Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Tuesday, 2/23/10 - The Vineyards at Garden Ridge

Date: 2/23/10
Restaurant: The Vineyards at Garden Ridge
Location: 27315 Farm-to-Market (FM) 3009, just north of the Natural Bridge Caverns
Executive Chef: Unsung heroes.

So, turns out we were treading trodden trails with our selection this week. In all my research for these 52 restaurants, it didn't occur to me that I was retracing my steps from oh about six years ago. Shortly after moving here from Oklahoma, I searched for "The Most Bomantic Restaurant in San Antonio" for a special occasion with my honey. My buzzwords for the 52 were the most authentic, the most celebrated, the most foodie-catering...and the most bomantic. So it was inevitable that there would be overlap one day. Sure enough, as we pulled into the parking lot last night, Tavis turned to me and said, "I think we've been here before."

Well, it was a warm welcome back!

It's a straight shot north of San Antonio; just go north on Nacogdoches above 1604, follow the signs toward the Natural Bridge Caverns, and head straight past them. Just barely bordering on San Antonio, it feels like a different world entirely. Maybe Europe. Maybe Tuscany.

Okay, maybe Tuscany in the off-season.

Aww, it's still scenic! And our dinner coincided with the 5 minutes of fat flaky snow we got in San Antonio, so we had a lovely winter meal by the windows.

We arrived just at 5pm and had the place to ourselves for the first half of our meal, a very pleasant experience. Also, for once we had perfect lighting for food photography! Our waiter was friendly, the room was attractive for what it is--most often, the reception room for wedding parties.

You can almost hear YMCA playing now. I kid, I kid.

I have to say, I was surprised at the brevity of their menu AND wine list, considering it's, well, The Vineyards. However, I got a glass of Seven Sisters blend white which was nice and fruity as a California wine ought to be, and we both found tasty items on the menu. I suspect that the small selection of menu items and the low price of said items are closely related. Cheap classy meal, what what!

Crab-stuffed mushrooms. Big flavor in small packages! I am not ashamed to say that we gobbled them up and used the bread to mop every drop of this spicy, zesty sauce off the plate. And then gnawed on the plate.

My starter, a bowl of poblano corn chowder. This was exactly what I needed on a winter's day. There was heat but I daresay less than in the mushroom caps; instead it was just sweet, smoky and perfect with our basket of fresh-baked rolls.

One of the rolls in question before I took it back and made a soup spoon out of it.

(If I may nitpick just for a moment? Okay, I give myself permission. There were just a couple small touches that I was surprised were missing. The tablecloths weren't ironed at all. I had no soup spoon either tableside or presented to me with my soup. And our waiter didn't know where the Seven Sisters wine was from when I asked. However, all superficial faults--still much preferred to the trip to Bohanan's which was all show and no substance.)

To continue.

My entree, which I ordered off the menu as recommended by our waiter. Chilean sea bass in a sauce somewhat reminiscent of the crab-stuffed mushrooms. While a little nervous about eating "chef's special" fish that was smothered in sauce, aka recipe for "old fish in new clothes," it was delicious and fresh and full of just the right amount of fish-to-sauce flavor. Alongside is a bundle of seasonal veggies including asparagus and broccoli rabe with a humdrum rice pilaf. Also, two tasty parmesan-crusted shrimp.

Tavis: "Omg these vegetables taste so good!"
Me: "They're cooked in enough butter, they BETTER taste good!"
Tavis: *guilty look he learned from Roland*

Tavis's chicken florentine, stuffed with pancetta and spinach and deliciousness. Crispy outside, juicy outside, with fresh pasta in a very-well-prepared alfredo sauce.

Check that out. Isn't it gorgeous? Clear foreground/background differentiation. Perfect play of colors, terrific lighting. Oh, and the food ain't bad either.

Dessert: vanilla creme brulee with strawberries. Okay, as beautiful as this is and as fun as it was to shatter the sugar like stained glass in my mom's basement...I've made better and I've eaten better. Could've used more vanilla infusion for sure and I really prefer a thinner layer of sugar crust. But it sure is pretty. And I sure did eat it anyway.

Returnability: moderately high. We had a really wonderful time. The drive was actually a plus, because it was a drive OUTSIDE of San Antonio so we got the feeling of escaping the city and having a vacation, which was nice. If the weather had been less inexplicably-wintry, the Vineyards would make a great end to a date beginning at the Natural Bridge Caverns. I would hope they change up their menu seasonally to compensate for the lack of options; however, for what they have and how little they charge for it, this is definitely a great experience for your dollar if you and your own honey are looking for a night out. And then another one six years later.