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Old or New: A World of Difference

Troy Knapp is executive chef at Hyatt Hill Country Resort & Spa as well as a certified sommerlier

Troy Knapp is executive chef at the Hyatt Hill Country as well as a certified sommelier.

By Troy Knapp

As complicated as wine can be, there are two major categories into which most wine fits, and with an understanding of this simple concept comes a better comprehension of what to expect from the diverse world of wine.

I know it sounds almost too easy, right?  It all comes down to this simple fact: Does the wine come from the Old World or the New World?  Sommeliers use this question in their repertoire to help them identify what a particular person’s palate is partial to and discover what may pair with a specific dish.

The Old World, as applies to wine, consists of: Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Austria and many other wine regions in Europe.  When wine is made classically from the Old World, it will display some aromatics that are associated with the earth.  Whites from these regions typically have a strong foundation of minerality.  An underlying commonality of chalk, stone, wet stone, slate, or even oyster shells from the soil can give a presence of synergy with the land.  Old World reds can display notes of tobacco, mushroom, forest floor, soil and even a dampness quality that is primary to floral- and fruit-driven qualities and naturally finish dryer than their New World counterparts.

The New World consists of: USA, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and South America’s regions of Chile and Argentina.  Due to a modern style of wine and warmer climate, a higher perception of fruit and a touch of residual sugar may be present, all contributing to a fuller mouth feel and perceived sweetness.  Some may display subtle earthy notes, however they are secondary to the fruit characteristics.

Now, there is always an exception.  You can have a New World wine made by a producer with a respect for the Old World or an Old World producer making a wine that is engineered to lure the palates of those who prefer a New World style — it depends on the market.  It’s a matter of the manipulation, or lack thereof, during the winemaking process that can make these differences.  If you seek out wine that is more traditionally made, then it is more likely to hit the classic markers.  Your local wine shop specialist or restaurant sommelier can assist you with this.

Which do you prefer: Old World or New World wines?

Which do you prefer: Old World or New World wines?

I personally gravitate towards Old World or cooler climate New World wines when pairing with food.  The body and alcohol are typically a little lower with the acidity being a little higher; these attributes relate well with food.  When the weather cools, a New World wine can really hit the spot and can be preferred when drinking without a meal as they can be rich, unctuous (without being overly sweet) and full-bodied.

Ready to taste the difference?  Try a well-made New World wine versus a classically made Old World wine of the same grape variety side by side.

Here are some examples to try:

  • New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc vs. White Bordeaux or Sancerre
  • Domestic Pinot Gris/Grigio vs. the same from Northern Italy or Alsace France
  • Domestic or Australian Riesling vs. the same from Germany or Alsace France
  • Domestic Chardonnay vs. White Burgundy
  • Australian Shiraz vs. Northern Rhone Syrah
  • Californian Cabernet Sauvignon vs. Left Bank Bordeaux
  • Domestic Merlot vs. Right Bank Bordeaux
  • California Pinot Noir vs. Red Burgundy

Tasting them in a blind format will eliminate any preconceived notions, so place the bottles in brown paper bags and mix them up. Can you decipher which is which?

More importantly, you’ll be able to identify which one you prefer.  Wine is all about personal preference and utilizing this tip will certainly help you in understanding what you like.  Next time you are ordering a bottle to accompany a nice dinner, you can simply say, “I am looking for a red from the Old World.”  You’ll have easily narrowed it down to a selection that is more likely to please your palate, because “”old” and “new”  can make a world of difference.

Troy Knapp is executive chef at the Hyatt Hill Country as well as a certified sommelier.

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Wines in Your Glass Should Tell a Unique Story

A common industry term is “typicity of varietal or region.” It simply means a wine should have distinction associated from the grape and land from which it hales.

By Troy Knapp

Troy Knapp is executive chef at Hyatt Hill Country Resort & Spa as well as a certified sommerlier

Troy Knapp is executive chef at the Hyatt Hill Country as well as a certified sommelier.

Years ago my wife and I hosted a Pinot Noir tasting where several styles and countries were represented in a blind format.  There were multiple bottles from Burgundy, France; New Zealand, Germany, Oregon and California — the major Pinot Noir producing regions.  All were very true to typicity of grape variety, except for one. This wine was, from the color, fruit profile and structure standpoint, very “non-Pinot-like.”

After the wines in the lineup were assessed by the guests and score sheets were tallied, there was a clear, “hands-down” favorite.  Much to my dismay, it was the one that was most uniquely different.   It was deep in color concentration with a distinct richness on the palate.

California label laws require that the specified varietal detailed on the label only represent 75 percent of its makeup, as a result, Syrah, Petite Syrah and or other thick-skinned grape varieties are frequently worked into the blend in rather large proportions.  This distorts the original profile quite drastically, ending up with a wine that is certainly not very Pinot-like.

A common industry term is “typicity of varietal or region.” It simply means a wine should have distinction associated from the grape and land from which it hales.  Consumer demands, as well as the development of wines made specifically to garner a high score of a persuasive wine critic, have greatly contributed to the dilution of this term.  The sanctity of individuality is being replaced with common familiarity and true expression slowly lost.

This event was, and still is fairly disturbing to me.   After all, this was a Pinot Noir tasting.  What a shame!  Several of the other selections in the tasting were remarkable! They were delicate with beautiful intricacies and nuances; unfortunately they were annihilated by the “fruit bomb.”

Is this what we want?  As consumers we have enormous influence on what is produced.  Have we conditioned our palates for an expectation of big bold flavors favoring sweet and sticky richness over intricate subtleties that develop like a perfectly orchestrated opera?  Pinot Noir should be elegant and feminine compared to its masculine counterparts such as Syrah, Cabernet and Malbec. It shows its true beauty in cool climates and when manipulation and blending is out of the picture.  Believe me, I love a concentrated deep dark wine, it just shouldn’t be labeled as a Pinot Noir.

Are we in such a hurry that we don’t slow down and taste? Whether it’s a great dinner or a nice glass of wine, most of the time beauty of nuance is overlooked.  Cool climate Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and many older wines beckon for attention as the beauty lies in their subtleties.

Like a good movie or a beautiful piece of music, wine should tell a story with a beginning, middle and conclusion. With good wine, all of these segments should have seamless integration and strengths that equate to harmony and balance. In essence, the journey is equally as important as the destination.

For the same reason that we should appreciate the differences of our friends, family, neighbors and colleagues, so should we appreciate each grape variety.  Each has something different to offer and should be allowed to be “itself.” The result is a greater relationship and enjoyment of life as it should be, without manipulation.

Troy Knapp is executive chef at the Hyatt Hill Country and a certified sommelier.




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Food Revolutions Popping Up In, Around SA

Sandy Winokur (from left), Susan Jaime, Mike Behrend and Troy Knapp are part of the food revolutions occurring in SA.

On  Tuesday, a group of SA food innovators got together to discuss the ongoing growth and changes going on in the San Antonio area when it comes to what is going on our plates. Farmers, ranchers, food merchants and chefs joined for 5-Minute Food Revolutions.

The forum, with about 100 in attendance, was presented at Aldaco’s Sunset Station. The panel was selected for their unconventional and/or pioneering approach to food, be it growing gardens or crops, raising chickens and hogs or running a restaurant.

Tim McDiarmid, of Tim the Girl Catering and Special Projects Social, describes her approach to food and her pop-up dinners.

Mike Behrend, for example, was a dedicated meat eater until about seven years ago. The chef and owner of Green Vegetarian Cuisine described his changeover in restaurant terms: “What I used to think of as a pain-in-the-ass customer? I became that customer.” Green is the top go-to restaurant for vegetarians and popular with many who don’t want to eat meat at every meal, too.

Kelley Escobedo, who with her husband Mark, founded South Texas Heritage Pork, described how her farm “lets the animals have a life” while they strive to reduce their carbon footprint and move from feeding their heritage hogs peanuts instead of corn. “This is not an easy life. We do it because we have passion,” said Escobedo.

To watch a video of the 90-minute presentation, click here.

Participants included Chad Carey of The Monterey, Marianna Peeler of Peeler Farms, Sameer Siddiqui of Rickshaw Stop, Saundra Winokur of Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard, Mike Behrend of Green Vegetarian Cuisine, Susan Jaime of Ferra Coffee, Tim McDiarmid of Tim the Girl/Special Projects Social pop-up events, Blair Condon of Green Spaces Alliance, Kelley Escobedo of South Texas Heritage Pork and Troy Knapp of the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort.

The event was co-sponsored by SavorSA, Plaza de Armas and NOWCastSA, who videotaped it.

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Hyatt Hill Country Is Doing It All — And Sharing It on Menus

Troy Knapp

Food. Thoughtfully Sourced. Carefully Served.

That’s the name of a new global program Hyatt Hotels has launched to focus on sourcing local food and beverage options.

“We have a responsibility to ensure that our ingredients are sourced from the most humane and responsible companies and that we are preparing them with as little manipulation and additives as possible,” said Gino Caliendo, general manager of the Hyatt Hill Country Resort, 9800 Hyatt Resort Drive. “This new philosophy will be at the core of every food and beverage decision that we make. We are evolving the way we purchase and serve food. We believe it’s what our guests deserve and what our planet needs.”

This means different things to the people who eat at the Hyatt Hill Country. One is that executive chef Troy Knapp and his staff are sourcing local ingredients, including seafood and cage-free eggs as well as meats, vegetables and fruit. Another is reducing the amount of sodium and additives, while using natural sweeteners, such as agave nectar, instead of artificial ones.

The program is built on three points:

  • Healthy people, which is based on providing portion controlled offerings made with natural ingredients and healthful cooking techniques. Examples include reducing the hamburger size from 8 ounces to 7 ounces, mandating gluten free and vegetarian options on all menus, offering Stay Fit Cuisine menu items, and providing natural bacon, organic produce and hormone-free milk as menu options.
  • Healthy planet, which ensures sustainable purchasing and operational practices. At the Hyatt Hill Country, that means sourcing sustainable seafood, purchasing local game, utilizing an on-site chef’s garden and recycling programs that include turning wet waste to feed for local farmers.
  • Healthy communities, which is based on supporting local farmers markets and sharing knowledge at schools and community events.

Hyatt has also joined forces with Partnership for Healthier America, with a goal of improving the nutritional profile of its children’s menus.

The Hyatt Hill Country Resort has been involved with community efforts for years now, which helped it earn the first Excellence in Doing It All honor, which it shared with the Grand Hyatt Sao Paulo in Brazil. The recognition was part of the Hyatt Thrive Leadership Awards.

The local resort was honored because it demonstrates a commitment to reducing its environmental impact and leads a community outreach program that works with organizations such as United Way, Habitat for Humanity and the San Antonio Food Bank, according to the award.

“Hyatt Regency Hill Country’s programs include a 19-year partnership with John Jay High School and Hands On Education, an on-site hospitality training program for adults with disabilities that resulted in many full time positions at the hotel,” it says. “Being part of a military town, the hotel has embraced all branches of the military with Operation Inspiration, an initiative that gives guests the opportunity to send messages of hope and appreciation to instillations across the world, Operation Caffeination, an outreach where the hotel collected premium coffee and shipped it to our men and women in uniform.

“Operation Paperback has been the most successful program to date, with more than 3,000 gently read books being donated by both employees and guests, then sorted, packed and shipped to all parts of the world, including the USS Carl Vinson. The Festival of Trees enables 10 local schools to compete for cash prizes, each school is given a pre-lit 9-foor tree and a $150 gift card with which to decorate the tree, votes are made in the form of canned food items, all which goes to the San Antonio Food Bank, the three schools who collect the most win cash for existing programs.

“Environmentally, the hotel has a clear action plan in place and has several impactful initiatives such as the upgrade of an irrigation control system that reduced energy and water consumption by more than 10 percent and ozone treatment in laundry, which is saving more than 20 percent in water and sewer costs, 30 percent in natural gas, and is reducing chemical use by more than 20 percent.”


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Greatness by Mistake: a Tale of Champagne and Life

By Troy Knapp

Troy Knapp is executive chef at Hyatt Hill Country Resort & Spa as well as a certified sommerlier

The holidays are a good time to reflect on the year and to show appreciation for what we have. Far too often we seem to be searching and longing for more, when what we have is really quite special.  The French region of Champagne demonstrates this with its similar history.

In the early 1700’s the winemakers in Champagne, France were focused on making still wine.  They could not understand how mysterious bubbles were ending up in the bottle.  It was learned years later that fermentation was prematurely halted during the typical cool fall season of this northerly region and the wine simply went into “hibernation” for the winter.

After the bottling took place and the spring brought warmer temperatures, the fermentation was awakened, this time around the wine was in bottle and under pressure, therefore trapping the bubbles and creating a sparkling wine.

It was the Benedictine monk, Dom Pérignon, who introduced better attention in vineyard technique as well as significant progress in blending. Even though he is mythically known as the “Father of Champagne”, during his life span the effervescent wine was considered faulty and he was trying to keep bubbles out of the bottles.

A decade later, Madame Clicquot a.k.a. Veuve (the widow) Clicquot discovered methods that resulted in pristine clarity, Champagne was previously full of cloudy sediment.  It was these modern advances combined with the natural progression and understanding of physics that shaped this marvelous and difficult beverage into what it is today.   Can you imagine life with out this wonderfully perfect mistake?

 Every major wine region has its version of sparkling wine and if made by a good producer will typically offer great drinking pleasure. However, Champagne is the role model.  If there is one wine region to read about, Champagne certainly has fascinating history of war and hardship.   Considering all the challenges that plagued the area for centuries and the patience and meticulous detail in creating Champagne in the traditional method, it is amazing that this wonderful sparkling wine ever came to be.

Champagne gains popularity over the winter holidays, however it should not be reserved for this small period of time as it offers versatility like no other wine.  I can always find a reason for a glass of this brilliant wine made by the Champenoise.

Champagne is a beverage of many talents and the range of styles will embrace most occasions with excitement and charm. Breakfast and brunch are well-suited for bubbles by itself or with a dash of freshly squeezed orange juice.  Champagne cocktails come in all sorts and styles, Guinness and Champagne being one of my simple favorites.  Yes, I admit, the first time I heard of this obscure concoction that is referred to as Black Velvet, I was quite leery, that was until my first sip when I was pleasantly surprised.

The range of sweetness levels is another unique trait of Champagne.  Brut Nature (bone dry) styles are quite nice as an aperitif, a “drink appetizer” if you will.  Brut and Dry styles are very complementary to a range of dishes and Doux, which is the sweetest, is wonderful to conclude dinner with or complement a dessert.

When pairing wine with food a few basic rules go far.   Here are a few concepts and their specific relation to the most common Brut and Dry styles of Champagne.

Acid needs acid: Cool climate wines typically showcase higher levels of acidity which pairs wonderful with vinaigrette-based salads, pickled and brined items such as olives, cornichons and especially oysters.  A wine with low acidity would taste rather flat in this setting.  Seeking out a great bottle of Champagne and some really fresh oysters will certainly deliver a wonderful experience!  Obviously quality of both are imperative so making friends with the seafood and wine associate at your specialty grocer is key in your pursuit of dining pleasure.

Yin and Yang:  Opposites complementing each other is the beauty of this pairing technique.   Champagne complements rich dishes as the acidity cuts the fat and leaves the palate refreshed, begging for more.  Most fried food as well as creamy soups (which are typically more difficult to match with wine) finds a great relation with a quality bottle of bubbles, as well as a charcuterie plate of cured meats.

Seafood and Champagne – A match made in heaven.  Briny caviar, cured or smoked salmon, wonderfully fresh sashimi and really most seafood, becomes even better when they are accompanied with a great sparkling wine.  Just as squeezing a slice of lemon on a piece of fish brightens the flavor, Champagne will enhance the experience in the same fashion.  Beautiful relationships like this are what food and wine synergy are all about; not complex, just simple and when done right, dynamic.

Sweet and salty or sweet and spicy.  These natural combinations find a great relation when pairing Demi -Sec (being somewhat sweet) and Doux (the sweetest Champagne category) with either dishes that contain some saltiness or subtle spiciness.

To me Champagne is more than a great wine; its depth and nuance and complexity are reflective of the land in which it hales.  This luxurious beverage did not come easily, so sip slowly and be thankful that “mistakes” do occur in life.

Happy holidays and in the New Year may all of your “pain” be Champagne.


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Spectacular Brilliance: A Small Price for Lasting Memories

Troy Knapp is executive chef at the Hyatt Hill Country Resort, including Antlers Lodge. He’s also a Certified Sommelier and Certified Specialist of Wine. His column, Spectacular Brilliance, appears monthly on SavorSA.

By Troy Knapp

Troy Knapp

Thanksgiving and other memorable holiday dinners are priceless, so, for Pete’s sake, don’t skimp on the wine!

To save a few dollars in these occasions that are few and far between would be, in my opinion, the wrong place.  Yes, great wines come with a cost, however I’m sure, you will discover the extra money is well worth it.   For these rare holiday occasions when friends and family come together, why not seek out something truly special that will enhance the experience?

When making holiday selections, quality always overrules quantity! I’ll never understand the fixation with buying cheap food or wine.  This is the one area in life that I’m not willing to skimp. Quality comes with a cost and requires you to seek it out.  “The best you can afford,” is a great motto to live by.  Conscious food is what we need to strive toward, as it not only tastes better, it is significantly better for the environment as well as our health.  So, when it comes to the Thanksgiving table, look for all-natural turkey, lots of beautiful, organic vegetables and of course, great wine!

Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Gamay (Beaujolais) are frequently purchased to accompany the Thanksgiving table as they have a good relation with the traditional dishes we all love.  There are a wide variety of these wines, so beware of some common misconceptions.  You can easily find many of these wines in the “$10 and less category” that will be quaffable, however, they pale in comparison to what these varietals can offer.

Riesling  is quite an amazing grape variety; ranging from common and unexciting wine to truly extraordinary examples that are very well respected in the world of wine aficionados.  Grand Cru Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Sylvaner and Pinot Gris (known as Tokay) from Alsace in France are all great options for Thanksgiving dinner.

The wines of Alsace France are typically full bodied and dry where as the sweeter styles hail from Germany and the residual sugar is wonderfully contrasted with bracing acidity.  These wines typically start in the $40- $60 price range and can be found at a specialty grocer or wine shop.  Germany has a complex system of classification and reading the label can be intimidating.  A little research, or simply asking for assistance in the wine shop, will go a long way in finding your selection.

Beaujolais Nouveau is released every year on the third Thursday of November.  This wine is readily on display at most markets and meant to be consumed young. However, I recommend you seek out premium bottling of Beaujolais from one of the ten specific village/sites that have been awarded Cru status. “Cru” is a French term that refers to “growth place,” so wines from certain “Cru” regions have strict standards that result in depth and complexity not found in common Beaujolais bottling.  Ask for Morgon [moor – gah] or Moulin au Vent [moo-lahn-ah-vah].  Both of these bottlings typically start in the $30 price range.

Pinot Noir pairs rather well at the Thanksgiving table, and Premier Cru or Grand Cru Red Burgundies are simply spectacular.  Pinot Noir from Germany and New Zealand are not as abundant, however, both are well worth tracking down. Both options are much lighter than their California counterparts and showcase the delicate and lighter side of Pinot Noir. For something in the middle try Oregon Pinot Noir.  It is readily available and shares a common elegance as other cool climate pinots.  This region offers characteristics between the earth-driven wines of Burgundy, France and the fruit-driven Pinots of California.  A great choice for a group of diverse palates.

Regardless of your selection, quality should be the focus and will certainly be worthy of a few extra bucks.

My most memorable dining experiences are those with special friends and family, enjoying conversation over great wine.   My wife and I will always remember a few specific bottles that we shared long ago.  They were supported by great ambience and hold a place in our memories.  We look forward to drinking these same wines on special occasions, especially during the holidays; just as hearing a piece of music can bring us to a certain place in time, wine shares a similar relation.   Pulling a cork from a special bottle is like opening a time capsule, our senses connect with memories and thoughts are re-lived.

So seek out that special bottle.  It’s a small price for lasting memories.

From my family to yours, in health and happiness, have a happy Thanksgiving.


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Spectacular Brilliance: My Pursuit of the Perfect Pairing

Troy Knapp

By Troy Knapp

The process of winemaking, essentially, is quite simple; these miraculous berries almost ferment themselves, with their natural yeast on the outside and the sugars and juice on the inside. When simply crushed, the elements combine and under the right environment can produce something that is mysterious and seductive.

Such a simple process, and the end result can yield extreme complexity in the glass. “Notes of caramel, butterscotch and honey with hints of orange blossom and baking spices, minerality and tropical fruit backed by racy acidity and a long finish that is dry on the palate” — that’s why it’s wine for me. Don’t get me wrong, a hand-crafted beer or cocktail can be quite delicious; however, wine is unique and its relation to food unparalleled.

The more I’ve learned about wine, the more I was seduced: intrigued to a level of excessiveness. As a chef, I felt this was crucial in the pursuit of a heightened experience. It was clear to me, that even if I perfected a dish, it is void of its overall pinnacle that only wine could provide. It was the theory of 1 + 1 = 3. I needed to know more. I started studying and, of course, tasting, quite a bit! Homework has never been so much fun. I had been in the hotel business for 20 years and had always enjoyed a great glass of wine. I had cooked for my fair share of winemaker dinners, lived close to the Central Coast wine region in California, which I visited regularly.

For all intents and purposes, I thought I was pretty well versed on wine. All that changed when I sat in a Las Vegas classroom with the Court of Master Sommeliers for the level one exam. Two days of high intensity lectures, blind tastings and service skills, all culminated with a theory exam that shook me up pretty good. I passed; however, at that moment I realized that although I had been around wine in a fairly high capacity for years, I had never truly actively studied it. If I wanted to learn and delve deeper into my passion I would have take this seriously and dedicate myself to a strict study regimen. There were doubts. Where would I fit this in to my already crazy life of being an executive chef, where a 65- to 70-hour work week was considered normal and still be a good spouse and a dedicated father to my two young children? My wife was extremely supportive and truly became my coach. I worked like crazy to absorb as much as I could to prepare for the next step.

Flash-forward one year later and I was on a flight to Seattle for the level two certification exam from the Court of Master Sommeliers. Everything I had worked for over the course of the previous year came down to one day of testing. The countless hours of studying, blind tasting and absorbing paid off; I passed the exam and was able to return home with the title of Certified Sommelier. Studying and tastings are now a routine part of my life and continued education will always be important in my passion for food and wine.

Wine pairing can be simple or complex, it all depends on how deep you want to go. A few common “safe” rules can take you far and faithfully deliver a consistent result. However, by delving deeper and taking a leap of faith, you just may create an experience of sheer and spectacular brilliance. This column will explore food and wine pairing possibilities, but more so, inspire you to go outside your comfort zone in the effort to create memorable and lasting experiences.

As the actor W.C. Fields said, “I cook with wine. Sometimes I even add it to the food.” Cheers!

Troy Knapp is executive chef at the Hyatt Hill Country Resort, including Antlers Lodge. He’s also a Certified Sommelier and Certified Specialist of Wine. 



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Filet Mignon, Roast Chicken and More During Restaurant Week at Antlers Lodge

The open kitchen at Antlers Lodge at the Hyatt Hill Country.

Our first venture into Restaurant Week got off to a rousing start Sunday evening with a trip to Antlers Lodge at the Hyatt Hill Country Resort.

We were seated close to the magnificent chandelier of antlers that dominates the air above the elegantly understated dining area. So, we could enjoy a view of it out of the corner of one eye, while also watching the staff work in the open kitchen that’s marked by a burnished array of gleaming copper cookware that we wanted to take home for our own kitchens. (If a pot’s missing, we didn’t take it. Honest.)

After drooling over chef Troy Knapp’s regular menu for a few moments — that bison tenderloin is calling me back for a return visit soon — we each found what we wanted on the special Culinaria Restaurant Week menu, which is a three-course prix fixe for $35 a person. The special offering runs through Saturday.

Two of us started with the Poblano Tomatillo Soup, a regular menu item that captured my attention because it promised roasted chicken, avocado and cilantro in addition. It was spicy and tangy, with just the right touch of creaminess to blend all of the rich flavors together, before ending with a pleasant chile burn on the finish. I had ordered a glass of the Gruet Brut Rosé, and the bracing acidity of the wine cleansed the palate, making me want to spoon more and more soup.

Organic, free-range chicken with a touch of rosemary.

The third person in my party ordered the traditional Caesar, which a winning combination of crisp romaine, salty Parmesan as well as the salty, mouth filling richness of anchovy in it. It was fresh and a welcoming respite from the summer heat; yet despite the high temperatures, I still could have eaten a gallon of that soup.

Each of us was more than happy with our respective entrée choices. Moist, briny Gulf red fish was presented with a lively spice blend on the crust, while a petite prime filet mignon arrived with spicy poblano butter on it. The beef was velvety, tender and a perfect sponge for the butter. Half of an organic, free-range chicken had been roasted in rosemary-tinged butter, which left the meat perfectly moist. The skin was delicate with a few choice crispy parts, while the meat practically fell off the bone without it having been overcooked. (The chicken and red fish are also on the regular menu in addition to several steak selections.)

On the side of each were smoked Cheddar mashed potatoes, with an emphasis on the appealing smoke flavor that perfumed the potato, and fresh spears of asparagus that had been prepared to the point of being soft but without losing some crunch when you bit into them.

Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Roasted Strawberries

The breads were definitely not an after-thought, as you’ll find true in too many other restaurants. Pastry chef Lou Venditti’s choices included jalapeño corn biscuits and black pepper-cumin lavosh, and both disappeared quickly, though we were glad the kitchen brought us some regular butter to replace the sweet pecan butter they were served with. (Those of us who don’t want sweet except at dessert are becoming more of a minority every day, I know. And I also realize we are probably the first table to make such a request this year, if not longer.)

Dessert was a sweet, as it should be. It was buttermilk panna cotta, dense and delicious, with a roasted strawberry syrup on top. The roasted berries provided the one controversy of the evening. One friend didn’t care for the carbon flavor that the charred exterior of the berries provided. The other two didn’t mind the texture or flavor it contributed. We all agreed, however, that the almond cookies on the side, loaded with almond extract or marzipan or what have you to give it extra almond flavor, were spectacular. Light and airy, they provided a great contrast to the creaminess of the panna cotta while complementing the richness of the dish.

Here’s hoping the rest of our Restaurant Week adventures are as satisfying as this one was.

Antlers Lodge
Hyatt Hill Country Resort
9800 Hyatt Resort Drive

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Get Maximum Flavor from Your Grill

Have your plan ready before starting, Garrett Stephens advises.

Are you going to grill this weekend? You’re not alone. Folks across the country will be lighting up charcoal or warming their propane grills for cookouts featuring everything from steaks and hamburgers to veggie skewers and portobello mushrooms.

But as much as Americans love to grill, not everybody gets the best results. So, to help you out, we asked three grill masters in town to offer five tips for better grilling. The answers are mostly varied and the advice is certainly sound, but we must point out two tips that did come more than once and should be taken to heart:

Don’t over-season the meat; that is, if it’s the meat you want to taste. And practice a little patience: Let the meat rest a few minutes before you cut into it; it’ll be juicier and taste a whole lot better.

Garrett Stephens, pitmaster at the County Line Barbecue, 10101 I-10 W., offers the following tips for after you’ve dusted  off the grill:

  1. Have a game plan in order to wow your friends and family with the perfect outdoor feast. To start, take a quick inventory of what meats will be gracing your plate. You will need to set your grill up accordingly. For burgers, dogs, kabobs, fish, and thin cut steaks you will want to set your grill up for direct heat, and leaving 4-6 inches from your coals. For thicker cuts, such as roasts, whole chickens, ribs, and thick cut steaks you will want to have a part of your grill set up to accommodate an indirect method so that you wont end up charring your heartier cuts and leaving the middle underdone.
  2. Pat meat dry and wipe off excess marinades.

    Make sure you are adding the flavors that your grill was destined to create by adding rubs, marinades, and smoke. A proper marinade should consist of an acidic ingredient, such as vinegar, wine, or citrus juice; a little oil, such as olive; and various spices and herbs. Rubs generally consist of various spices, herbs, and even citrus zests ranging from sweet to savory. Rubs will not only tenderize cuts of beef, but will add deep, wonderful flavor. Rubs should be applied several hours prior to grilling and the meats left in a refrigerator.

  3. Be sure to thoroughly wipe off excess marinade before you grill in order to prevent flame from flaring up.
  4. While grilling, be sure to add wood chips to your coals just before you throw on your cuts. Experiment with different types of woods to obtain smoky flavors ranging from delicate to earthy, and aromatic to sweet.
  5. Finally, as you pull off your pieces of culinary genius, take a moment, 5- 10 minutes, to let your works rest. If you cut in too quickly, the juices will run out all over your plate instead of in your mouth, which is where they should be. If you let the meat, rest the juices will permeate the meat and the final product will be the perfect compliment to your Fourth of July picnic.

Select the right wine to go with the meat you're grilling, Troy Knapp says.

Troy Knapp, executive chef at the Hyatt Hill Country, 9800 Hyatt Resort Drive, is also a certified sommelier. So naturally, pairing what you grill with the right drink is important:

  1. Quality — Purchase the best you can afford. All-natural beef is better for you and the environment. When it comes to meat, you generally get what you pay for. You are better of going with a smaller piece if you are looking to save. Think quality over quantity and you will be much more satisfied in the long run. Simple seasoning is the best way to enhance a great cut of meat. Use great quality olive oil, sea salt and fresh ground pepper.
  2. Tempering — For an evenly cooked steak, allow your steak (or other protein) to acclimate to room temperature before putting it on the grill. This should take approximately one hour on your kitchen counter and be sure to cover.
  3. Resting — A crucial step that allows the juices to integrate properly and ultimately provide a juicier finished product. Once removed from the grill, simply let the steaks rest for approximately 7 to 8 minutes before cutting into them.
  4. Wine — Steaks with higher fat content such as a rib-eye or New York strip will benefit from a big wine with significant tannin such as a Syrah, Zinfandel or Cabernet Sauvignon. Lean meats such as tenderloin pair much nicer with lower tannin reds such as Merlot or Pinot Noir. Don’t forget about dry rosé for grilled fish and chicken. Make sure you slightly chill the reds by placing in the refrigerator for a half hour to achieve a temperature of approximately 60 degrees.
  5. Sides — Refreshing sides are a nice accent to rich barbecued, grilled or smoked meats. Instead of creamy potato salad or coleslaw, go with a roasted potato salad with vinaigrette and herbs or a vinaigrette slaw. Add accompaniments such as chimichurri or pickled vegetables. Items with good acidity will add a light fresh component and will surely excite the palate.

Salt and pepper are all you need to season that steak, Jason Dady says.

Jason Dady, whose restaurants include the Lodge Restaurant of Castle Hills, Bin 555 and Tre Trattoria and feature a grill or two, offers the following tips:

  1. The best results come from a hot grill. Too many people use coals that are too cool or a gas grill that has not gotten hot enough
  2. Don’t use too much oil. It aids in flames, which can cause the extra carbon bitterness in the food. Use the least amount of oil.
  3. Rub the grill with a lightly oiled rag prior to grilling while coals and grates are hot. It will act as a natural “non-stick.”
  4. Pat all meats dry prior to cooking. They should not be wet. It will help in allowing the caramelization of the meat to get a richer, darker flavor profile.
  5. Salt and pepper — it’s all you need. Kosher salt to season with and fresh cracked black pepper. Let your steak taste like your steak!


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Hyatt Hill Country Bottles Its 99 Brand Salsa

If you’ve ever stayed at the Hyatt Hill Country Resort, 9800 Hyatt Resort Drive, you probably tasted the salsa, made from roasted tomatoes, onions and jalapeños. It’s a taste many of you have wanted to take with you upon leaving.

Well, now you can.

The Hyatt has begun to bottle its 99 Brand Salsa, which the resort’s culinary team, led by chefs Jeffrey Axell and Troy Knapp, have made ready for mass production.

The name is derived from the cattle brands that Texas began registering in the 1830’s.  D. G. Rogers, founder of the Rogers-Wiseman ranch, now home to the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa, designed the 99 brand and officially registered it in 1888.

Family legend states that Rogers chose the 99 after a passage in the Bible, where the question was asked, “If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the 99 and go to look for the one that wandered off?” This parable was directed at his son Henry, who preferred to spend time in town socializing in San Antonio’s Produce Row to a hard day’s work on the ranch.

The salsa is the first in a trilogy of products that will be labeled under the 99 Brand. A barbecue sauce and dry rub are in production and will be available soon. The 16-ounce jars of salsa are available in the hotel’s General Store for $6. Call 210-647-1234.

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