Friday, May 14, 2010

Hello from San Antonio!

My hangover from Vegas Uncork'd had barely subsided before I was packing for another food and wine festival. This time it was the 11th Annual New World Wine and Food Festival in San Antonio. I'd heard it was a beautiful city with a great food scene, so I jumped at the chance to go.

Thursday was opening night of the event, and featured the Winemakers’ Dinners, held at six of San Antonio's top restaurants. I ended up dining at Las Canarias, in the historic Omni La Mansion del Rio. This gorgeous Spanish colonial-style hotel overlooks the city's signature attraction, the River Walk.

The River Walk is a system of walkways along the banks of the San Antonio River, sunken one story beneath the city streets. It's lined with restaurants, bars, and stores of all types.

It struck me as a sort of cross between walking through Venice
, and navigating the piers of San Francisco's fisherman's wharf – except it didn't smell like dead fish.

The menu was designed by Executive Chef John Brand, and the wines were done by J Vineyards from Sonoma's Russian River Valley. Since I saw a Texas winery on our itinerary for Friday, I assumed the wine would be local, but was more than happy with the pairing, as I've been a fan of their wines for years.

By the way, the dinning room was really dark, so you'll forgive the less than perfect photographs, as I didn't want to spoil the ambiance with my flash.

After some tasty passed appetizers, the first course was presented. We started the meal out with duck egg agnolotti with langostines, American sturgeon caviar and local English pea broth.

This was paired with J Vineyards 2008 Pinot Gris. It was a great match, except I was annoyed I couldn't identify the cheese in the stuffed pasta. Unfortunately, by the time the chef came out to chat, I had forgotten my question. Wine will do that.

Next we enjoyed a very ambitious plate consisting of tuna involtini with Kurabota pork, beet jam, rusty goat cheese, and avocado oil. This was washed down (do I have a way with words or what?) with J Vineyards' highly regarded Cuvee 20 Brut NV.

The main course was my favorite, and offered a breast of Muscovy duck, stuffed with duck leg confit, served with warm bitter greens, Pedro Jimenez sherry and foie gras vinaigrette, fava beans, heirloom carrots and lavender honey. It was delicious on it's own, but ever more impressive with a 2007 Pinot Noir.

Dessert was crispy Cariabe chocolate polenta cake, with white chocolate, cajete, compressed rhubarb and strawberry chips. It was paired with a J Vineyards' Brut Rose NV. This was the most controversial dish, and our table had a spirited disccusssion of whether this worked or not.

That would have been fine, and even fun, except it was at that point the chef had come over to out table to see how we liked everything. Several guests, now 3 or 4 drinks in, pulled the chef into the debate. Personally, I loved the flavor, but the texture of the polenta was challenging.

It was a great way to start the weekend! Still to come is a recap of today's surprising trip to Becker Vineyards, in Hill Country. That's right, Texan wine! Tonight was also the event's Grand Tasting, and you know I had the camera out for that. Stay tuned!


Chuck said... any Texan will tell you, the Riverwalk is not San Antonio's signature attraction. That would be The Alamo.

In any event, it's great to hear you enjoyed our part of the world.

Chef John said...

How could I forget?

Rita said...

life is rough, what can i say? AHAHAHA!

Unknown said...

That's awesome that you are in Central Texas! I live in Austin and I'm a big fan - I'm always telling people about your recipes... Hope you enjoyed the Hill Country and keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...


I recall lots of Diesel smell along the riverwalk from the tour boats:)

I love the hill country. I'd like to move there someday.

Unknown said...

Hello Chef John!
I'm a longtime reader of your blog and a bay area resident, but by a funny coincidence I'm also in my hometown San Antonio for this weekend (though, sadly, not to eat!), and all I have to say is that our signature attraction is NOT the's Taco Cabana.

Unknown said...

Welcome to Texas! I am sitting in my yarn shop in Buda, TX just south of Austin. You are one of only three blogs I check into every day. I check in today and find you only 65 miles away--cool! A few tips while you're here: ALL barbecue is brisket.
Don't refer to anyone as "Southern"
Don't eat a dish called menudo (just trust me)
to blend in use phrases such as "Ya'll just mill around over yonder, I'm fixin ta be there.

Have fun, Amy Crockett

texichan said...

Ah! All this time I've been sitting home sick, you've been living it up around the city. I envy you. San Antonio is lovely - but very touristy. I look forward to your coming posts!