I had lunch here yesterday – anyone recognize it?
If it helps, here’s what I ate:
This vacation wasn’t supposed to be particularly food-focused, but we have definitely enjoyed some excellent meals. More later!
Though I travel a fair amount for work, there isn’t really an expense account situation going on. Rather, I get a fair per diem that is meant to sustain rather than to entertain. Some of my colleagues like to eat on the cheap and save as much of their per diem as possible, but me? When I’m on the road, I eat as high on the hog as I possibly can for the money I’m allotted, and I am usually willing to spend some of my own dough to experience the cuisine of whatever city I happen to be visiting.
Recent business brought me to our nation’s capital, a veritable food fairyland for me. Not only do I think DC holds its own as a culinary destination, but I lived there for three years and I still have a lot of local friends and contacts, so I’m usually pretty up-to-date on what restaurants are rockin’ out. Here’s what I ate and what I thought about it…
Sunday: Upon arriving, my hetero life mate, Lexa, took me to Comet Ping Pong for some pizza and beer (natch). It seems to be a great neighborhood joint, and very family friendly. The beer list is varied and interesting, though they were out of a couple of my top choices. They claim their pizza is “New Haven- style,” which I don’t really get (probably because I’ve never been to New Haven), but it appears to be a thinner crust pie. We ordered the “Smoky,” with mushrooms, smoked Gouda, smoky bacon, and melted onions, and it was pretty delicious. The service wasn’t anything to write home about, and the prices were a touch high, but it’s a great gathering place in a residential area that doesn’t have much else.
Pizza was just the opening act on Sunday – steak was the headliner. Ray’s the Steaks, to be specific, in its shiny new Arlington digs. The Sunday night special ($25 for a three-course meal, and there is a decent amount of choice) is a frickin’ steal, but I knew I wasn’t going to be interested in dessert, so I just ordered a cup of the crab bisque and the hanger steak, rare, with sauteed garlic. The bisque was as good as it has ever been, with a perfectly creamy texture and a flavor that was simultaneously rich and light. And, of course, it had what seemed like POUNDS of fresh crab meat. As for the steak, it just doesn’t get any better than Ray’s, especially for the price. Traditionally, hanger is a tougher cut of beef, but Ray’s finds a way to make it deliciously tender (a hint: follow the suggested cooking temperatures on the menu, they’re there for a reason). With the garlic and the accompanying (complementary) mashed potatoes and creamed spinach, I had everything I ever needed on a plate. I was just sad that I couldn’t finish the whole thing, and that I knew it would be a while before I could come back.
Monday night found me at the bar at Vidalia, one of my old favorites. I had the bar to myself, which was kind of disappointing (not only does it mean less money for the deserving restaurant, but it also means I was unable to strike up a random conversation, which is part of why I love sitting at bars), but the meal more than made up for it. From the regular menu, I started with the olive-oil poached monkfish cheeks, which were light and refreshing and perfectly textured. I moved on to the free-form lobster ravioli, which was ridiculously decadent – and absolutely chock-full of impeccably cooked lobster (claw and tail). Finally, from the bar menu, I wrapped things up with the “Korean BBQ” pork belly with kimchee, served on a pancake. Now, I’m not usually the hugest fan of kimchee, and I didn’t start out enjoying this version. But somehow it grew on me, especially when combined with the out-of-this-world pork. Combined with a glass and a half (gotta love options in terms of pour sizes) of a deliciously dry Basque white, the meal was simultaneously refined and comforting, and it reminded me of why Vidalia was one of my fine-dining standbys.
On Tuesday night, I was picked up and whisked to Wheaton, MD, for a night of Vietnamese deliciousness at Mi La Cay. This was an event organized by some folks on donrockwell.com, a food and dining message board of which I’ve been a member for a few years. It is a wonderful online community, and I truly wish we had something similar in Atlanta. The event was a “$20 Tuesday,” which meant that we were going to eat all-inclusive for twenty bucks. And eat we did! For $20, we tried summer rolls (pretty standard, though others said the peanut sauce was delish), beef wrapped in grape leaves (delicious, and unlike anything I’ve ever had before), Vietnamese spicy hot and sour soup with shrimp (perfect for a cold, rainy night), roast duck soup with egg noodles (great flavor, but I got a lot of bone and gristle in my portion of duck, so it was hard to eat), stir-fried lemon-grass chicken (very tasty), French-styled beef cubes marinated in whiskey and peppers (a little heavy on the whiskey), grilled beef, pork, and chicken (my absolute favorite, no question – so tender and flavorful!), and a Vietnamese pancake with bean sprouts. There were a few other dishes that I couldn’t eat due to heavy peanut content, but I still had PLENTY of food to enjoy.
For happy hour on Wednesday, I headed to Againn, a new (to me, anyway) gastropubby concept. The bar was already pretty packed when I arrived at around 6:30, but it’s a shockingly comfortable space, even when busy. The beer list is interesting, though, as a dedicated hop-head, I wish there had been more hop-crazy options on draft; to be fair, they did have some of my favorites in bottles. The group (also a bunch of people from dr.com) ordered a bunch of food, and I tried a little bit of everything – the crispy fried brussels sprouts were darn tasty, and I don’t even like brussels sprouts very much. I guess you can make just about anything better by deep-frying it. The hot dog was the perfect little bar snack, especially with many beers. I had bites of the fish and chips, the chicken pot pie, and the skate, and everything was very good. One of the best features is the 4-7 PM happy hour, during which certain bites and beverages are only $5 (the options change frequently, I’m told). The servie was awesome, too, so I’ll definitely keep Againn in mind when I return to DC.
I’ll be leaving for Salt Lake City on Sunday, but I hope to post some recipes while I’m gone. Have a wonderful weekend, all!
Firstable, sorry for the lack of regular posting–last week was the pinnacle of personal and professional failure, so I was tied up with real life and trying to save it from disaster. Not sure yet if I succeeded.
Second, head on over to Lem’s place for her first post about her inaugural trip to the ATL. It’s nice to know that my well-documented feelings about the Vortex are not merely due to nostalgia and inebriation.
Being the huge burger-monger that I am, I can’t believe I neglected to fill you all in on a few notable ones I had in San Francisco. Most importantly, I finally got to visit In ‘N Out Burger and stack it up against East Coast fast food chains. As much as I make fun of the granola-heads out west, they do make a damn tasty burger. I ordered a double double (two patties, two cheese slices), “animal style” (which includes pickles, extra spread, grilled onions, and mustard fried onto each meat patty), and it was really really really good. The bun was soft, but it was sturdy enough to handle all of the toppings. The patties were flavorful on their own, and they stood up to the sauce (kind of like Thousand Island dressing), the onions, and the pickles. The fries were hot, but they weren’t anything mind-blowing. The verdict? While I enjoy Five Guys fries, I think the In ‘N Out beats just about ANY fast food burger I’ve had. I’d love to do a burger-off between In ‘N Out and Whataburger, as they are now, for me, the drive-through burger standard bearers.
The other California landmark I visited was Taylor’s Refresher. This drive-in style restaurant is a beacon of burgery goodness in the middle of wine country (it’s actually in St. Helena). Despite the fact that we had French Laundry reservations at 6:30 PM, we stopped at Taylor’s at about 2:30 PM to get some food in our tummies along with all of the wine. The line was long (which I took as a good sign), but I was pacified by the sweet smell of fried potatoes and grilled meat. As a “base layer” for Thomas Keller’s culinary masterpieces, I opted for a patty melt, some onion rings, and a half and half (chocolate and vanilla) milkshake. Yes, I ate all that and THEN finished a tasting menu at the French Laundry–what’s it to ya??? Ahem. The patty melt was really tasty, but I actually preferred Jason’s cheeseburger because you could taste all of the elements better. The onion rings were crispy and not too greasy, and the shake disappeared in a matter of moments. There’s a Taylor’s Refresher in the Ferry Building in San Francisco as well, but I really enjoyed the vibe of the Napa location.
That’s probably all the burgerrific-ness that you can stand for a while, so I promise now I’ll lay off the cow and post some recipes. Happy Monday!
I knew that the culinary highlight of my California trip would be my dinner (with Jason, my sister, and Mr. Barzelay) at Thomas Keller’s world-reknowned restaurant. But I had been looking forward to the meal at The French Laundry ever since we scored reservations (two months prior), and I had built it up so much in my head that I figured it would NEVER live up to my lofty expectations.
Why I doubted, I will never know.
The French Laundry was perfection in almost every way imaginable. It was worth the hype (and, clearly, there is a lot of it). It was worth the dollar signs (and, clearly, there are a lot of them). It was worth the transcontinental flight, and the hour-long drive from San Francisco to Yountville. It was worth snaking into my sleekest, classiest dress, even though I knew I’d be busting at its seams by night’s end. It was, without a doubt, the most amazing and complete dining experience of my life. Yet, somehow, magically, there was no pretention to be found within its hallowed walls. Here is the menu I enjoyed, with my thoughts about each dish:
Before the official start of the meal, there were two amuses: a gougere (warm pastry filled with cheese) and the signature “cornets” of salmon tartare and sweet red onion creme fraiche. The former were light, tasty, and a warm and inviting start to our four-hour dining adventure. The latter were mind-blowingly delicate, yet intensely flavorful. If there had been any questions before, they instantly evaporated–we knew we were in for a real treat.
“Oysters and Pearls”–”Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and California Sturgeon Caviar. This is another Keller signature, and there’s a reason why–this dish is out of this world. Somehow, the saltiness of the oysters and the caviar combine with the buttery sabayon to transport you to a beautiful French seascape. No ingredient overpowered the dish, which is quite something considering that two of the components are oysters and caviar. Magnificent.
Salad of Hawaiian Hearts of Peach Palm–Cucumber, Radish, Cilantro and Avocado Puree. Compared with the foie gras that was also available for this course (for a $30 upcharge), this salad may seem unremarkable. However, I found it really satisfying and interesting and balanced, particularly each time I got a burst of flavor from a cilantro shoot. The avocado puree was also impressive in its smoothness and intensity.
I believe it was during the salad/foie course that we experienced the first pass of the bread service. The tray was enormous and full of many lovely carby varieties, including mini-baguettes, sourdough, multigrain, and ciabatta. I personally tried the sourdough and the multigrain, and they were both incredible (as were the other choices, according to the peanut gallery). The breads were made even more special and delicious by the availability of salted and unsalted butter, both from small, artisan dairies, and both served at the appropriate temperature.
“Tartare” of Japanese Bluefin Tuna–Sacramento Delta Asparagus, Navel Orange, Perilla and White Sesame. This was one big bowl of concentrated flavor. The tuna practically melted in my mouth, and was really fishy…in a good way. Because it was so rich and velvety, the oranges provided a welcomed acidic punch. The asparagus and sesame had a touch of bitterness, so the entire course was really well-rounded.
“Beets and Leeks”–Maine Lobster Tail “Pochee au Beurre Doux” with King Richard Leeks, “Pommes Maxim’s” and Red Beet Essence. Jesus H. Christ on a cracker, this course was INCREDIBLE. I am still thinking about it, salivating with joy each time I remember the tender, butter-poached lobster…the sweet and oniony leeks (which almost had a consistency like dip)…the beet essence that was exactly that…and the pomme that was the crispiest, most decadent example of a potato chip I’ve ever tasted. As with each preceding course, the components were delicious on their own, but they reached their peaks when combined as a cohesive whole.
Sauteed Veal Sweetbreads–”Chou-Fleur a la Grenobloise.” Okay, I have no idea what that French gobbledy-gook means. All I know is that I gobbled up these sweetbreads. It was funny, actually–there was a choice for this course, either sweetbreads or Pekin duck. As a couple, Jeanette and David’s strategy was, wherever there was a choice within a course, they ordered one of each. Jason and I, on the other hand, ordered what we pleased (meaning that neither of us ate the foie and both of us opted for sweetbreads). We were given endless shit about how that wasn’t enabling us to try as many things, we were missing out, blah blah blah. But when this course arrived, there was no question that the sweetbreads were the superior choice. And Jason and I each had our own portion. Hey, I learned to share in kindergarten, but all bets are off when it comes to thymus glands.
“Navarin d’Agneu”–Elysian Fields Farm Lamb Rib-Eye with French Laundry Garden Vegetables. I am not normally a huge lamb fan (I’ll eat it, but I rarely make a point of ordering it), but this dish was the pinnacle of lamb deliciousness. There were two thick, perfectly cooked (rare to medium rare) slices of meat, accompanied only by their own jus and some colorful, adorable baby vegetables. This course represented, for me, the height of culinary excellence–no frills, no foams, no fancy-shmancy distractions. Just meat, cooked properly, with vegetables. Never underestimate the power of the basics.
“Zamorano”–Globe Artichokes, Iberico Ham Croquette, Black Truffle and Mache. This was the cheese course, and I was so very thrilled that we weren’t presented with something from the blue family. Instead, we were served a delicious Spanish cheese–it had more bite than a manchego but not as much funkiness as cabrales. I guess it reminded me most of an idiazabal. In any case, yum! The cheese paired beautifully with the artichokes and the ham croquette (which was delicate yet powerful in flavor). And my mushroom-hating fiance even tried the truffle and declared it “not bad.”
I believe at this point, we were presented with the second bread service. This time, there was crusty white bread and a couple of different types of sweet slices (with dried fruit and nuts). I opted for the plain, and I only took a few bites because I was really starting to feel full, but everyone seemed to enjoy their selections.
Andante Dairy Yogurt Sorbet–Cream Scone, Sour Cherry and Black Tea Foam. This was technically the palatte cleanser, but it was like an extra dessert. The sorbet was perfectly creamy and had an amazing yogurty tang, and the sour cherry was the perfect accompaniment.
“Mousse au Chocolat Amedei”–Toasted Cashews, Curry “Arlette” and Gros Michel Banana Ice Cream. Originally, I did not order this dessert, instead opting for the citrus parfait. However, Jason and I switched after a few bites and decided we liked each other’s better than our own. This dish was the definition of decadent–rich chocolate mousse, thick banana ice cream, and some wonderful nuttiness from the cashews and the little curry cookie. Even though I was pretty darn full at this point, I was quite tempted to lick the plate.
Mignardises–While I knew that little candies would be part of the end-of-meal service, I had no idea that we were basically in store for two more desserts. First, the server came around with a beautiful silver container full of homemade sweets like meringues, salted caramels, nougatines, pates de fruits, and caramelized macadamia nuts dusted with powdered chocolate. Everything was just wonderful, but the table seemed particularly fond of the macadamia nuts. THEN, the server appeared with a huge tray of homemade truffles–in SIX different flavors (salted caramel, lime, white chocolate yogurt, peanut butter, praline, and one more that I simply don’t remember). My sister asked how many she could take, and the server said, “As many as you want!” Music to our ears. Not surprisingly, the truffles were absolutely fabulous–my personal favorite was the white chocolate yogurt, though the lime and salted caramel were also superb.
Throughout the evening, the service was formal, but somehow it felt accessible and friendly rather than stiff and stuffy. We were dining for approximately four hours, but it didn’t seem overly drawn out or like there was too much pomp and circumstance. The staff took great care of us (our server even took David and Jeanette into the kitchen and chatted with them for a while after the meal), but I didn’t get that sense of fakeness and butt-smooching that I’ve felt at some other restaurants. Just like the food, the service was simultaneously intricate and straightforward.
As we drove away from The French Laundry, full of food and good cheer, it was hard to believe that such a “bucket list” experience had come and gone. Thankfully, everything about the night will remain in my fondest of memories. I may never again visit Chef Keller’s flagship restaurant, but I feel lucky to have had one singularly perfect meal at what seemed, strangely, yet somehow unexpectedly, like his home.
Whew. We crammed so much into our short trip to California, it took me almost a whole week to recover and even THINK about blogging. Obviously, The French Laundry will get a post of its very own (and that one may take a while), but while you patiently wait, here are my thoughts on a couple of local places we visited in San Francisco proper.
After our flights landed (at about 10 PM), we were definitely ready for cocktails and snacks. Enter Absinthe, a cool little brasserie in Hayes Valley whose executive chef is Jamie, from this most recent “Top Chef” season. We were too late for full dinner service, but they have a fairly extensive bar menu and a VERY impressive selection of spirits. I opted for the Croque Monsieur (with an added egg, of course), with black forest ham, gruyere, and Dijon mustard. Served with a large green salad, it was a LOT of food for $12.50, and it definitely hit the spot. Jason had the house-made hot dog with Guiness mustard, chili ketchup, sauerkraut, and yogurt-dill potato chips. The hot dog was tasty, but the chips were really the star of the plate–crispy and full of flavor. The fries were just okay, but the cocktails were all really interesting and tasty. Service was attentive and friendly. Our experience was somewhat marred by our fatigue and the incredibly loud and annoying middle-aged women cackling at the bar, but I still left with a positive impression of the place.
Toward the back end of our trip, we had lunch at Monk’s Kettle, a cute little joint in the Mission with a great beer selection and an interesting take on bar food. We had wanted to visit on a Friday night, but we were told that it was WAY too small for four people to get in (without waiting for a long time) during busy times. After walking right by it a few times (the signage is not terribly obvious), we entered and were greeted by a warm atmosphere and a friendly bartender. It IS really tiny, with a maximum occupancy of no more than 50 or so, but it was lunchtime on a weekday and we practically had the place to ourselves. We started off by sharing a soft pretzel, served with house-made beer cheese sauce (drooooool) and stone ground mustard; it was a chewy, salty, perfect start to the afternoon. Jason opted for the grilled chicken sandwich with house-cured pepper bacon, herb aioli, and brie. It was HUGE, but it was so tasty, it disappeared in no time flat. I chose the lamb burger, which came with lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, and a cucumber tzatziki sauce. YUM. The meat must have had some cinammon in the seasoning mix, as it had a sweet-salty-spicy taste that really wowed me. The fries that came with both sandwiches were excellent–crunchy, hot, tender, and well-salted. We really enjoyed our experience, and we had a great time talking to the bartender about the various beer offerings. No wonder this place gets so crowded on the weekends!
On our way back to the airport after a lovely trip, we had to stop for some tacos and burritos in the Mission. Every San Franciscan has his or her preferred Mexican joint, and I find that folks are pretty loyal to their favorites. My sister and her boyfriend swear by Taqueria Cancun. The first time I went, I really didn’t enjoy my burrito–I asked for a lot of modifications (my fault), and most of them got screwed up (their fault). This time, I opted for marinated pork “super” tacos, served on corn tortillas and topped with salsa, sour cream, fresh avocado, and cilantro. Much better! The meat was tender, the salsa was spicy, and the balance of flavors was spot-on. I don’t usually love corn tortillas, but these were obviously homemade and delicious. What I found was that, unlike a burrito (which can get stuffed in such a way as to segregate ingredients), the taco allowed me to taste every component in each bite. I enjoyed it mucho.
Frighteningly, this represents only a fraction of the food consumed while we were away. Stay tuned for more…
First, mega brownie points for anyone who recognizes the title reference.
Even though I don’t live in DC anymore, I frequently read Tom Seitsema’s live online chats through the Washington Post website. Without fail, there’s always some killjoy whose sole purpose of writing in is to bitch and moan about how much DC’s restaurant scene sucks, and to complain about how we don’t have good burgers/pizza/ethnic food, and to haughtily claim that everything was superior back in New York/Chicago/San Francisco. I have two things to say to those people:
1) See the title of this post. Seriously, if you hate DC (or any other city, for that matter) so much, get the hell out.
2) Obviously, you’re not asking me for restaurant recommendations. Because in my humble (read: expert) opinion, DC is a fantastic dining destination with oodles of choices for every taste and budget.
Take last weekend’s visit. On Friday night, my friends and I went to Proof for dinner. In terms of atmosphere, it doesn’t get much better for me–Proof is chic without being fussy and upscale while still being accessible. We started with the jamon serrano, the speck, and the housemade pate from the charcuterie list. I focused on the pate, and it was rich and incredibly flavorful. We also had two hot appetizers, the pumpkin gnocchi (with sage, spinach, and yummy yummy wild mushrooms) and the pork belly confit. The gnocchi was outstanding, as has been every other seasonal preparation of that dish. The pork belly was tender and flavorful, and my friends really dug the Asian slaw that accompanied it (it contained peanuts, to which I am allergic, so I didn’t formulate an opinion). In terms of main courses, the seared scallops, in addition to being perfectly cooked, were served with a delicious wasabi-onion emulsion that I would like to buy by the bottle. The duck breast was also impeccably cooked and had an amazing spicy crust. Both plates were practically licked clean. We ordered the new cookie plate for dessert, and we were pleasantly surprised by the wonderful fruitiness of the strawberry meringues. The salty oatmeal cookie was probably the table favorite, though I also liked the madelines and the chocolate chip cookie. The flavor of the ginger-molasses cookie was intense and would have been delicious at my holiday parties. Service was excellent, and all of the wine recommendations were spot-on (Proof, as its name would suggest, has an insanely varied selection of vino and other beverages). We left the restaurant trying to pick out our favorite part of the meal, but it was just too hard, since everything was so fantastic.
Then there was Saturday’s lunch at Pizzeria Paradiso. I expected Georgetown to be a madhouse with inauguration crowds, but we walked in and were seated quickly by a very friendly host. The aromas in the restaurant were just heavenly, by the way. Their beer selection is INCREDIBLE, and it was just what we needed after a night of heavy drinking (what, you’ve never heard of “hair of the dog”?). The pizzas also hit the spot, with their cheesy carby goodness. I ordered a veggie version, with tomatoes, spinach, and mushrooms, and it was a delicious way to trick my body into thinking it was eating healthy. My friend’s four-cheese pizza with pine nuts had no such illusions, but it was amazingly flavorful. The crusts were perfectly cooked on both–tender, but with a little charred crunch. There are lots of mediocre restaurants in Georgetown, for sure, but Pizzeria Paradiso is a nice place to enjoy a casual, tasty bite.
The final taste treat of the weekend was in Arlington, at Ray’s Hell Burger. When I lived in DC, I visited Ray’s the Steaks as often as possible, as it is both affordable and yummylicious. My inaugural (pun intended) trip to the sister burger joint didn’t let me down, either. Just like RTS, the atmosphere is…minimal, to say the least. But who cares about decor when you have cow juice dripping down your chin? I ordered the Soul Burger (with bacon, a cheese I cannot remember, mushrooms and onions, lettuce, and tomato), cooked recommended, and it was the closest thing I’ve ever found to my dad’s backyard burgers–thick, juicy, TASTY (as in, you can taste the meat), and immensely satisfying. The bun handled the patty and the toppings with minimal issues. My friend got a burger with blue cheese, mushrooms, and onions, cooked medium, and she really enjoyed it. They have a bunch of cool, retro sodas (like Cheerwine!), which is a nice touch. They also have sides and chips, but you don’t really need them with a 10-ounce burger. Honestly, if that doesn’t fill your tummy, just order a second one. Having RTS and Hell Burger in one strip mall is possibly the only thing that could convince me to move to Arlington.
These are just three of the HUNDREDS of quality dining options available in and around DC. I lived there for three years, and I didn’t even come close to trying all of the city’s great restaurants. So before you start judging our nation’s capital by its proverbial cover, give it a real chance. If it doesn’t impress you the way it did me, see the title of this post again.
Just when we thought we couldn’t eat any more…well…we did.
Day three of our Texas pig-out started with breakfast at the Guenther House, which was recommended to us by some fellow tourists the night before. Home of the founding family of the Pioneer Flour Mills, it was a really lovely setting–and it was bustling even early on a Monday morning! Jason and I both ordered platters that came with biscuits, gravy, meat (sausage for me, bacon for him), and fruit. We also decided to split a short stack of pancakes. You know, for dessert. The biscuits were INSANE. I mean, they were the biggest, fluffiest things I’ve ever seen. They didn’t even look like biscuits at first, and they definitely weren’t as crumbly as the ones I’ve come across in Georgia. Anyway, they were delicious, especially when dipped in what was one of the best sawmill gravies I’ve ever had–flavorful, and thick without being goopy. The pancakes were light and fluffy, too, and they came with a butter pecan syrup that was really unique and delicious. Accompaniments were fresh and plentiful, and the house coffee (which had hints of hazelnut and pecan) was hot and comforting. We were pleasantly surprised that such a popular tourist destination could produce such excellent food!
For dinner, good Texas BBQ was the only thing I wanted. There are a lot of chains in the San Antonio area, but one name kept coming up–Rudy’s. So, we hopped in the car, fired up the GPS, and drove out to…
…a gas station?
Yep, Rudy’s is a killer BBQ joint that is attached to a gas station/convenience store. But after I tasted the goods, I decided that it could be attached to a nuclear waste site and I’d still visit again and again. It’s a walk-up counter, and they serve the food in wax paper and on old soft drink crates. Everything is available by the serving or by the pound, and the meats are sliced/chopped right in front of you (instead of wasting away in tubs or warming trays). Jason got sliced brisket, which was the best I’ve ever had–tender, moist, and with a great smoky kick. Now I know what brisket is SUPPOSED to taste like! My chopped BBQ (which was a mixture of pork, brisket, and turkey) was meaty, but it had a nice zing from the surrounding sauce. We also tried the potato salad and the creamed corn, and both dishes got raves. We left fat and happy, and with a faint hickory smell remaining on our clothes.
Thus ended our Texas adventure. In addition to all the eating, we visited the Alamo, toured Randolph Air Force Base, strolled in the lovely park by the zoo, did some shopping, and met some amazing people. It was a great long weekend, and I highly recommend San Antonio as a fun and delicious destination!
On our second day in San Antonio, we had breakfast at a local landmark, Mi Tierra Cafe y Panaderia. Family-owned since 1941, it is located near the Mercado and is quite the sight–it seats literally hundreds of people, the servers are dressed in traditional Mexican garb, there are mariachis strolling and playing while you eat, and the place is decked out, ceiling to floor, in Christmas decorations (year round). Yes, it smacks of a tourist trap, but I had to know if the food was good despite the kitsch.
Well, it was good, but not great. The coffee was weak, but the orange juice totally made up for it. It really and truly was fresh squeezed, and it was delicious. My chilaquiles–crispy corn tortilla strips scrambled with eggs, topped with ranchero sauce, and covered with cheddar–were tasty, though I feel like I could have created the same thing in my home kitchen. Breakfast potatoes were passable, though I would have preferred them a lot crunchier. I couldn’t pass up the chance to try some barbacoa, which was pretty good (though underseasoned), and the fresh flour tortillas were amazing–I ate a couple with just a little butter, and I’d take that over toast any day of the week. In sum, Mi Tierra was perfectly acceptable hangover food, but I’m sure I could do some research and find MUCH better Tex-Mex in San Antonio.
For dinner, I made reservations at Citrus, a fine-dining restaurant in the oh-so-chic Hotel Valencia Riverwalk. The decor is very minimalist, but there are strategically placed bursts of color to keep the atmosphere vibrant. We were seated on time for our 8 PM reservation, and we quickly ordered a bottle of fume blanc (I found the wine to be reasonably priced, particularly compared to some of the ridiculous markup percentages I’ve noted lately in Atlanta). Our server went over the day’s selections, which could be arranged into a three- or four-course tasting menu (or ordered a la carte, but where’s the fun in that?). We opted for the four-course menu ($68; the three-course menu was $55) in order to taste something from each of the groupings.
For our first course, I ordered the thin-sliced kampachi with micro-mesclan and scallion ponzu sauce. The fish was incredibly fresh and flavorful, and the ponzu was deliciously salty, though I think it overpowered the dish toward the bottom of the bowl (where it was pooling a bit). Jason opted for the crab cake with toasted pumpkin seeds, sliced avocado, and micro-greens. I believe his exact words were, “You could feed a third-world country with just the crab in this crab cake.” It was, indeed, full of meat and very light on the breading; there was also a delicious hollandaise sauce that gave it even more richness.
I decided on the highly-recommended lobster lollipops for my second course. The HUGE pieces of lobster tail meat were fried in tempura batter, skewered, and served with a honey aioli saice. And yes, they were every bit as delicious as they sound–tender, sweet, crunchy, and ridiculously decadent. Jason had antelope, which was seared, sliced, and served with a very tasty berry sauce.
For my main course, I chose the long-cooked strawberry grouper, which was served with aromatic rice and green curry shrimp. The grouper was tasty, but it was a bit overcooked for my liking. The rice, on the other hand, was undercooked. However, the shrimp that came with the dish were enormous and perfectly cooked, and the green curry sauce was absolutely killer. Jason ordered the barbecue spiced duck breast with sweet potato-sausage hash and bourbon duck jus, and it was delicious. The meat was perfectly cooked, and the spices were lively enough to be interesting but not so heavy as to overpower the fowl.
For dessert, we tried the local blueberries with sour cream and the cinnamon croissant bread pudding with bourbon glaze. The former was simple and elegant, and certainly the plumpest blueberries that I’ve ever seen. The latter came with some amazing homemade vanilla ice cream, but I found the bread pudding itself to be a little dry. It was covered in candied pecans, though, which provided a lovely sweet crunch.
Service was attentive and knowledgeable, though our waiter did spend a lot of time explaining menu components like “wagyu,” “coulis,” and “cipollini.” Even Jason, who loves food but isn’t nearly the nerd that I am, felt like he was being tutored in “Food 101″ (though neither of us felt like we were being condescended at all). I guess that’s what happens when you try haute cuisine in San Antonio instead of San Francisco. All in all, though, Citrus was an extremely pleasant and delicious dining experience, and one I’d recommend to anyone looking for fine food in the area.
I spent this past weekend in San Antonio, where my hunny served some time while in the Air Force. There are a lot of friendly people in San Antonio, though I wonder how they manage NOT to all weigh 300+ pounds. There’s so much good food in Texas!
Day one of our trip involved checking out some local fast food joints, since our schedules were all wonky due to a) our flight, b) various football games we wanted to watch, and c) visiting a local pool hall (which involved me drinking my weight in beer and whooping some serious billiards ass).
For lunch, I experienced my very first Whataburger. Now, I’ve never been to In ‘N Out (which is supposed to be the benchmark of fast food burgers), but for me, Whataburger was a superlative fast food meal. It certainly beat out Five Guys and Zesto, which are the best fast food burgers we have here in Atlanta. The restaurant was clean, the employees were friendly and efficient, and the food was fresh and tasty. Not only do they cook your burger only when you order it, but they’ll top it how you want it (I went “all the way,” with mayo, mustard, lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickles) and bring it to you when it’s ready. The fries were also hot and crispy. Since the original Whataburger is in nearby Corpus Christi, there were more big orange “W”s dotting the San Antonio landscape than McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s combined. This, I concluded, is a very good thing.
After my pool sharking, we decided to soak up our beer with some vittles from Taco Cabana. Do not confuse this 24-hour quickie Tex-Mex establishment with a more well-known national chain. Taco Cabana is the real deal. They make their tortillas and salsas fresh (their pico de gallo is out of this world), and just like Whataburger, your food isn’t made until your order it. They also serve beer! Not that we needed any on this particular occasion, mind you. Anyway, in the interest of full disclosure, I was not a Taco Cabana virgin–we actually have one near our neighborhood in Atlanta, which I believe is the only franchise east of the Mississippi River. But, for some reason, the food just tasted better in Texas.
Tomorrow: Day Two, which involved burritos for breakfast and lobster lollipops. Stay tuned!
I may not love the scorching heat. I may not be thrilled about the prevalence of guns. I may be put off by the large Republican population and the numerous state-sponsored executions. But I think I could get on board with any state that encourages me to eat this:
Not only was the beef inside the burrito tender and juicy, and not only was the flour tortilla pillowy soft and made from scratch, and not only were the pinto beans cooked to perfection and flavored perfectly. In addition to all of that wonderment, the burrito was smothered in an absolutely sublime green chile sauce, with the peppers coming straight from Hatch, New Mexico (where they grow arguably the best chiles in the world). This particular dish at Chuy’s was part of their special “Green Chile Festival” menu, which, when I saw it, prompted me to hug my colleague who suggested our dinner location and tell him that I would be naming my first son in his honor.
Yessir, any state that celebrates this kind of deliciousness is okay by me. Giddyup!