Sunday, March 21, 2010

"Tuesday," 3/21/10 - Las Canarias

Date: 3/21/10
Restaurant: Las Canarias
Location: 112 College St, inside the Omni La Mansion hotel on the Riverwalk. You can journey through the hotel to get there (which is recommended since parking at the Omni gets you a parking voucher, score!) but the entrance to the restaurant is actually on the Riverwalk.
Executive Chef: John Brand

It's a special Spring Break edition of Tuesdays in Wasabiland! We had the pleasure of spending the weekend with Rebekah and her darling baby Aubrey, and decided to send them off in a food coma. Las Canarias has a full service breakfast and dinner menu as well, but their Sunday Champagne Brunch is said to be a treat of a tradition in San Antonio, so off we went! Boy, what a breakfeast.

Welcome! (The view from the Riverwalk.)

A trip to the Riverwalk is always nice on a Sunday morning before the rest of San Antonio decides to join you.

The brunch is buffet style, $38.95 per person which includes unlimited champagne as well as juice and coffee. The service was absolutely impeccable--granted, they might have just been charmed by Aubrey, but we had a whole cadre of servers assuring our culinary satisfaction at every turn. Beautiful, airy ambience with a great view of the Riverwalk (except that we were seated on the far side of the room, so our great view consisted mostly of our overflowing plates).

Let's just say that there is no buffet like this one. So. Much. Food. Inside we had 5 different stations set up with everything from brunch staples like fruit, salad, cheese (like 10 different kinds, most of which I was unable to identify!), cold cuts from salami to chorizo to pate... more breakfasty things like waffles and omelets made to order, chilaquiles, cider-cured bacon, sausages, country potatoes, eggs benedict (with brisket and onion/chives in the hollandaise)... more lunchy things like salmon, crab salad, butternut squash or tortilla soup, crab legs and cocktail shrimp...

And that's not even counting the outside grill station which offered succulent prime rib, or the pastry station! Hoo boy. Food coma, full speed ahead.

Why, what do we have here? I do believe it's a plate full of win!

Gonna try to recap, from bottom clockwise: fresh French bread covering about 5 types of cheese ranging from goat to nut-and-honey filled to blue to swiss; a very dubious pickled tomato filled with some uber ripe cheese (probably the one bad bite of the meal); crab salad; delicious hummus and a tasty olive tapenade; THE BEST BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP EVER, oh my gosh, amazing food. Want always. Every day. Don't care how full I am. Where was I? Oh yes. Hiding behind the soup is fresh fruit--and if you're wondering where the best fruit in San Antonio can be found, it's here. I had the ripest, sweetest melon and pineapple. Also, chilaquiles (scrambled eggs with tortilla strips, peppers and cheese); sausage, bacon, pate, a shrimp and assorted cold cuts.

If you come here for brunch or any other time, please make a point to order the butternut squash soup. If that wasn't made abundantly clear above. It was the unanimous favorite of all of us, and we have VERY different taste in food.

Plate #2...from bottom: gawgeous smoked prime rib; made-to-order waffle with bananas foster topping; french toast with fresh whipped cream; and Texas brisket egg benedict on cornbread muffin.

Plate #3 (and at this point I feel I must specify that I am not taking pictures of ALL our plates...just the ones that survived long enough to be photographed. The others disappeared before I could even get the camera up. My apologies.): grilled asparagus; country potatoes; salmon in a sweet tangy glaze; chocolate pecan bread pudding in creme anglaise; another Texas egg benedict; another french toast triangle; and in the center, a frothy little flavor bomb that I will refer to as the Magical Disappearing Strawberry Mousse Puff. Pop this bite in your mouth and it just dissolves into sweet nothings. It's so good. It all was so. So. Good.

Rebekah getting her grub on. Notice the determination on this over-stimulated diner's face as she tackles the never-ending pile of delish.


Finally it was dessert time. Actually, it's a little misleading to think that we had the propriety to wait til the end of our meal for dessert. I just like the flow of pictures better this way.

A trio of desserts. We have the best truffle ever, springy and rich with oreo and/or coffee grounds in the base; a so-so cupcake with yummy tropical pineapple icing; and the redux of the Magical Disappearing Strawberry Mousse Puff.

This cake was a black hole. No lie. It sucked all the matter from the room and condensed it onto my fork. I grew three sizes this day. (Also, the final bite of Magical Disappearing Strawberry Mousse Puff.)

Our waiter snagged this darling trio of creme brulees for us early in the meal because he said they tend to go fast. They were tasty, although the garnishes were a little heavy for the bitty portion of actual creme brulee in each ramekin.

Even Aubrey got her buffet on! Everybody had happy tummy after this meal, lemme tell ya.

Returnability: high, with good company. Anyone coming to San Antonio over a weekend should consider coming here to be pampered, stuffed, and tossed out into the Riverwalk fray. It was truly a lovely experience and I was so glad to share it with my girls. (And Tavis.)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Tuesday, 3/16/10 - Ciao Lavanderia

Date: 3/16/10
Restaurant: Ciao Lavanderia
Location: 226 E Olmos Dr, bordering Alamo Heights again. When McCullough does the crazy circle thing, go about 3/4 through and turn right into a very busy cluster of restaurants with very insufficient parking.
Executive Chef: Chef Damien Watel, who we will also see in Bistro Vatel and possibly the Bistro Bakery. Hey, I've never been one to turn down desserts!

The second half of my two-fer Tuesday was another round of Italian food. I had been invited out by a buddy so promised Tavis a doggy bag and struck out solo. For shame, I neglected a shot of the outside! I blame it on the agitation of trying to find my way into a parking spot that wouldn't get my car towed.

The interior, in which you can sort of see in the distance the open kitchen. I always like seeing chefs at work; any connection between front-of-house and back-of-house only makes for a more cohesive, satisfactory dining experience in my opinion. Hi chefs!

The menu was sort of small and had lots of terms that you'd probably want to understand Italian food to visualize. After listening to our nice and friendly--but occasionally absent--waitress's recommendations, we both made our selections.

Caesar salad, and yes indeed those are anchovies. I really enjoy anchovies. No shame in my game! *ahem* Also marinated artichoke hearts. This salad was salty and full of delicious flavor.

Caprese salad, which was actually a salad with some elements of the tomato, basil (in pesto form) and mozzarella. If you're looking for a classic caprese setup (i.e. slices of tomato, cheese and basil) then you may be disappointed. However, this was a solid chunk of eats on its own and I heard no complaints about the variation.

I was still pretty stuffed from lunch so I opted for a simple dish of penne, pancetta and peas in alfredo sauce. This was so comforting and delicious. My one complaint would be that the pancetta was too limp; if it had been crisper, the contrast between chewy and crunchy would have been more enjoyable. But the flavors were all that I would want.

Trout al pesto over angelhair pasta with more alfredo. The trout was lacking zing. A squeeze of citrus would probably have elevated it to delicious; I had a bite and was as unthrilled as my buddy. Also, he found about 6 bones in it which is rarely a good sign.

Was it a good day for dessert or what? I got the house panna cotta with raspberry and orange grappa reduction. Grappa is the "wine" that is made from the skins, seeds and stems of grapes left over after winepressing. At some point they added orange in there too. The resulting sauce was deliciously tangy and tart, perfectly contrasting the silken panna cotta. My sweet tooth was temporarily assuaged again.

If tres leches were made with coffee, it would probably result in this tiramisu. Absolutely tender, moist and flavorful. (Granted, that flavor was "coffee" which meant that I didn't care for it, but I appreciated the texture and my buddy went nuts over it.)

Returnability: somewhat. The menu didn't really seem to have a lot of stand-out appeal. If I were closer, I could see it becoming more of a fall-back Italian eatery since the prices were fair and the salads and desserts were very well done. But if I'm comparing Italian to Italian, lunch to dinner, I think this round goes to Tre Trattoria. We'll see how Ciao lines up against its big brother Bistro Vatel in a later review.

Good Tuesday, good eats, good night!

Tuesday, 3/16/10 - Tre Trattoria

Date: 3/16/10
Restaurant: Tre Trattoria
Location: 4003 Broadway, in the uber-chic Alamo Heights part of town, right next to the Witte Museum WHICH HAS A DINOSAUR EXHIBIT ZOMG.
Executive Chef: "Hi, I'm Chef Jason Dady. You may remember me from such other San Antonio restaurants as Bin 555, The Lodge of Castle Hills, Insignia, and Two Bros BBQ!" To be fair I haven't reviewed any of those others yet, but oh boy am I gonna.

It's a two-fer Tuesday! We kicked off in style at Tre, which I selected because it has a delicious-looking and really reasonably priced lunch option, 3 courses for $20. This includes your choice of salad, your choice of homemade pasta, and their signature dessert.

But I get ahead of myself.

Tre as it is seen by the outside world. Tavis as he ought not be seen by the outside world.

If I had panned more to the left (as maybe I should've), you would see the Witte Museum. If I had panned more to the right, you'd find at least 3 of the other 52 restaurants all in this same Boardwalk area. Good eats run in packs, apparently.

Check out that focal piece! BaDOW!

Impressions of the decor: neat, unique without being kitchy, really comfortable seating--and way too empty! This place should've been considerably more packed for how nice it is and how busy the Witte was at the time. For shame, Antonians, come get your eat on! (Maybe pass on getting your delicious-but-super-overpriced Bellini on, though.)

Our waiter Nick, who by the way was awesome, rattled off the day's specials and recommendations. Tavis opted for the 3 course; I chose the chef's daily panini. More on that in a minute.

We first had to work our way through...
...wait for it...

BOOM, baby! What a healthy blob of cheesy goodness. I almost want to smack it on the bottom and give it a name.

We just ate it instead.

Side note: this wasn't on the regular lunch menu but Nick the Awesome asked them to make it for us anyway. It IS available for dinner though, and will probably go out to movies with you afterward if you ask real nice.

Side note more relevant: while oily, salty and delicious, I think the flavor of Dough's cheese bar was more remarkable. The bread really stole the scene here, grilled in what was probably a combination of oil and bacon fat by the rich amazing flavor. I think if I ordered cheese again--they had other options, including Parm and Pecorino Romano--I would order some of their house-made cured meats as well. That would be fabulous.

Oh Bellinis. You are so tasty. But you are also $12 a pop. No one should have to make that choice.

Tavis's salad, greens in red wine vinaigrette. It was exactly as it sounded, no frills or other ingredients. Snooze. Also, I bit into a peppercorn and had to down half of the Bellini in desperation.

My daily panini, a play on a BLT. It was comprised of bacon, arugula, tomato, smoked cheddar and some of their salami. Tasty, though I would've preferred more filling to the amount of bread. Their salami really shone through, terrific flavor that I would eat all day if it were readily available. My salad was the same as Tavis's, so I mostly ignored it.

If my panini was a take on a BLT, Tavis's Pappardelle and Bolognese was in essence a seriously jazzed-up Hamburger Helper. It was an unfortunate resemblance that really doesn't do the Pappardelle justice. I adored it--sweet yet spicy, hearty, cheesy. I would've gobbled his up in an instant. It was just a tad spicy for Tavis so he didn't enjoy it as much as I did. Such a shame.

There are about 7 options for pasta if you also share Tavis's aversion to heat, and I would definitely try them all.

Here's an example of how Nick the Awesome is Awesome. We were waiting for our entrees, no great impatience--it seemed like a reasonable amount of time had passed--and Nick stopped by our table and said, "Hey, I went and gave dirty looks to the guys in the kitchen to speed it up with your entrees. They should be right out, but for making yall wait, the manager is going to go ahead and buy your dessert for you." Um, sweet?

Ohhhh yeah, sweet. This is their seasonal crostada, currently filled with red plums and served with a caramel chantilly (whipped cream). I was in heaven. This was one of the best desserts I've ever had. The pie crust was buttery and flaky, the plums juicy and tender, the chantilly the perfect creamy contrast. I sent my appreciation to their pastry people in the back.

And then there's their signature dessert, Nutella X3. You know with a name like that, it's gonna be good. (Unless you're one of the bizarre people in the world *cough*MOM*cough* who don't like Nutella, in which case go back and ogle my crostada again.)

Dense, fudgey Nutella cake covered in Nutella sauce, with a crenelle of Nutella mousse alongside. Holy hazelnut, this was a stunner. And soon there was nothing left on the plate to show it had even been there in the first place.

Returnability: high! I enjoyed everything a little bit more than Tavis for some reason, but there were enough options on the menu that I'm sure I could wheedle him back to try something new. The service was spot-on--thanks, Nick the Awesome!--and the price was very fair unless you indulge in bar treats. Go see the dinosaurs at the Witte and stop in for dessert. You'll thank me.

Friday, March 5, 2010

"Tuesday," 3/4/10 - Dough

Date: 3/4/10
Restaurant: Dough Pizzeria Napoletano
Location: 6989 Blanco, in the Blanco Junction strip mall close to the North Star mall
Executive Chef: Chef Doug Horn. You can't spell Doug Horn without Dough!

Well I might as well address the thought on everyone's mind: this isn't a Tuesday dinner. It's true. Tavis was on the annual three day field trip with his 6th graders this Tuesday, and I didn't want him to miss out on a potentially excellent dining experience. (I also wanted to be able to taste two peoples' meals instead of being content with my order alone.) So we switched the night and kept the meal. Hence, Dough.

(I might as well warn you now, gentle viewer, the soundtrack for this entry is Homer Simpson's "drooling over food" noise. On loop. Over and over and over. Ahhhh.)

The outside of Dough. Tucked away in a strip mall, it definitely tries to fill the little space it owns. We came in around 6:30, which is later than many entries, and found ourselves in pretty tight quarters all night.

The attractive interior, in which one hopes that one's culinary neighbor showered that day. There were lots of parents with kids--lucky kids!--who were thankfully well-behaved. Outdoor seating looks to be an option though I only saw one table in use outdoors all night. In other words, perhaps not the best romantic location unless you are also romantically involved with everyone adjacent to you. I don't judge. I just eat.

I'm sad that I didn't snap a picture of their gigundo 800 degree+ authentic oven hauled all the way from Italy. It was toasty and awesome. However, it was also constantly in use and concealed by the busy cadre of pizza chefs.

Real quick, let's have a brief lesson on what makes pizza "Neapolitan." This is a closely-guarded certification. You really have to earn it. The guidelines for authentic Neapolitan pizza are:

* The dough must be made of soft-grain flour, water, sea salt, and natural yeast
* The pizza must be a hand-thrown dough
* Cheese must be either Mozzarella di Bufala or Fior-di-latte Mozzarella
* Tomatoes must be Italian Plum Tomatoes
* Fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil must be used on the pizza
* Fresh garlic is used in the no-cheese classic Marinara
* The pizza must be baked in a wood-burning oven with a volcanic stone floor
* Temperatures must be at least 800 degrees or higher and pizzas must cook in 90 seconds

Neat, huh? Now, back to the action. We resume with a memory that will live in my heart forever: the cheese bar. Dough makes their own mozzarella. They have five different offerings currently, and you can select three with some tasty hunks of flatbread for $22. Behold the plate of cheese.

I really might break down and cry, folks. This must be what new parents see when they hold their baby for the first time. Okay, maybe that was a stretch.

Cheese #1: Burricotti. Mozzarella outside, herbed ricotta filling inside. We could've added a sunny-side up egg onto the dish, which I think would have made it unctuous and awesome. This was very surprisingly mild to me; I think Tavis got more flavor from it than I did. Pleasant but not the same WOW factor as its cheesy brethren.

Cheese #2: Fior di latte stracciato. Fior di latte is their non-buffalo mozzarella made in-house. These little medallions were adorned with zucchini ribbons and a generous slice of crispy pancetta, drizzled with a white balsamic reduction. What astounded both of us was the sweetness to this dish. I am guessing there was something in the balsamic reduction that contributed that flavor note. Anyway, this was absolutely divine and we gobbled it like there was no tomorrow.

Cheese #3: Autumn Burrata. House-made mozzarella stuffed with a filling of porcini mushrooms, mascarpone and ricotta cheese, and truffle oil. Around the sides are melted leeks and oak-roasted mushrooms. The outside alone of this cheese made me do a double take. It was so ridiculously flavorful for being a mozzarella. The filling seemed reminiscent of hummus, though that might've just been a textural similarity. The richness of the truffle oil and porcini mushrooms made it really decadent, though it was a far better spread than a standalone bite--the creamy consistency got a little old after awhile. As far as the mushrooms, you'll either love them if you love mushrooms, or wish them away if you're not a huge fan. We had one of both at the table.

I will say that I am ridiculously happy that we ordered this sampler, and I would highly recommend it for all newcomers to Dough, especially those as indecisive and cheese-adoring as myself. However, this plus our pizza kind of was a bit of overload. So in future visits, I will probably take it down a notch, order one cheese appetizer (stracciato, I'm looking at you!) and a pizza, and have just as wonderful a time.

Margherita pizza, the original and authentic. Dough, marinara, basil, and fresh mozzarella. Pizza as God intended, if God were Italian and not lactose-intolerant. Look at the cheese curled around my fork. That's a good sign. Everything about this pizza was fresh, flavorful and perfectly balanced.

The Fontina pizza, which was a white pizza with fontina cheese, caramelized onions and more of the oak-roasted mushrooms. I didn't care for this one as much; the mushrooms got a bit overpowering for me, but I'm not a huge mushroom person. Tavis enjoyed it, which was a surprise since he's normally all about the sauce. (Saucy Tavis!)

The Margherita didn't last long, as you can see.

Our finishing touch, vanilla panna cotta with creme anglaise and dried cherries/raisins in a Marsala wine sauce. Nigella Lawson once said that panna cotta "should have the quiver of a 17th-century courtesan's inner thigh." Words to live by, folks. We both adored this dessert, especially for the tangy, deep contrast provided by the cherries in Marsala. A delicious end, not to be missed.

Returnability: do you even need to ask? Cheese bar, man! Cheese bar! Plus not having to deal with downtown makes this meal even more satisfying. The service was wonderful; despite the crowd, we never felt neglected and our waiter was enthusiastic about talking foodie to us. As was said above, if it's just the two of us dining, we will probably content ourselves with cheese, singular. And I shall be a very happy girl.