Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Tuesday, 1/26/10 - Lorenzo's

Date: 1/26/10
Restaurant: Lorenzo's
Location: 8032 Fredericksburg, in a strip mall in the Medical center
Hours: Lunch M-F 11am-4pm, Dinner M-Sat 4pm-10pm
Executive Chef: "Rick." Yeah, you'd think it'd be Lorenzo, but nope. Rick.

Amidst the many chain Italian restaurants in San Antonio, Lorenzo's is one of the few stand-out solo eateries. It reminded me a lot of when I waitressed at Toto's, this hole-in-the-wall Italian joint at OU. Unless you were "in the know," you'd pass it without a second look down your snooty nose. Once you were in the door, boy howdy did you eat well. That was Lorenzo's for us last night.

I remembered to snap the action shot this time!

Oh yeah. Smell the authenticity. It smells like marinara, which is a smell my smeller can stand to smell often.

Even the decor says "really. Stay. Order something. You'll be really happy you did."

The menu covered the standards. Pasta, pizza, meatsa, and fish. They also had a wine list with one or two bottle options per variety of wine available by glass or bottle, which we declined after last week's margaritafest. While we deliberated, in came round one of the Unlimited Bowl of Garlic Toast.

Great toasty bread with just enough garlic butter to snap. This stuff sopped up all the goodies. Nice little drizzly oil with red and black pepper and dried oregano and parsley.

We started with cheese bread. Oh such cheesy cheese bread. Look at that goodness right there. I had to sample the marinara on its own as well and it was made with love. Could've been pulled right out of my Food Bible's section on making classic mother sauces. Good sign that it was made in house: I pulled a bay leaf out of it. Tisk tisk, Rick!

My entree: veal parmigiano. It was crispy on the outside, chewy and sweet on the inside, and drenched in more molten cheese and marinara. Great eats.

Tavis went with "the best lasagna in town." Weeeeeell I dunno about all that; however, as my lasagna is not yet commercially available, I will grant that Lorenzo's was darn good. Full of spicy Italian sausage, mushrooms, and packed to the brim with ricotta and sauce.

Oh wait, how'd that get in here?

I was pleasantly stuffed by this time, but Tavis had a sweet tooth that needed satisfying, so we ordered the strawberry cheesecake. Alas, our waiter reported a few minutes later, there were no strawberries to be had. However, he whipped out from behind his back this luscious creation of lemon and whipped cream, and I was sold. It's like someone bringing a puppy to your table. How can you say no to a puppy?

I said yes to the puppy. I mean, look at this! They even lit it on fire for me! And I will unequivocally say that this is the best lemon pie I have ever eaten. It was frothy, tangy, sweet, with little shavings of candied lemon zest as well as the flaming sugar rock garnish. I'd eat this pie every day. They don't always have it available though, so be sure to nom while the nomming's good. (It was very good.)

(We also left the waiter a hefty tip for his excellent salesmanship. Hey, got to reward talent when you see it!)

Returnability: high. This is definitely an Italian diamond in the rough, well worth a pass over Olive Garden or other big name places. It's much more convenient than a trip downtown, the staff was small, close-knit and friendly, and the quality of the food was excellent. A bella notte indeed!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Tuesday, 1/19/10 - Mi Tierra

Date: 1/19/10
Restaurant: Mi Tierra
Location: 218 Produce Row, adjacent to the Riverwalk, La Villita, and pretty much everything of touristy interest in San Antonio
Hours: 24/7!
Executive Chef: That sweet old lady who smacks your hand with a wooden spoon when you try to sneak a sip of the ridiculously aromatic tortilla soup she's been making for centuries

Bienvenidos a San Antonio! Mi Tierra is a must-eat location for a sample of the true San Antonio experience, and I was elated to draw it. So elated that I forgot to take a picture of my draw, and then later lost the slip of paper, so you'll have to let your imagination fill in the blank here.

[insert imagination]
Thank you for your cooperation.

Venturing downtown wasn't painful this Tuesday either. Mi Tierra is right across the street from the Marketplace Parking Garage which was $6, fair for downtown parking.

Not pictured: the actual entrance. This was just a decoy. Bamboozled!

Depending on the day/time of the visit, the Marketplace could be filled with bustling activity, vendors, Peruvian pipe bands, quinceanera festivities and just generally a good time. It was deserted when we were there, but that was okay too.

You really should come here. It's pretty.

Mi Tierra is loud, shiny, colorful, an explosion of lights and fiesta decorations. It's really breathtaking. don't have to take my word for it!

After admiring the decor and being seated, we perused the menu. We found lots of familiar Tex-mex options like enchiladas, fajitas, and nachos. My eye was drawn--of course!--to the more off-the-beaten-path items such as mole poblano, carnitas (pork tips cooked here in orange and spices, served as a main dish or in a taco plate), cabrito (young goat) and the uniquely San Antonio dishes named after former Spurs All-Stars David Robinson and George Gervin. Oh, decisions, decisions!

Well. A girl can only do so much on her own. I asked my waiter and took his recommendation. Behold the nommability that is cabrito.

Fall-off-the-bone tender, rich, juicy meat. In a former life I was surely a velociraptor. The sidies were great too; it came with a cheesy enchilada, bowl of guac salad, and tasty rice and beans. But the meat stole the show, as well it should. For anyone who hasn't tried goat, this would be a great place to break you in nice and gentle-like.

Tavis enjoyed his beef enchilada plate. I enjoyed him enjoying it. By this point, the second strawberry margarita had begun to kick in and I was one step away from joining in on a round of "De Colores" with the omnipresent mariachi.

A distended stomach couldn't possibly keep me away from the Mi Tierra bakery. The only reason I didn't take a picture of their ginormous display case was that it would lead to a stampede of all of you trying to get here in the next 30 seconds, and I didn't want anyone accidentally getting trampled. They had probably 75 different items, from coconut candies (snooze) to pralines (warmer) to the Mexican pan dulces of varying colors (warmer) to pastries filled with fruit and cream cheese (BINGO!). Tavis found a "regalo fresa" in his possession and I relived my happy month in Mexico with my standard treat, an empanada de pina.

Cuesto cuando?

Mmmmm pineapply goodness. Dense, not too sweet despite those gorgeous sugar crystals dusting the top. I ate these every day in Puebla and I could do it here too. Just dare me.

Anybody who finds themselves in San Antonio really ought to make a point of coming here. It's generally acknowledged that the best places are the hole-in-the-wall taquerias down the street from wherever you are, but this is a brick in the foundation of San Antonio culture. It's brash, it's friendly, it's colorful, and it's delicious. Returnability: yes please. (And save a spot in your tummy for dessert.)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tuesday, 1/12/10 - Phoenix Chinese

Date: 1/12/10
Restaurant: Phoenix Chinese
Location: 11821 West Ave, in the middle of a strip mall
Hours: 11am-10pm, all week long
Executive Chef: Possibly Buddha. Or a giant catfish that causes earthquakes. Neither was ever confirmed.

After the epic New American culinary win of last week, we were sort of relieved when our random draw brought up something on the other end of the food spectrum. (As well as the price spectrum--my poor purse still occasionally succumbs to fits of trembling.) In a city of PF Chang's and Panda Express, Phoenix Chinese is possibly the most authentic Chinese restaurant available. So we headed out!

Tavis drew this week. Observe the manly physique of the palm.

Confucius Mom says: Man who runs in front of car gets tired. But man who runs behind car gets exhausted.

Oh yeah, this is authentic.

Upon entering, be sure to request the Chinese menu. It isn't actually written in Chinese--well, it is, but English as well--but rather is where you will find the most variety in interesting dishes. Ain't no sweet and sour pork on the Chinese menu, nor egg rolls, nor other Americanized offerings. Instead, explore options such as cuttlefish, hot pots, congee, and all parts of animals normally hidden from Western eyes. (Except of course the South, where we thrive on gizzards and pigs' feet.) (I don't actually include myself in that "we.")

The portions were huge, the prices were small. Most everything on the menu was between $7-$10. No more the trembling purse! Also, by the time I finished ordering, our food arrived. Well, it felt like it.

Confucius Mom says: Man who eats many prunes gets good run for money.

Crab and asparagus soup. Notice how it's not just a little cup of soup? Yeah. Come hungry.

I could've done with more crab but the sweetness, enhanced by the thick broth, was pleasantly contrasted by the bitter white asparagus.

Actually, our entire meal was a play between sweet and bitter. Observe.

The main event. Rice tucked away out of sight.

Crispy half of duck. I'm guessing Chinese 5 spice was the rich sweetness in the skin. The meat was fatty and luscious with an exquisite duck sauce on the side. If only some biomedical engineer somewhere could create me a boneless duck! It would save so much work on my part.

Chinese broccoli, stirfried in sesame oil and a bit of garlic. Somewhere between dark bitter greens and the broccoli that we're familiar with here, this was delicious and kept the duck from getting too out of line.

Overall, it was a quick, tasty meal with some nice new flavors and ingredients. Service was friendly and prompt. It lacked the "wow!" factor of Citrus, for sure, but it also was so unlike it that I think we were able to enjoy the experience without measuring the two against each other.

Returnability? Perhaps...but if the regular menu finds its way into our hands, we might not object.

Confucius Mom says: Man who farts in church, sits in own pew.

(I love you, Mom. But be careful what you wish for!)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Tuesday, 1/5/10 - Citrus

Date: 1/5/10
Restaurant: Citrus
Location: 150 E. Houston St, on the 2nd floor of the Hotel Valencia. Silly Garmin tried to tell us it was 105 E. Houston St and we were frantic critters wandering the one-way streets of downtown. This is one of the many Riverwalk-category restaurants, which is a pro and a con depending on how busy it is at the time.
Hours: Open daily from 6:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. for breakfast and lunch, and 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. for dinner.
Executive Chef: Jeff Balfour

The first draw of 2010!

Downtown is so beautiful. We were surprised by the lack of traffic; apparently people are still in post-NYE stupor and haven't stirred from their caves.

Bienvenidos a San Antonio!

Clearly not a peak night for dining out. We had the place to ourselves for 3/4 of our meal. Very chic decor, complete with rather unusual table settings--a candle jar glass? Chainmail placemats? Visually and texturally interesting, I'll give it that. Not pictured: house music piped in from Vbar, the posh lounge across the way. (They were also the source of our drinks, a house margarita for Tavis and a French Kiss martini for me, which were mighty potent. I'm talking "heyyyy, how'd this lampshade end up on my head?" potent.)

The menu offers a 3 or 4 course option, or you could order anything a la carte. Prices ranged from $7 for some of the smaller dishes to $48 for a large entree. Based on previous experience with "tasting menus," we went with a 3 and 4 option. Silly us. Any of the dishes (well, except for the dessert) could have made a decent entree. We were stuffed to a degree normally reserved for Thanksgiving. But oh. Oh, it was good.

This is the "whoops, I'm supposed to take a picture of the food before gleefully annihilating it" picture. In a former life, it was a jumbo lump crabcake with a citrus hollandaise underneath and slices of ripe avocado and a burst of microgreens on top. This is one of Citrus's signature dishes, and although we didn't plan on getting it until our adorable waitress recommended it, we're so glad we did.

I have to confess, I am a San Antonian Seafood Snob. Look, we're smack dab in the center of the state. Even the nice restaurants here serve fish that has been frozen at some point in its afterlife. Plus, after experiencing true seafood in Japan, the bar is set just a bit high. Like Fuji-esque. However, I will freely admit that this crab was jumbo in lump and flavor. Absolutely delectable.

Tavis's dish, an artichoke and heirloom tomato risotto. It was cooked perfectly, al dente and creamy at the same time, and the heirloom tomato flavor was rich and full despite not really being in peak season.

However, I won this round with my antelope. It was rolled in peppercorns and pan-seared, served with a blackberry demi-glace. Absolutely juicy and so tender, not gamy at all. Adjacent is a little puff of dough filled with a combination of goat cheese and blackberries. This was my least favorite bite of the plate, because although the filling was a great blend of sweet and tangy, the dough was just overpoweringly dense. It's like when you get a crab rangoon that's all wonton, no creamy goodness. And finally, a bed of mashed buttercorn squash with more blackberries and demi-glace. That was rich, warm heaven.

Entree #1: Rack of Kurobuta pork. Oh. Words fail me on how magnificent this is. The crispy outside, the fatty inside. *cries*

(The cheesy grits cake to the side didn't wow me, so we shall politely pretend it isn't there and move on.)

Tavis's equally exceptional, locally-sourced filet of beef. Look at that heaping hunk of butter on top. It's not just butter, it's white wine and shallot butter. But it's also butter. Thing is, the steak was so tender, it didn't even need it. It was like butter on butter. Nothing better.

I'm sorry, I had to go back to my pork again. I mean, LOOK AT THIS. This was a very happy pig.

Our desserts. Here, I have to cover my head in shame and sorrow. I have a cold. It was held at bay through the majority of our meal, certainly long enough for me to cry porky tears about my exquisite rack of Kurobuta. However, medicine failed me when it came time to devour our final course, which was a cinnamon roll bread pudding for me and apple crisp for Tavis. It was a tragic moment for us all. However, while I was prevented from experiencing the flavor, I greatly enjoyed the dense, chewiness of my bread pudding. Tavis tasted and loved them both, and I trust his tongue when mine failed me in my time of need.

Anyway. On to happier thoughts.

Yep, that totally turned my frown upside down.

Returnability: high. Very high. However, in the future we know we will choose ONE 4 course meal and split it between the two of us (for a $6 split plate fee). Excellent service, excellent food, excellent night. Great way to kick off 2010!