This all took place Saturday night.
My dad had made reservations at seven o’clock in the evening, so we got dressed up and left by about six twenty-five. We got on I-10 and headed south into the downtown area of San Antonio. The restaurant was near Fox Tech and a Via bus station, right across the street from a Bill Miller’s. There was a sign for valet parking, but there was no one there to valet our car, so my dad dropped me, my mom, and my brother off at the front of the restaurant. He went and parked and joined us ten minutes later. The three of us went into the restaurant to fulfill our reservations and were pleasantly overwhelmed by the simplicity and the minimal nature of the decor. The motif of the night for my brother and me is that we have never eaten a meal like this before, and so we really didn’t know what to expect at all. My mom had on certain occasions, but she too was not a “regular” to these kinds of dinners.
We walked into the restaurant which is located a floor above the riverwalk, though from inside you can’t see the river. As soon as you come in you see the kitchen, not even through a window or glass–just a porteau in the wall. You can see all the chefs cooking the meals that they are about to serve. The restaurant’s total area was very small though, and so it didn’t surprise us when we saw a descending staircase in the back of the “kitchen.” What we saw being done were finishing touches and garnishes–the cooking was taking place downstairs. We were seated by a waiter who looked the part–a very thin, well dressed, hair-coiffed, actor-from-Inception-and-Scarecrow-in-Batman I. But, and I must stress the importance of this “but”, he was extremely nice. In fact, all the waitstaff and even the manager who acted as the sommelier, were extremely nice. My brother and I, and even our mom, were asking dopey questions, but more than that we showed intrigue at interesting things and genuinely wanted to know more about them (i.e. siphon coffee). I do not know the restaurant’s general clientele, and whether they mostly have seasoned-eaters, or if they do entertain a lot of first time foodies, but they were happy to answer our questions. Literally happy. Our main waitress smiled all the time, self-deprecated, told me happy birthday half a dozen times, and generously explained all of our questions. She and all the employees were great to us.
My dad joined us at the table just in time for them to bring out some bread and butter, and take our drink orders. The bread was hours-before-made milkbread, and it was warm and soft and appealing. It didn’t have a lot of taste though, but milk-bread typically doesn’t. But butter does! They brought us out fresh-made butter with poppyseeds on the outside diameter of the circular tabs, and it was soft and amazing. I had several slices of bread. We all got a water, and then my mom had a good idea to get a bottle of wine for her, me, and my brother to share. So we ordered that, told our waitress we would like to have the five-course meal, and sat back.
Our first plate was the “amuse bouche,” a tiny little Asian pear with local honey and homemade Bleu cheese, a very similar taste combination to a Waldorf salad. I noticed (and appreciated) that a lot of the stuff we ate that night– the vegetables at least– were on sale at my farmer’s market earlier that morning. The pear and honey for this course, the eggplant for the second, the watermelon for the fourth, and the greens for the third. I saw the chef’s authenticity in a way not many others could because I worked at a farmer’s market, and when the chef claimed his food changes daily because of local produce availability, I knew that he was being true to his word.
The second course was a tiny, tiny eggplant prepared like a twice baked potato. It was halved and the innards were scooped out, cooked with breadcrumbs and cheese, and then put back into the little eggplant shell and grilled a little. It was tasty and crunchy, and ubiquitous at farmer’s markets. Still though, my least favorite dish. Not because I didn’t like it, but where there is a favorite, there is a least favorite.
The third course was a handmade ravioli stuffed with house-made ricotta and lambsquarters, which is not lamb. My mom and brother didn’t order the lamb as then entree because they thought that the ravioli had lamb in it. Turns out, lambsquarters is a green vegetable with a milder taste than spinach and a veiny appearance like swiss chard. It was extremely good but there was only one.
The fourth course was off the charts, and it was only one ounce of food. It was a watermelon sorbet that I assume was made from a concentrate because it tasted more like watermelon than the watermelon I had that morning at the farmer’s market. The sorbet also served as a palate cleanser for the final course. It was sweet and cold and delicious.
The final course, or entree, was one of the few items each diner had a choice in picking. You chose from either poached kingfish or braised lamb. Easy choice. The lamb was off the charts, and it hit the spot that I had hoped eating meat again would hit. It was soft and stringy and moist, and it was served with small little pearl onions and a tomato sauce. It was close-my-eyes succulent good.
Then we ordered our coffee and watched it being prepared as we waited on our desserts. We all ordered the rum raisin and almond gateau except for my dad who ordered the pear and ice cream dish, but only so we could try it. We all wanted the rum raisin ice cream. Both desserts were off the charts, but honestly the best parts of each were the ice creams. The ice cream was hand churned and so it was so soft. The flavors in the ginger ice cream and rum raisin ice cream were more flavorful than any store-bought ice cream. The almond gateau was nuts, and the caramelized pear was unlike anything I’d had before. Pair it all with fresh, hot, black coffee and you have a dessert experience to remember.
Then the coolest thing happened. My dad had called ahead and told the manager that I am interested in sustainable eating as well as cooking, so THE HEAD CHEF MICHAEL SOHOCKI CAME OUT FROM THE KITCHEN TO GREET ME AND TALK TO ME. Nuts. We talked about his ingredients, when he started thinking about food this way, what books he recommends, I told him my “organic, not local” story, he said “that’s why we don’t have apples,” I asked him about serving meat, I told him about working at a farmer’s market and H.E.B., I complimented him on the wait-service, and thanked him for my favorite meal ever. He was really nice and my dad really flabbergasted me by calling ahead and setting it up. One of the best birthday gifts ever.
My dad paid and we took off out the door with several of the waitstaff waving and saying bye, which makes a difference considering how busy they were. I walked outside and lamented that we didn’t take our family camera, to which my brother responded “ya we did, it’s been in my pocket this whole time.” 😮
So, I did manage to get one picture of my favorite meal ever!