polenta crouton. Together with Bruce Auden of Biga on the Banks, Dean Fearing and Robert Del Grande, he made sure people came to love a new balance in their food, through the lively addition of heat and other regional ingredients, thereby broadening their palates.

Now, he’s bringing those flavors to San Antonio in Sustenio, a new restaurant that anchors the Éilan Hotel and development off I-10, near Fiesta Texas.

Sustenio isn’t about blazing new culinary trails in a city known for its Tex-Mex and Texas cuisine, Pyles insists.

“I would never say that I was bringing (Tex-Mex) to San Antonio,” he says. “Here you have a wonderfully rich Hispanic culture. I think, at Sustenio, the food I’ll be doing will have some unexpected twists, but it will be food San Antonio is comfortable with.”

That includes a parade of his greatest hits, including tamale tart with Gulf Coast crab and that Southwestern Caesar.

Diners will also get to sample various styles of ceviches from the raw bar that’s part of the restaurant’s big open kitchen.

Passion fruit margaritas at Sustenio

“I like to do ceviche with a lot of different flavors and colors, like a tasting tray of eight different ceviches that looks like a rainbow of color,” he says.

He starts each variation with sashimi-grade seafood. Then he takes a fish, such as Texas flounder, and pairs it with avocado and tomatillo for a soothing green color, while ahi tuna could be paired with chile and golden tomato for a sunburst yellow flecked with red and Ecuadorian rock shrimp are marinated with orange and popcorn.

Each is refreshing and welcome on a hot day, while sitting on the restaurant’s spacious patio or at the community table near the raw bar. Both  overlook the kitchen, with its brick oven, which is used for pizzas. The rest of the menu includes poblano-asiago soup with golden pepper foam, a tamal made with seared foie gras and corn pudding, coriander-cured rack of lamb with Ecuadorian potato cake, bacon-wrapped Devine wild boar loin and Texas beef tenderloin with modern chiles en nogada.

Meanwhile, there’s a colorful bar area where the staff will be creating a vast array of liquid favorites, including several of Pyles’ signature cocktails. One is the Piña Diablo, which mixes three types of rum, fresh pineapple, piloncillo, mint, serrano chile and vanilla; another is a passion fruit margarita with both sugar and a serrano pepper on the rim on the glass.

Pyles, known to many from his PBS series, “New Tastes from Texas,” was born in Big Spring, to the west of Dallas. He made his start in the restaurant business in the 1980s before opening Star Canyon in 1994. The restaurant put him on the nation’s culinary map and earned him accolades from many in the national media.

The wine tower at Sustenio

His focus these days has been on his eponymous restaurant in Dallas as well as Samar by Stephan Pyles. His food has also evolved, incorporating flavors from his global travels into its decidedly Texas base. Many of these dishes are, after all, taken from what he grew up and provide a level of comfort that can’t be beat.

Though he has a host of commitments from his other restaurants and his charity work, Pyles plans on spending every weekend in San Antonio at the beginning, then cutting back to every other weekend. The rest of the time, Sustenio will be under the operation of executive chef David Gilbert, who has been working at Pyles’ side for several years. Local favorite Philippe Placé is general manager.

When Pyles is not working, he’s often found working for charity, such as Share Our Strength and UNICEF, both of which were given generous checks raised at Saturday night’s grand opening. His efforts for these non-profits mean a great deal to him. That includes the annual awarding of the Stephan Pyles Scholarship, a $15,000 gift that is given to a top culinary school student. Mention the effort and his usually easy-going speech suddenly takes on a greater excitement at the thought of the number of chefs in the making he’s been able to help.

One of the big fundraisers benefiting the scholarship fund is a dinner in which the previous year’s winner joins a lineup of elite chefs, including San Antonio’s Jason Dady, to prepare a multi-course dinner. Last year’s winner was a student at the San Antonio campus of the Culinary Institute of America.

A chef at Sustenio makes shrimp ceviche.

In the meantime, Pyles’ attention is on launching Sustenio successfully. It’s been more demanding than creating a gorgeous restaurant, from the private dining room in the glassed-in wine cave to the tower of bottles that dominates one end of the dining area. Living up to the name has meant forging relationships with area farmers, ranchers and other food producers, so that the kitchen offers a high level of sustainable foods, from bison to honey.

The region has a greater wealth of foods to choose from when compared with Dallas, he says, which makes it especially attractive to food lovers, whether they chefs or merely eaters.

“I’m thrilled to be in San Antonio,” he says.

Sustenio at the Éilan Hotel, 17103 La Cantera Parkway is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For reservations, call (210) 598-2950.

Chefs work their food stations at the Sustenio grand opening.

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Thanksgiving Wines to Be Thankful For

If you are serving red wine, think of something light-bodied and bright.

Ask five different wine people what they will be pouring for thanksgiving dinner and you’ll likely get five different answers. Why is that? Because the foods on the table are so broad in flavors that they lend themselves to a remarkable number of wines. So, serve Champagne and let the bubbles cut through the heaviness of the gravy and dressing. Or pour an off-dry Riesling and let its touch of sweetness complement the relish, the sweet potatoes and the turkey. Pinot Noir is a favorite with many because of its versatility with food.

Better still, have several choices, from dry to sweet, to appeal to all tastes at the table.

About the only answer you’ll get an agreement on is that a traditional Thanksgiving dinner is not for your heavier wines. So, leave the oaked Chardonnays and California Cabernets in the wine rack. Think brightly acidic wines or low-tannin treats, and you’ll do just fine.

Here are a few choices from five local people involved in the wine business.

Sarah Verheyen of Glazer’s of Texas:

“We are going to the big family set-up where I bring Beringer White Zinfandel because that is what my in-laws like. I don’t even bring any food — that is what they want!

“Beforehand, I am going to make a stuffed chicken with wild mushrooms and sage dressing for the four of us, so I will probably pair that with some Pinot Noir of some sort. Pinot Noir was the turning point, which I am sure it is with a lot of wine folk; (it made) me fall in love with wine, food and wine pairing and literally, (and) that led to meeting my husband, having my awesome step children, and now my son. Can’t be more thankful for anything in a glass than Pinot Noir!”

Kellis Chandler of Republic National Distributing Company:

“My mother and I are adopted by the Walthal family (a retired Trinity prof) for Thanksgiving. I’m the wine guy, so it’s an opportunity to pull that great Pinot Noir I have been wanting to share with special people. I usually bring a well-made, crisp Chablis-like (if not Chablis) to start things off.

Put away the oaky Chardonnays in favor of something crisp and light.

“It’s funny, these folks are not wine geeks, so we very rarely talk about the wine. They just look at me and nod with a smile on their faces, and comment on how nice the wine is.”

Don Pullum, winemaker for Sandstone Cellars and winemaking consultant for Torre di Pietra Winery:

“I’m going Moroccan for Thanksgiving.  Appetizers include Fried Eggplant Jam, Sweet Tomato Jam, Marinated Olives and Spicy Gulf Shrimp. The wine? Torre Di Pietra 2009 Blanc Du Bois Reserve: It’s a full-bodied, complex white with about 0.5 percent residual sugar that is very versatile in pairing with food. It’ll handle the the complex spices, sweetness, and peppers in the various appetizers. This wine is the first time I’ve worked with Blanc Du Bois, and I’m thankful that I had the opportunity. I’ve a new respect for this varietal.

“The entrée: Tagine Turkey Meatballs with Herbs and Lemon. Sides include Baked Root Vegetables with Prunes Spiced Lentils with Pumpkin Couscous. And the wines: Sandstone Cellars 2009 IX, a blend of 75 percent Tempranillo and 25 percent Touriga as well as the 2006 Bodega Muga Reserva Rioja. I’m thankful for having Mason County growers growing interesting Iberian varietals that produce wines which favorably compare to many wines produced in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and southern France.

“Dessert is  Semolina Pancakes with Figs, Almonds, Butter and Warm Honey. The wine is Haak 2007 Blanc Du Bois Madeira. I’m thankful to Raymond Haak for going through all the trouble to make this wine.

“And assorted cheeses with the Sandstone Cellars 2006 IV (a port-style wine). Thanks to Paul and Nancy Buist for growing Touriga at their Robert Clay vineyard.”

Nichole Bendele, public relations and tasting room coordinator for Becker Vineyards:

Rosé complements many of the Thanksgiving dishes.

“Our dry rosé, the Becker Vineyards Provençal (made from Mourvèdre) and a dry Robert Weil Riesling (Erstes Gewachs) are what I’ll be bringing to my brother’s house for a traditional Thanksgiving meal!  Yum!  I haven’t decided on what red I’ll bring – maybe a Seghesio Vineyards Zinfandel.

“The Provençal (and hopefully our Alsatian-style Gewurztraminer will be bottled by then) and some of the lighter-bodied reds like the Prairie Rotie (Rhone-style blend) and Reserve Grenache are some people also enjoy with the Turkey and trimmings.  These reds aren’t too heavy with tannins and won’t overpower the food.”

Philippe Placé, co-owner, Coco Chocolate Lounge & Bistro, 18402 U.S. 281, Suite 114:

“I am actually hosting the Thanksgiving meal this year. My wife Kim’s family will be here, so we will have about 15 people.

“We will start  with a cold fresh salmon and asparagus terrine paired with an Auxey Duresses 2007. It’s one of the underdogs of Burgundy, and I absolutely love it. It is a little leaner and racier than a Meursault with a deep gold color and hints of hazelnut.

“The turkey will be rubbed with sage and spices about three days before being cooked, and the rub will be reapplied every day. I will have some haricot verts sautéed with almond, plus black-eye peas prepared by the 94-year-old grandmother of Kim. Sweet potato fries. Garlic mashed potatoes two colors. Parsnip tournés with a citrus zest. The stuffing will be made of French brioche, apples, chestnuts, onion, leeks, parsley, fresh grapes and chicken stock.

“The wine served with that will be a Morgon ‘Les Charmes’ 2006. I love it that wine that my parents would always serve for special occasions will be served at my home. From the Beaujolais appellation, the Morgon has a beautiful rich purple color with hints of plums and cherries. It’s full bodied wine with a lot of character.

“For dessert, there will be apple tart tatin by me and pumpkin pie made by Kim. I will be serving the dessert with the Becker Vineyards Muscat Canelli Amabile. We finish with a Texas wine that I happen to love! I love the hints of nutmeg and cinnamon and that tender sweetness.

“I have much to be very thankful for this year. I had the chance to visit my family in July. My dad’s health is degrading rapidly, and I was able to talk to him and spend some amazing time with him and my French family. I am very thankful for my wife that keeps me going every day and never doubts my ability to be a good dad, good husband and a good restaurateur. I am thankful for my two outstanding sons that I love immensely. I am very thankful for having a successful business that allows me to take care of my employees, partners and my family.”

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