Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tuesday, 9/15/10 - Auden's Kitchen

Date: 9/15/10
Restaurant: Auden's Kitchen
Location: 700 E. Sonterra, down Stone Oak off of 1604
Executive Chef: Bruce Auden, of Biga on the Banks

Okay I have a confession. I can't pull the wool over your eyes any longer. We haven't been dining on Tuesdays for the past month...all the dates are Wednesdays. But I refuse to change the very nice name of my blog just because Tavis is rehearsing with the Unitarian church choir on Tuesdays! So I will just ask you to all ignore the reality that says that the 1st, 8th and 15th are actually Wednesdays. A little suspension of disbelief. Just move past the cognitive dissonance and stare at the sexy food with me.

Now, can we move on? Cuz we have a doozy of a meal here. Hoo boy.

I heard that Bruce Auden had opened up a new restaurant, more casual digs and comfort food than his wildly-praised Biga on the Banks which I hope to visit soon. Auden's Kitchen is what I imagine chefs would flock to after a long day on the line, sliding comfortably next to each other and ordering simple, hearty, delicious food to restore some measure of good feelings about mankind. I am obviously overthinking this, but taste the food and tell me I'm wrong.

One of the draws of Auden's Kitchen is that you can order everything on the menu for takeaway--and not only takeaway, but super fast takeaway. I called in the order--hey it was a long day and I didn't feel like putting on a public face--and was told it'd be ready in 20 minutes! It took considerably longer than that just to get there from our house.

It's considerably larger than this corner indicates. We were NOT expecting that.

Like I said! Way beyond what we pictured. This is lovely, cozy and relaxing. As we entered, we were told that we could pick up our order at the bar. As we approached, we were greeted warmly by the GM, Keith Ludwick--and lest you think I'm exaggerating, I think the exact conversation went something like this:

Keith: Hey, welcome! Come on, sit down over here, want a drink? *gestures towards the bartop, laden with top-shelf spirits*
Me: Uhh, sure! *conveniently forgets about not wanting to put on a public face*

They were in the process of getting their liquor license; they serve a great variety of wines and beers currently and are expanding to spirits as well. Hence the distributor and Keith and their bar o' plenty. They were very pleasant drinking companions as we enjoyed some basil- and balsamic-vinegar-infused gin (except for my designated driver, Tavis!) and then we finally had to take our leave so we could get to the grubbing.

What a lovely greeting! I definitely regretted not doing the meal the traditional way; it would have been a great experience. However, the food stood on its own merit and we can be back to do it right in the future.

So, the meal as boxed up, brought home, and opened for our nomming.

Prepare for the feast!

The best thing of the night, a duck confit pizza with smoked gouda, pine nuts, rosemary, and green grapes. So amazingly delicious. We just kept making "yummy!" noises at each other as we gobbled it down.

SCOTCH EGG. I had never tried one, and the longer I didn't try one, the more mythical status it attained in my mind. Well it was quite tasty, this little fried-sausage-wrapped-egg. His is served with a zesty jalapeno aeoli.

Wood-smoked mushrooms, all sauteed and spreadable on buttered and grilled toast (included separately). Good for people who love mushrooms. The smoky flavor didn't overpower them which was great for me.

Gnocchi, tossed with pulled pork and kale. This dish probably suffered the most from the wait and drive home; the gnocchi had turned pretty gummy in the trip. The pulled pork wasn't quite as tender as I'd hoped either. This may be worth another try in person.

My funky potted chicken and duck rillette, spreadable on crostini. Hey, I love braunschweiger, I admit that I'm a little off the beaten path. So this was right up my alley, although I think I wanted it to be a big twangier, like all good liver and forcemeat products.

The one unremarkable dish of the lot, the creamy chicken pasta. Ho hum, I could do this in my sleep. Not particularly good sleep either.

Finally we have our dessert, Bruce Auden's signature sticky toffee cake.

A plate laden with all the goodies. I am very proud of this plate.

And lookit, I can even make it look pretty! This cake was delicious, rich and sweet and laden with dates and sticky deliciousness. It's an excellent holiday cake. Or anytime cake. Cake for all seasons, really.

Returnability: HIGH. This is one of those menus that I look at and go "yep, I'll take that." Just the whole thing. I loved what I saw and experienced of the restaurant and definitely want to give them a chance in person. Great flavors, a creative menu, very welcoming hosts--yes, we will soon be known on a first-name basis with Auden's Kitchen.

Tuesday, 9/8/10 - Sandbar

Date: 9/8/10
Restaurant: Sandbar
Location: 200 E Grayson, in the complex of restaurants at the Pearl Brewery
Executive Chef: Andrew Weissman! One of the big chefs in San Antonio, owner/chef of Il Sogno and formerly of Le Reve, arguably the best restaurant in San Antonio (not that I managed to get my procrastinaty butt out there before it closed last November, wah)

Pearl Brewery is the source of much gnashing of teeth on my part. There's two parts to this. It is the site of the "other" culinary school in town, the San Antonio branch of the CIA. So whenever I say I'm going to culinary school, everyone says "Oh, at the Pearl Brewery?" Grr, argh. Nope I'm at the other one. The second part is this is the location of the Saturday Farmer's Market in town that I STILL have never frequented. These two things added up make me feel shamefaced, an imposter, a busboy in chef's clothes.

Or something. Whatever, I'll get over it.

The Pearl Brewery is also home to several intriguing restaurants that go (farewell, Texas Farm to Table--you were on my 52 but I didn't get to you in time) and come (hello, La Gloria, you bastion of Mexican street food!). Andrew Weissman, who as I mentioned above is one of the most well-known and respected chefs in the SA scene, has two restaurants here: Il Sogno and Sandbar. Tonight was Sandy.

Egads, seafood in San Antonio? Well if I'm getting it, this is where I'd want to get it. Let's take a tour, shall we?

Park in the public lot under the highway by Grayson, stroll past the Aveda Institute on your left and the CIA (grr) on the right, and after a bit of meandering you'll find Sandbar.

Very clean, crisp and cool interior. It's cold enough that I trust my fish in here. They open dinner service at 5:30; we got in about 10 minutes before that, which gave us just enough time to peruse the menu and make our selections. Hurray!

A note before continuing. As I was researching this restaurant prior to making the drive, I kept seeing the same two themes pop up in reviews: "Great food!" and "awful service!" Well, I sort of suspect that the staff had been alerted to these reviews and they'd had a meeting or two...we were greeted graciously and over the course of our meal no fewer than 5 servers and managers checked with us on how we were enjoying ourselves. Whoa baby! Way to take feedback, Sandbar!

On to the eats!

A bit of nostalgia preserved from Le Reve after it closed; this is Andrew Weissman's famous onion tart. It was startlingly tiny to someone who was expecting a personal pan pizza of oniony goodness, but the flavor and texture was absolutely divine. I could've packed away another 3 or 4 of them were they not $8 apiece.

Our second appetizer, one of their three ceviche options. I was itching for octopus because it just DOES it for me, but I opted for the more user-friendly fish so Tavis could enjoy some too. This was a combination of salmon, skate and something else that I forgot. It was a bit too limey for Tavis to really enjoy. With the contrast of avocado and bites of garlicky crostinis mixed in, I thought it was lovely. Very refreshing and excellent quality fish. To the side we also have smashed plantains fried and garnished with either kosher or sea salt. Deelish.

Before arriving, I was fretting about whether I would order the lobster bisque or the lobster roll. I couldn't justify getting both. Fortunately (well, sort of) the choice was taken out of my hands--they didn't have lobster bisque that day. So lobster roll it was!

Check out that gargantuan claw of meat. I loved this lobster roll. It was creamy, a bit zingy, great crunch with the slaw and very generous and sweet portion of lobstery goodness. In the background is a little potato salad that I wasn't wowed by.

Tavis played it a little too safe, ordering the fish and chips. The fish was good, the chips didn't do it for him. But it just wasn't the wow that he really wanted. Hopefully he'll choose better next time!

Time for dessert! This was today's special dessert, a mango souffle. How can you say no to that? Look at the height on this puffy ball of fluff! The mango flavor really came through but I didn't care much for the mouthfeel; it wasn't quite smooth enough for me. Tavis relished it enough for us both.

Oh my sweet delectable key lime pie. I love you so very much. I don't know how that piece got missing. Really. It certainly wasn't because somebody didn't have any impulse control before turning on the camera. Nope. Big mystery, never resolved, nothing to see here folks.

Returnability: Well, here's the thing. It was the best seafood we've had in San Antonio (with the possible exception of the fish and chips, but we can admit that's user error on our part)....but neither of us really jones for seafood. It's just not what gets us excited. So yeah we will probably come back here again, especially if we're with friends or family that enjoy lovely seafood at mostly-reasonable prices. But it just isn't where our heart is. Which is a pity. I will recommend it to all real seafood lovers out there, especially because of the apparent improvement in service. And if your key lime pie also arrives with a bite mysteriously missing, I won't say a word.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Tuesday, 9/1/10 - Coco

Date: 9/1/10
Restaurant: Coco Chocolate Bar and Bistro
Location: 18402 US 281 N (and 1604, on the westbound side in a snazzy new development)
Executive Chef: Owner Philippe Place and Chef Pedreaux Cuellar. Le gasp...they are...FRAHNCH!

Coco is new, quite well-reviewed, and hip. It's so new our Garmin couldn't find it, which was a bit of a problem as we meandered from one side of 1604/281 to the other. It's so well-reviewed that even though Tavis and I are far from the posh lounge scene and not even really big martini people, we just had to add it to the 52. And it's so hip that it can only be summarized in one word....FRAHNCH!

Bienvenue a Coco.

(Man I gotta take me some French classes, even my typing accent is atrocious.)

Ooh, I feel like I'm entering some elite society. I think French babies feel the same way when they're born.

Okay, check this decor out. Is this not perfectly sleazy and fabulous?

Chandeliers and feathers. Why chandeliers and feathers? Because they are FRAHNCH!

Red velvet booths. It just doesn't get any Moulinier.

Don't mistake Coco for a strictly-drinks-and-desserts place; the menu runs deep and wide with appetizers, salads, pizzas, and entrees. However, you will find chocolate in unexpected places (like the side of your face that you just can't seem to find with the napkin). More on that in a bit. It's drink time first.

When in doubt, go for one of the flights. The martini menu seems to change pretty regularly; the online menu isn't the same as the one I was handed, and the drinks on my flight weren't the ones that were advertised in the menu. Nevertheless, they're all made with liberal doses of chocolate and alcohol so I see no point in quibbling.

From left to right, which is also my least favorite to most favorite: hot chocolate martini, rimmed with chipotle pepper; chocolate cake martini, rimmed with salt; and chocolate dipped strawberry, rimmed in love. Oh I was in a happy place. Each brought something very different, and I'm sure personal preferences will change; heck, I'm normally the first to cheer a chocolate + chili combination. Something about the smell of the chipotle on the rim made me think of dog food. Anyway. Strawberry was my dear.

But Tavis and his signature Coco martini stole the show. It's blended with their in-house-produced chocolate ice cream. It seems completely unfair to call this an adult beverage. But it was so delicious.

(P.S. If you're counting calories...don't.)

At this point we barraged our waiter with our handful of menu items, which he might want to have written down because he completely forgot to make our entree, the duo of quail. We didn't complain because we were absolutely stuffed by the time it would have arrived, and it wasn't on our bill, but really... I liked him because he was a foodie, but I certainly saw room for improvement in the care taken of us, and lack thereof, during this meal. European pacing is one thing, but this was FRAHNCH!

Anyway. What food DID we end up getting?

Our sharable appetizer, croque monsier, or ham n cheese as we call it in these here parts. It's on a bed of bearnaise sauce (clarified butter + egg yolks like a Hollandaise, flavored with shallot, tarragon, chervil and pepper). There wasn't actually a missing piece, I removed it for the sake of the photo and then it, um, mysteriously vanished. This was a mighty tasty sammich, especially when paired with my.....

...soup! I have decided I am officially a Soup Gal. I am always drawn to the special soups a restaurant offers, and it's almost always one of my favorite flavors at the end of the night. So now I am gonna be super predictable on my desserts--if there's creme brulee, it's mine--and my soups--if it's there, it's mine.

Anyway, this is gazpacho with a splash of lobster cream in the center. I loved it. Cold, complex flavors, absolutely refreshing and really great with my sammy bites dipped in. Tavis kept up his end of the Predict-o-meter and hated it because it's cold soup. That's fine, I didn't need his affirmation on my soup.

This bread is worth coming to Coco. It was perfectly crusty, great taste--I think these were tomato? I am not normally excited about bread but I loved this bread.

Unfortunately that was the end of the wow. It's all mehh from here on out. Sorry for the spoiler. I'm sure the entrees would have been a high point, had we received them. Buuuuut we didn't.

My salad. To the left, a little bunch of grape tomatoes and artichokes; to the right, roma tomatoes stuffed with goat cheese. I really expected to and wanted to like this. I think the artichokes were too acidic and the goat cheese was actually too overpowering for me; there wasn't any relief from the twang. Tavis liked the cheese more than I did, which is probably a sign of the apocalypse.

Tavis's salad, a medley of greens, dried cherries, blue cheese, raspberry vinaigrette and....white chocolate shavings. Why white chocolate on a salad? Because it is FRAHNCH! Tavis liked this salad okay when he got a bit of everything in a bite, but the blue cheese really bullied the rest of the flavors around. Maybe a milder blue would have been less obnoxious with everything else. Interesting concept, didn't care for the execution.

Somehow we were full at this point. I ate more than my share of croque, so I have no idea how Tavis joined me here. Nevertheless we just had appetite for one dessert, which is really just shameful at a place with so many options. In particular, there is an "Chocolate Grand Sharing Experience for Two" that sounds worth the price of admission. Alas, we were full. So we split their summer cheesecake, made with mascarpone and curried peaches. It was underwhelming. The texture of the cheesecake was a little gritty, and while I could see what they did with the peaches, I didn't necessarily want it in my dessert. Call me a purist. Call me boring. Just don't call me FRAHNCH!

And half an hour later, we get our check and can leave. Did I mention service could have been better?

Returnability: despite the shortcomings in service and the few failed flavors, we both really want to come back here. We just barely touched the surface of their drink menu; there's a whole list of entrees we haven't tried (literally); and I owe it to their pastry chef to try another dessert before writing them off. It's a very creative and artistic menu that shows a lot of promise and delivered on some memorable tastes. I'll just be sure to reserve us a time when there may be more than one waiter on duty, and when we don't have class the next morning cutting our revelry short. It's definitely worth another try.

Au revoir, mon cheries!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Tuesday, 8/24/10 - Grey Moss Inn

Date: 8/24/10
Restaurant: Grey Moss Inn
Location: 19010 Scenic Loop Rd, Helotes (just north of San Antonio down Bandera Rd)
Executive Chef: Not said on their website, which is a shame.

Our first real official Tuesday date since June, and it just so happened to be Restaurant Week in San Antonio, which meant most places had special menus and special prices. Suweet! The Grey Moss Inn is consistently voted one of the most romantic restaurants in San Antonio, and for good reason. It's a lovely scenic escape from the city, and the quality of the food absolutely lived up to the setting and reputation.

After a pleasant winding drive, we arrived!

Sign #1 that you're in the Hill Country: trees.

Sort of not the door I would pair with the rest of the building. One of two discrepancies in decor!

I want my meat to come out of this!

The inside view in the front room, very pretty with the sunroof. We were closeted away in the back; apparently we were not fit to be seen by the other guests. Hmph!

Dubious Decor #2: this is apparently their signature candle because it was on every single table. But.....why? It's huge and unappetizing. It was at the perfectly wrong height where I could not look at Tavis because the flame would be scorching my peripheral vision. Grey Moss Inn, you chose poorly...

On to bigger and better things! As mentioned, we snagged our seats during Restaurant Week, so we had access to their special menu which was really quite a deal. We got their snazzy salad with quail, choice of one of three entrees, and choice of one of two desserts. All that for $35 each, not bad! I also ordered a bottle of moscato to keep me happy. It did the job.

Our amuse, their trademark "olive twists." Like breadsticks with a muffaletta center. They were okay...didn't do much for either of us.

Lest you assume that a salad during Restaurant Week would be a throwaway, feast your eyes on this salad! I know I did, and then I feasted my tummy on it too. Perfect balance of crunch and creamy between the apples, candied walnuts and cheese on the salad. And the quail were stuffed with chorizo--I can hear my mom going "mmmmmmmmmm" now--and barbecued. Absolutely delicious!

I can say with some glee that for the first time in a LONG time, I beat Tavis on the entree. He has a knack for picking the most delicious thing, while I get caught up in trying to order "artsy, avant-garde" entrees against my better judgment. Well, I went for the meatfest and I won.

We have a bacon-wrapped filet front and center, which was just perfectly juicy and tender. We have a couple of renegade shrimp which were cooked perfectly. Hiding in the back is a twice-baked potato which I could have skipped, along with its cohort veggies lurking under everything else--though they too were cooked in chorizo, cue Mom's mmmmmm. And finally, the best of all was this amazing venison sausage to the right. Our waitress said their antelope sausage is even better. Try the charcuterie plate if you come here and report back to me.

Tavis's dish, pork chops with sauteed greens and stuffing. The chop was dry, sadly! And the sides weren't wow. Too bad.

It wouldn't be dessert without a disastrous attempt at photographing creme brulee! Trust me, with the flash it looks like a Japanese horror movie. Anyway, it was just the right amount of brittle to creamy deliciousness.

Tavis's cheesecake with raspberry sauce. By this point, I was 3/4 through the bottle of Moscato, so forgive me for not remembering how he liked it. I thought it looked like a perfectly nice cheesecake.

Tavis shows off the romantic, just-shy-of-kitschy decor in our corner of the restaurant.

Am I sad because my wall has no decorations? Am I sad because there's no more creme brulee? The answer may never be known.

Returnability: high! The Grey Moss Inn made a very good impression on us, with fantastic service by Leah and a menu with far more hits than misses at very reasonable prices. It was a lovely escape and a sweet return to the culinary world.

Just....get rid of the candlestrosity first.

Tuesday, 8/17/10 - Chris Madrid's

Date: 8/17/10
Restaurant: Chris Madrid's
Location: 1900 Blanco
Executive Chef: Joe Sanchez. I'm just kidding, of course it's Chris Madrid.

Well, this is a rather brief blog. A bit of a palate cleanser. Okay, maybe not...if you're cleansing your palate with burgers, I want to meet you immediately. Anyway, we'd heard tell that Chris Madrid serves the best burgers in San Antone, and we had to put that to the test. It was strictly business; just the burgers, ma'am.

Something about burgers puts me in a folksy mood. I'm sure it'll pass.

Chris Madrid's is a hole in the wall. Parking is obnoxious. We wheedled our car into a spot and beheld the palace containing all the mysteries of the burger universe.

Oh yeah, that's the stuff. Mucho trustworthio.

See, now that's what I'm talking about! Best burgers come from honkytonk havens like this.

Tavis has some trepidation.

The menu is basic: about 7 types of burgers, with sides of fries, nachos, and a couple other items like a chicken sammich and tostadas. Margaritas and beer aplenty. They ain't no fancy-pants upscale foie gras burger joint.

I went with the house fave, the tostada burger, which comes with a heap of beans, crunched up tortilla chips and a big old mess of cheese on top of the patty. Tavis went with the classic "holy geez that's a lotta cheddar" burger. They call it the Cheddar Cheezy. I call it "please sir, may I have some more?"

Commence burgering.

Pros: nice grilled buns, abundance of cheddar, and my tostada burger was like an epic satisfying Sonic run where I magically don't have to choose between a burger and a frito chili pie.

Cons: fries were totally skippable. The place is probably a lot more entertaining with a group of friends and some pitchers of margaritas; we missed out on a lot of atmosphere by being so single-minded in our mission. But the big Q is...were these the best burgers in San Antonio? We say nay. Tavis has developed some moderate pride in his burgering and said these fell short. So there it is. Burger snobs 1, CM 0. Have you been? Do you disagree? I'm totally willing to debate the merits of burgerhood. Preferably over burgers.