Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"Tuesday," 4/14/10 - Insignia

Date: 4/14/10
Restaurant: Insignia
Location: 401 Alamo, inside the Fairmount Hotel
Executive Chef: Jason Dady, star chef, founder and owner of the fabulous Tre Trattoria as well as Bin 555, Two Bros BBQ, and The Lodge at Castle Hills

What a happy draw. When just looking through the online menu makes me do one of many White Girl Dances that I have prepared for just such an occasion, you know it's gonna be a good meal. I am extremely pleased to say that Insignia, the newest Dady restaurant in town, completely lived up to my giddy-and-occasionally-spazzy happy food dance.

(As to why we went out on a Wednesday, well, we tried to go last night but they were booked solid for a corporate party. So I pouted, made fried rice for dinner, and reserved a table for Wednesday.)

Back downtown we go! The Fairmount Hotel is immediately past the entrance to La Villita and you score complimentary valet when you spend $25+ at Insignia, so the normal hassle of downtown parking is eliminated. Sweet!

A peek around the hotel, which is very lovely and upscale. I wanted to sit down at the piano and bust some Coldplay, it was so upscale.

The entrance.

We really enjoyed the decor. It felt fresh, modern, and open. Even when it got busy, we were able to hear each other at a comfortable volume and never felt claustrophobic. (Unfortunately, an integral part of the decor was the flatscreens mounted over the bar, playing the final pre-playoffs Spurs game of the season. So there may have been occasional distraction.)

Our waiter, who kept the pace just shy of European, came by with our menus and no daily specials. That was fine by me because the menu had exactly what I wanted!

I started with a Far East cocktail, which has a whole mess of ingredients, of which I could clearly only identify cucumber, mint and honey. Apparently there was also gin, allspice and saffron syrup. It was the most complex drink I've ever tasted. It really didn't pair with anything I ate unfortunately, but definitely worth getting one and passing it around the table. Assuming no one in your party's a dirty backwasher. You know who you are!

Appetizer #1: Bone marrow pudding, which is in the center. To the left is "tongue & cheek jam" which is essentially barbacoa, and to the right are yummy little toast points on which to spread the aforementioned two. Words can't express how gobbly good this was. I tasted the bone marrow pudding on its own and it really didn't have a flavor, just rich creamy buttery texture.

Every bite, I was practically drooling. It was so meaty and savory. Absolutely terrific.

Our second appetizer was "brinner," Breakfast For Dinner. It featured a slab of pork belly so tender you could shred it with a couple forks, plus a handful of silver dollar blueberry pancakes with a pineapple jam on top and a maple gastrique around the sides.


After. Well, during. "After" actually looks like an empty plate. I think Tavis preferred the bone marrow appetizer; my heart belongs forever to this one. Not only the perfect textural balance of crisp pancake and tender pork, but the flavors! Every flavor complemented every other flavor. The sweetness of the pork, the tanginess of the blueberries, the amazing concentration of maple flavor in the gastrique that never got too cloying, the fresh bite of the pineapple. It all worked together and made a flavor so great that when our waiter asked how it was, the most coherent thing I could manage was "This is freakin' win."


Tavis's "oh good golly I need a green thing sometime this year!" cry for help. Sadly, it wasn't a very tasty Caesar salad. Way salty and I found it overcheesed. *gasp* Who am I and what have I done with me?!

I passed on the entree, largely because I knew how much food we would already be consuming (see? I learn!) and largely because Jason Dady seems to love small plates of neat eats more than a heaping hunk of entree. In other words, none of the entree options seemed as interesting to me. So I had a bowl of their garlic bisque.

The spoon is in the picture to show you that this is a really shallow bowl of soup. I was initially amused and slightly offended by the meager offering. However, this soup was so rich and creamy and delightful that I don't know that I could have eaten any more than this portion. I would have preferred if it had been in a smaller vessel so my first impression wasn't one of stingy disappointment, however.

Back to the flavor! Warm, not bitter at all, just a lovely depth of flavor. In the center is some cold cream that tasted like it had been infused with more garlic; it had a much sharper bite to contrast. And on top are little fried garlic crunchies that were also fairly mellow, like good onion rings.

(Nice things about having dogs: they really don't mind when you come home and give them garlic bisque smoochies. I was definitely Team Werewolf after this dish.)

Tavis's entree, the signature filet mignon with shiner bock jus, asparagus, pearl onions, shiitake mushrooms and some little gnocchi-like fried grits (not a big fan). The steak was beautifully done and had a wonderful flavor.

Dessert #1: bacon pralines with a salted caramel mousse. I think I'm not the right person for pralines. I found it dense, far too rich to be enjoyable, and while there was a nice sweet-and-salty thing going on, I couldn't find any bacon flavor. I had a bite and passed, as did Tavis. However, when our waiter asked how it was and we shared "It wasn't to our taste," they immediately took it off our bill! So, um yeah!

Dessert #2: macadamia and coconut milkshake. This was exactly what I wanted. It was light, not too super sweet, with a deliciously subtle nutty flavor. (Too subtle for Tavis, sadly.) I enjoyed this a lot.

Tavis's beautiful cup of coffee.

Around the time we're wrapping up our meal, a chef comes to our table and asks how our meal was. He comments on my drink and says it's his favorite, I say something inane, he thanks us for coming and moves on.

Tavis: " know who that was, right?"
Me: *food coma* "What? Who?"
Tavis: "I read his nametag. That was Jason Dady."
Me: *food coma turns into hyperventilating* "ZOMG incoherence!"

I mean, that's like going to a concert and having Jerry Cantrell lean down into the crowd and say "Hey Mel, did you like that song? Cool." I was in the presence of San Antonio culinary royalty. It was probably just as well I didn't realize it or I likely would've destroyed whatever shot I have of working for him later by getting all squeaky and vapid. But wow. How nice.

Returnability: do ya need to ask? Between some of the best flavors we've had in San Antonio plus the all-around enjoyable pace, service, location, environment (and chance at "accidentally" running into the talented Chef Dady again), we will be back often. And I suggest you find your way here as well.