Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Y'all Would Have Loved the San Antonio New World Wine & Food Festival

I'm back in significantly cooler San Francisco, after three great days of food and wine (and beer and tequila) at the San Antonio New World Wine & Food Festival.

I was inv
ited by the San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau to come and check out this annual event, and I'm sure glad I did!

Above and beyond all the delicious food and drink we got to enjoy, I really loved the look and feel of San Antonio. Super nice people, tons of history even beyond the iconic Alamo, and the famous River Walk was just as cool as everyone told me it was.

To be able to walk along the banks of the San Antonio river, past so many interesting shops, bars, and restaurants, was unique to anything I've experienced before (and if you're not into the walking thing, you can jump into a river taxi). Like most of these trips, there's just too much to cover, but here are a few of the highlights.

We drove deep into Hill Country for a winemaker's lunch at Becker Vineyards, where we enjoyed a very nice multi-course menu paired with Dr. Richard Becker's award-winning European-style wines. Having had zero experience with wines from Texas, I have to say I was pretty impressed.

One of the afternoon's highlights was this pork belly with parsnip puree and braised sweet and sour Swiss chard. I have to admit, I'm getting a bit bored with pork belly these days, but this was outstanding.

Later that evening, we attended the New World Grand Tasting. The area's top chefs and restaurants served their best bites alongside over 100 wines from Texas and around the world. You know I love a good Grand Tasting, and this did not disappoint.

I found it fascinating to see how the chefs combined influences from around the food world with local Tex-Mex classics. The offerings ran the gamut from simple and delicious, like a spicy fig and apricot-glazed chicken legs, to this very sophisticated Hawaiian striped marlin served with togarashi, yuzu, radish, and coconut, from Pesca.

One of my favorite bites of the weekend was this unique take on the Cuban sandwich from Achiote River Cafe & Bar. Ham, cheese, pork belly, and pickles were placed into split gougères (cheese puffs). It was a great idea, and to me represented the best that these events have to offer.

The next day we had the chance to tour the historic Pearl building. This former brewery is being converted into a culinary center, and cultural gathering place. We had a chance to taste some locally produced olive oils from Texas' growing olive industry, which I enjoyed a great deal. I had no idea there were 300 different varieties of olives grown in Texas.

In addition to new apartments, restaurants, artisan shops, and a farmers market, the complex is home to a new Culinary Institute of America campus. This is only the renowned school's second location outside of Hyde Park, NY. For a city with such a vibrant culinary scene, having a world class culinary school will only accelerate San Antonio's standing as a foodie destination.

After a tour of the school, we enjoyed an amazing lunch at Chef Johnny Hernandez’s brand new restaurant La Gloria. The menu is a sort of Mexican street foods "greatest hits," and we enjoyed a huge selection of tacos, quesadillas, panuchos, ceviches, and something called a tlayudas from Oaxaca, which is a sort of ultra-thin, crispy (and very addictive) pizza.

We joked with the chef about just sending out one of everything. I'm not sure the chef could tell we were joking, as we literally got to sample items from every category on the menu. I really need to be careful about that whole keeping a straight-face thing.

Speaking of Mexican-inspired food, later that day we headed out to The Best of Mexico celebration at the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa.

We enjoyed more great wines, beers, and premium tequilas, all paired
with favorites like red moles, fried tostones topped with beans and beef, and spicy shrimp taquitos.

You’d think I would have been weary of Mexican food after our epic lunch at La Gloria, but not even close. I never get tired of that style of food. I wish I had better photos from this event, but did I mention the tequilas?

The last big highlight was a trip to Totally Texas at Rio Cibolo Ranch. You could smell the barbecuing beef as we drove up the long road to the event.

In addition to all the usual wine and food pairings we enjoyed all weekend, there were a half dozen of the area's top barbecue teams getting their smoke on.

I enjoyed some great traditional Texas barbecue including pork ribs, chicken (which the pitmasters kept telling tourists was armadillo, rattlesnake, or alligator, much to my great amusement), hot sausages, and the undisputed king of the smoke-ringed meats; beef brisket.

Sitting under a huge shade tree, eating brisket and sipping on a Lonestar beer, I couldn't help but look down and picture what I might look like in a pair of cowboy boots. After a couple moments I decided I'd leave the pointy footwear to those more suited, like Anthony Bourdain.

The trip ended with drinks and hors d’oeuvres at Acenar, adjacent the amazingly beautiful Hotel Valencia. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will say that my stay was complimentary, but in all honesty, it really was a world-class hotel experience. Great service, gorgeous rooms, and the best 3/4-pound room service sirloin burger I've ever had.

I’d like to thank the San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau and Geiger & Associates for making this trip possible. I had a wonderful time, and I will be back for sure.

If you want more info about this event specifically, or San Antonio's food scene in general, here's the Visitors Bureau's official website. Enjoy!


chi hair straightener said...

Excellent read, I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing a little research on that. And he actually bought me lunch because I found it for him smile So let me rephrase that: Thanks for lunch!

PukaDog said...

I can't believe you left San Antonio with no mention of having had a puffy taco. The city is famous for them, and it's the only city I've ever seen them. Next time you're in the River City, don't forget to visit Market Square and either there, or someplace else in town, be sure to order the puffy tacos. That's an order!

southtowndesigns said...

I'm glad that you made it out to San Antonio to try out some of the great mexican places here. I'm born and raised in San Antonio and you've mentioned all of the places that I love going to. It's good to see others enjoying the food scene here. It's such a diverse city and there is so much more to discover