Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Tuesday, 5/18/10 - Shiraz

Date: 5/18/10
Restaurant: Shiraz
Location: 4230 McCullough Ave, on the same Roundabout as Ciao Lavanderia and Bistro Vatel
Executive Chef: Unknown

Well, what an adventure. The closest I've ever come to Persian/Iranian cuisine was when my International Class created a sort of catch-all Middle Eastern meal one day. The closest Tavis has ever come was hearing about when his wife created a Middle Eastern meal in her class. Needless to say, this was a very new experience for us, with lots of unfamiliar flavor combinations to play with. How fun!

The outside of Shiraz, as nondescript as it comes. Looking at this building, you would never guess the depth of rich and exotic flavors to be had inside! Dinner starts at 5pm; we arrived at 6pm and were one of three couples that decided to stop by at the same time. The food took a very reasonable time to come out considering we all ordered within minutes of each other and there was only one waitress and presumably a short-staffed kitchen as well.

A glance around the more luxuriously-decorated interior.

We were offered a wine list but after last Friday's New World Wine & Food Festival, we passed on the alcohol. Still, it's there if you want it!

The menu has familiar enough proteins (beef, lamb, duck, chicken and one or two vegetarian entrees) served in unfamiliar (to us) sauces. Lots of fruits and spices and yogurt.

As we waited for our appetizer, we were brought this plate of feta and herbs (basil, mint and parsley) with pocketless pita to warm up our palate. It could've been pulled right out of the garden my mom planted and I promptly killed. This dish is also apparently good for "prosperity and reminder against greed." I wonder if it's hard to resist being greedy when one is prosperous.

Ohhh our beautiful appetizer, some sort of kofta. Think insanely juicy burger kebabs with a tangy sauce and greens. My only complaint was that there wasn't more of it; it was the only thing I might consider overpriced on the menu, at $8 for the two little skewers plus garnishes. Still, as savory and gobble-able as it was, I'm sure it'll remain a favorite in trips to come.

My entree, fesenjan, which while it looks suspiciously like carne guisada is in fact chicken in a walnut and pomegranate sauce. Alongside is incredibly fragrant rice that sopped up the amazingly sweet, complex, rich sauce. This could almost satisfy one's dessert craving. Maybe not my mom's dessert craving. But someone else's. It was hearty enough that I enjoyed excellent leftovers today.

Tavis's entree, tachin, or an Iranian chicken and rice casserole. Saffron is hard to describe if you aren't familiar with the flavor profile; all I know is I'm just wild about saffron. This was a really lovely, savory, fragrant meal.

Tavis enjoyed it quite a bit. I'm always a bit nervous when we try something that is so completely out of our norm--I mean, Tavis is cultured, but moderately so. Not cultured like a gay bacteria. So for him to say "I want to come back here and eat my way through this menu," I was most impressed and pleased.

We asked our excellent waitress Julie's recommendation for a dessert, as we'd heard very good things about them. She recommended faloodeh, so I took her advice. Plus it just sounds like fun times!

This is faloodeh. Think one part frozen lime slushy from Sonic, and one part rice noodles. Also rose water. It was very aromatic and exotic, would probably be refreshing sitting under a blazing sun along the ocean, but would never be something I'd crave.

Tavis ordered their cheesecake, which was rich and slightly floral, scented with cardamom and saffron. Quite enjoyable.

Tavis's glass of potent Turkish coffee.

Returnability: I think so! With all the intense flavors bellydancing in my mouth and a menu that seems to have quite a bit of versatility, all at a reasonable price and with excellent service, Shiraz is an excellent stepping-stone into Iranian cuisine. It was a lovely adventure and I'm very much enjoying my leftovers today.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tuesday, 5/11/10 - Brasserie Pavil

Date: 5/11/10
Restaurant: Brasserie Pavil
Location: 1818 N. Loop 1604 W. Exit Huebner, it's just past it in the same plaza as the Roaring Forks and Wildfish, both of which are also on the 52!
Executive Chef: Scott Cohen, also of the Watermark Grill

This week is the New World Food & Wine Festival, with events spanning the breadth (and bread) of San Antonio. We are attending the grand tasting on Friday night, which features most of the who's-who in San Antonio and surrounding area's culinary world. With such an exciting event to look forward to, we almost skipped our Tuesday dinner date. I'm extremely glad we chose to go forward.

Scott Cohen is another of the bigwig chefs (to be fair, I believe he's bald) in San Antonio. He used to be in charge of Las Canarias, the lovely brunch place we visited in La Mansion on the Riverwalk, before it was bought by the Omni chain of hotels. He also is the executive chef at the Watermark Grill, which I haven't visited but have heard good things about. Brasserie Pavil is his other child. One part French bistro, one part mansion, one part well-stocked pub, this is a place to visit.

Lovely, open ambiance. Most of the decor is imported from Europe, including the tiled floors and oversized lamps.

You can tell it's authentic French by Saturday's "le surf & turf."

I had to get a shot of this amazing ceiling!

Our waiter gave us a rundown of what a "Brasserie" is: essentially, a brewery. This place had an amazing beer and wine selection, as well as a lovely list of cocktails including many varieties of absinthe.

We enjoyed all of our drinks, from perry cider to Hefe Weissen to my absinthe cocktail, the White Fairy (seen above), to a sophisticated and bitter champagne cocktail.

Side note: be prepared for delicious bread. 98% of everything on the menu is made in-house, which is remarkable. The freshness and quality of their ingredients really shows.

Our waiter (and darnit but I couldn't tell if it was Mark or Marco) was absolutely fabulous. Impeccable manners, great knowledge of the menu despite having only worked there two months, and excellent attention to our enjoyment of our meals and drinks. He rocked even more at the end of our meal, but we'll get into that later.

I started with this salad, frisee lettuce with a poached egg, bacon and hazelnut vinaigrette and some mushrooms that largely escaped notice. I learned something about myself today: I do NOT like frisee lettuce. It is incredibly bitter. Even the creamy, fatty poached egg and bacon could not keep it in balance for my taste. I let Mark know and he immediately had the kitchen change it for a replacement salad made with butter and spring greens, which was beautiful and I gobbled every bite of it.

We go to a French restaurant, we get French onion soup. This is known. Tavis adored it. I liked it, especially the hearty helping of cheese, but the bite that I was reluctantly permitted to eat wasn't as addictive as I wanted. I have high standards in my French onion soup.

Tavis went with one of the daily specials, tempura-battered soft shell crab over crispy parsnips and sauteed vegetables, with a huckleberry glaze. We both found it delicious and satisfying, just the right balance of sweet and savory although the veggies were too heavily peppered for our taste.

I had somewhat of the same problem with my entree, the vegetable cassoulet. I don't know what's come over me, ordering a meal without meat. Anyway it was very hearty, filled with beans, carrots, artichokes, tomatoes, mushrooms and basil with a yummy breadcrumb crust. Perhaps a bit too soupy for my taste? And the peppercorns kept trying to attack me. I liked it; didn't love it.

Mmm dessert. French place, gotta get crepes. Optional toppings include flambeed bananas, strawberry puree, or double chocolate. I went with bananas and chocolate. Fluffy, drenched in rich sweet goodness. Just delicious.

Tavis's decadent 7 layer carrot cake. One bite of this and I was done. Serious rabbits only should apply. Their dessert menu also includes pear and frangipane tarts, creme brulee, pumpkin cheesecake, sorbets, ice creams and beignets.

As we were finishing our desserts and excellent coffee, we asked Mark about other specialties Brasserie Pavil offers. One of these is the option to enjoy your meal at the Chef's Table which is inside the kitchen (away from the burners, obviously). For $130/head, up to 6 diners may enjoy a 5-7 course custom-created menu prepared for them while enjoying watching the kitchen brigade at work. What fun!

Mark's moment of win: he also suggested that we could get a tour of the kitchen. You better believe we jumped on that! He delivered us into the hands of Sous Chef Jose, who walked and talked us through the kitchen. And what a kitchen! The layout has won awards. I believe it. Incredibly state-of-the-art design to minimize food contamination, beautiful machinery for every possible method of cooking, very efficient and intuitive use of space, and the kitchen brigade was all young, sharp and friendly. The menu changes seasonally, so re-imagining dishes is an ongoing event. I mentioned that I'm in culinary school right now, and Chef Jose assured me that if I have a "hunger" to learn and absorb and create, Brasserie Pavil's kitchen would have a spot for me. Score!

Returnability: yes. The bar is fantastic. The menu is creative and changes seasonally. We had mixed results with my entree and Tavis's dessert, but there were many other things to try. Overall we had a wonderful time from the food to the service. And someday in the near future, you may be served at the Chef's Table by yours truly.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Tuesday, 5/4/10 - Fralo's Art of Pizza

Date: 5/4/10
Restaurant: Fralo's Art of Pizza
Location: 23651 I-10 W, outside of 1604 but not quiiiiite to Fair Oaks Ranch where Tavis teaches
Executive Chef: A bunch of late teens/early 20s in baseball caps. God bless 'em!

Fralo's wasn't our original dinner destination last night. We had intentions of visiting Crumpet's and plundering their reputedly well-stocked bakery. However, before dinner we had to be up in Boerne for the district honor choir concert (the last one before they disband for good, actually) and Fralo's was both on the 52 Restaurants and on the way home. Happy serendipity, it was just what we were craving!

Fralo's is a funky, rustic, artsy pizza joint that doubles as a live music venue Thursday through Sunday nights. They are pet-friendly so feel free to bring Shtinky Puddin along for dinner. Due to their proximity to a school, Fralo's can't obtain their liquor license. However, you are free to BYO and they'll keep and cork it for a $5 fee (waived on Wednesdays).

Some of the vintages they're holding for their customers.

Everybody but us was eating outside. Were we missing out? Inside had neat decor provided by local artists, a lack of bugs, and ohhh my goodness such amazing smells coming from across the dining room where our pizzas were being created! If we were part of a group or had our pooches in tow, we'd have sat outside to revel in the evening breeze and starry skies, especially if it was a live music night. Otherwise, we feel we chose wisely.

The menu is pretty impressive, with many creative specialty pizzas on tap as well as an extensive list of options for creating your own 'za. The price is about $24 for a 16" pizza (think large). Silly us, we ordered two and are happily nomming leftovers still. (Actually, that's not silly at all. That's pretty brilliant.)

Oh. Oh the good smells. It was almost impossible to wait.

Pizza #1: one of the house specialties, a "Spanako" pizza brushed in garlic butter and laden with strips of lamb, slices of tomato, big kalamata olives and chunks of feta cheese. We were in greasy bliss.

(Tavis's hand was not actually on the menu; it is there to prevent your eyes from being bigger than your stomach, as ours were. These are big pizzas, yall!)

Pizza #2 and the unanimous winner of the "Inarticulate Drool" award. Tavis made his pizza with fresh mozzarella and goat cheese and topped it with sliced house-made meatballs and portobello mushrooms.

Look at that obscene amount of win. This pizza almost made us cry, it was so so good.

They have a few dessert items which I'll try to remember to try next time; they also have appetizers including calamari, escargots and mozzarella sticks, and a list of pasta entrees if you are tragically allergic to pizza. We had a single focus, and met it admirably.

Returnability: yes, yes, and often. Once I got over my hurt feelings that Tavis loved someone else's pizza more than the ones I make from scratch, I had no problem admitting that this was exceptionally delicious pizza. I would love to throw it up in a head-to-head with Dough, our other happy pizza place. This will be a place to go for groups on summer nights; this will be a place that Tavis stops by on his way home from school to bring dinner to the family. Yes, we'll be back.