Archive for the ‘Restaurants’Category

Traditional Norteño barbacoa at Casa Hernán

JohnnyGrill
As we suggested in the La Gloria post that started this San Antonio series back in June, chef Johnny Hernandez has been helping San Antonio reclaim the Mexican side of its culinary heritage. Easy-going venues like La Gloria and The Frutería focus on the simplest of Mexican food — street food, really — but at his special events venue Casa Hernán, Johnny gets into some of the more complex traditions.

Brunch at  Casa Hernán

Brunch at Casa Hernán

Hernandez does a grand Sunday brunch about once a month at Casa Hernán, sometimes featuring barbacoa in the South Texas/northern Mexican tradition. In some parts of interior Mexico, cooks will roast an entire animal in a pit, usually a lamb. In northern Mexico, barbacoa usually signifies a pit-roasted cow’s head (and nothing more). Hernandez had an outdoor kitchen built to order in his back yard. Not only does the tiled work area include a large grill with the machinery for splaying lambs and kids over the heat, it also includes round holes into which Hernandez can use a chain and pulley system to lower chain baskets into the coals of an underground fire pit. The holes are sized to accommodate baskets large enough to contain an entire cow’s head.

CasaHernancowhead To prepare the head for cooking, Hernandez sets it on banana leaves, seasons it liberally with salt, pepper, epazote, onion, thyme, oregano, and avocado leaves, then wraps the whole concoction in the banana leaves. He then lowers it in a chain-link basket into the fire. It takes about 12 hours to cook a cow’s head before he hoists it up with a chain and pulley and pulls the meat off the bones. Now that’s barbacoa!

The beef cheeks provide the juiciest, tastiest meat and form the centerpiece of the brunch buffet, displayed next to the cooked head. For the rest of the brunch, Hernandez will likely grill a few entire lambs, cook up huge piles of sausages directly over hardwood coals, and make a big selection of vegetable dishes and (of course) fresh tortillas. Dessert always depends on the fresh fruit of the season.

Given the necessary gear to make this dish correctly, it’s one we won’t be trying at home.

18

08 2014

Sustenio’s escabeche puts zing on the plate

Sustenio charcuterie
The San Antonio outpost of super chef Stephan Pyles, Sustenio at the Eilan Hotel (18603 La Cantera Terrace, San Antonio, 210-598-2950, www.eilanhotel.com), veers more toward Mediterranean cuisine than his Dallas restaurants, which range from the made-in-Texas cookery of Stampede 66 to the global fusion of his eponymous dining room. Sustenio Mike Collins With executive chef Mike Collins (right) in the kitchen, Sustenio presents a light and bright Mediterranean option to San Antonio diners who are often otherwise forced to pick between Mexican cooking and a steakhouse. The menu is especially strong on charcuterie (top), much of it made in house. Those plates are great for munching at the bar with craft cocktails before sitting down to a table and tucking into tandoori-style roast salmon (below).

Sustenio salmonWhen we ate at Sustenio in May during Culinaria, Collins was kind enough to share a number of recipes with us, though many of them were pretty daunting. One of our favorites, though, was his version of escabeche. Collins often serves mussels in escabeche. They’re steamed first, then marinated for at least two hours in the tangy sauce. The bright orange flavor is a nice complement to the meaty, briny shellfish. We also thought Collins’ version would work well with chicken, which we first tried on skewers at Tragatapas in Ronda, Spain (C/ Nueva 4, Ronda, 011-34-952-877-209, www.tragatapas.com). When we went to the market and found grape tomatoes and colored carrots, the following dish was born.

Skewers
ESCABECHE CHICKEN AND CARROT SKEWERS

You have to plan ahead for this dish, as the chicken and carrots should marinate overnight in the escabeche. We serve the skewers cold with a variation on Caprese salad: chopped fresh tomato and tiny balls of fresh mozzarella tossed with couscous and sprinkled with chopped basil.

Serves 6

Ingredients

For escabeche
juice and grated zest of 2 Valencia oranges
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup sherry vinegar
3 whole allspice berries
1 stick cinnamon
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt

For skewers
8 ounces wood-roasted chicken breast
1 1/2 cups carrot rounds, steamed al dente (about 3 minutes)
1 1/2 cups grape tomatoes
bamboo skewers

Directions

1. Combine all the ingredients for the escabeche and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer for five minutes and cool.

2. Once the liquid is cool, cut the chicken in half-inch cubes and add to escabeche with carrot rounds. Refrigerate overnight.

3. Before assembly, dip the tomatoes in boiling water for 10 seconds and slip off skins.

4. Make skewers, alternating chicken with carrot rounds and tomatoes.

29

07 2014

Tuk Tuk Taproom weds Asian street food & craft beer

Thai papaya - Tuk Tuk sign
San Antonio certainly has its native spice (thanks to Mexican chile peppers), but David Gilbert has given the city an injection of southeast Asian flavors that pair perfectly with hoppy, malty craft beers at Tuk Tuk Taproom. Raised in Dallas, chef Gilbert has traipsed all over the world to cook — and to dive. Recipient of a StarChefs Rising Chef award for work in Los Angeles and a multiple nominee for James Beard awards for work in San Antonio, he came to the Alamo City in 2011 at the behest of Texas cuisine master Stephen Pyles, who was opening a new restaurant in the Eilan Hotel and wanted Gilbert to run the show for him. Ever restless (see his book Kitchen Vagabond: A Journey Cooking and Eating Beyond the Kitchen), his travels in southeast Asia sealed his culinary fate.

Thai papaya - David Gilbert headshot On a extended journey that began as a SCUBA-diving vacation, Gilbert fell in love with the street food of Asia, especially the street food of southeast Asia, and most especially the street food of northern Thailand. “I was tired of placing microgreens with tweezers,” he says breezily of the decision to turn his back on a successful fine-dining career to do something funkier — much funkier. In September 2013, he and beer meister Steve Newman opened Tuk Tuk Taproom (1702 Broadway, San Antonio; 210-222-TAPS; tuktuktaproom.com) in a small building that had been both a repair garage and a Mexican fast food joint (not, presumably, at the same time).

Thai papaya - David Gilbert The food, Gilbert insists, is authentic Asian cuisine made the way it’s prepared in the streets of Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, and other parts of Asia. During San Antonio’s Culinaria food festival in May, he demonstrated three different versions of green papaya salad. Our favorite — and the one almost always on the menu (along with 60 craft beers on tap) — is the Thai salad. He insists that the granite mortar and pestle are essential because they break down the food differently than any other technique. He also cautions against putting peanuts in at the beginning, because the result will be too creamy.

Thai papaya salad
GREEN PAPAYA SALAD, THAI STYLE

You will need a Thai salad mortar & pestle — a deep-bowled mortar usually made of dense granite — to make this salad. Most Asian grocers stock the tool, or David Gilbert advises purchasing it from www.importfood.com.

Ingredients

2 cloves of garlic (peeled)
2 Thai chilis, whole
3 ounces long beans (or substitute green beans)
14 ounces Asian green papaya
1 plum tomato (cut lengthwise)
5 dried shrimp (medium size)
1 ounce fresh squeezed key lime juice
1/2 to 1 ounce fish sauce
1 tablespoon Thai palm sugar
2 ounces roasted peanuts, crushed

Directions

1. Pound the garlic and Thai chili with pestle in the mortar until mashed.

2. Add the long beans and green papaya. Pound again, bruising and breaking down the papaya.

3. Add tomato and shrimp. Lightly pound and mix the salad with a spoon inside the mortar.

4. Add the liquids and adjust the balance between sweet (palm sugar), salty (fish sauce), and sour (lime juice).

5. Add peanuts and mix all together.

6. Remove the salad from mortar and serve with raw cucumber slices and generous hunks of green cabbage.

15

07 2014

San Antonio’s Cured is good for whatever ails you

Cured building
Long known as the cradle of Tex-Mex cuisine, San Antonio has definitely upped its game in the last few years. Until recently, a smattering of upscale, fine-dining restaurants like John Besh’s Lüke on the Riverwalk and a plethora of steak houses formed the city’s gastronomic constellation. That’s changing quickly and a lot of action is taking place in the suddenly trendy Pearl District. San Antonio’s spring-fed eponymous river made it an important beer-brewing town in the 19th century. The predecessor to Pearl Brewing opened in 1883, and the factory didn’t close until 2001. The subsequent redevelopment of the 22-acre former Pearl complex is still underway, but it’s already ground zero for serious foodies. Not only does the complex contain the San Antonio campus of the Culinary Institute of America, it has several terrific restaurants. Steve McHugh’s superb gastropub Cured (306 Pearl Parkway, Suite 101, 210-314-3929, www.curedatpearl.com) joined the neighborhood at the end of 2013.

Cured chef owner Steve McHughMcHugh came to San Antonio from John Besh’s flagship New Orleans restaurant August to open the old-fashioned German-style brasserie Lüke. Diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in January 2010, he fought back. Once his doctor pronounced him in remission, he fulfilled his dream of opening his own restaurant. Since his specialty is charcuterie — he buys whole hogs and cures the parts in a glass-walled meat locker prominently featured in the dining room — he named his restaurant “Cured,” a name with dual meanings. In addition to making his own hams and sausages, he crafts a whole range of charcuterie. A dollar from each charcuterie plate goes to a different charity each quarter.

Cured charcuterieThe food is terrific, and the lively ambience is infectious. The dishes are simple — a gumbo using his own smoked pork and andouille sausage, for example, or seared redfish with asparagus, citrus, and shrimp — yet they’re always thoughtful combinations of flavors.

The Cured Burger is the talk of San Antonio and would make a big hit at any July 4 cookout. Here’s a slightly simplified version of the recipe.

Cured burger
CURED BURGER

Three things make chef Steve McHugh’s burgers so delicious and juicy. The meat is part beef, part cured bacon. McHugh is liberal with his application of salt and pepper. And he tops the burgers with an amazing smoked onion jam before putting cheese on top to melt. When we’re in a hurry, we ask our butcher to grind the meat for us and we use the very good Roasted Garlic Onion Jam from Stonewall Kitchen.

Makes 6 burgers

For the Burgers
Ingredients
1 1/2 pounds top round, cut into large pieces
1/2 pound good quality bacon
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions
Grind the top round and bacon alternately through a large die (3/8”) so that there is a good beef-to-bacon ratio. Switch to the smaller die (3/16”) on your grinder and regrind the meat to a smooth consistency. Divide the burgers into six patties. Season your burgers with salt and twice as much pepper than you think. Pepper is the key to a great burger. Grill to medium well-done.

For the Onion Jam
Ingredients
4 yellow onions, top and bottom removed, peels left on
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 cup sugar

Directions
Using your smoker, hot smoke your onions for 4 hours until completely soft. Peel the onions and place into a food processor and blend with vinegar and water. Place them in a pot along with the sugar and cook for 2 hours until a jam-like consistency has been reached. Reserve for later.

Assembly
Top the burgers with a spoonful of the onion jam and top with your choice of cheese. While Cheese is melting, place the rolls on the griddle to brown. Assemble and destroy!

27

06 2014

Montgomery’s Central reinterprets a Southern classic

Central restaurant by Tastebuds Photography

Central restaurant by Tastebuds Photography

Montgomery, Alabama, likes to call itself the place where both the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement started. But this historic city also looks forward as well as back. The handsome warehouses and other buildings along the riverfront have been spruced up as the Downtown Entertainment District. Central restaurant (129 Coosa St., 334-517-1121, www.central129coosa.com) epitomizes the style: It occupies an 1890s warehouse with high ceilings and warm, exposed-brick walls. An open kitchen brings the space to life as cooks execute the refined comfort food of tattooed and bearded executive chef Leonardo Maurelli III. Originally from Panama, Maurelli is a big proponent of Southern cuisine—as long as he can add his own innovations.

He has created a sophisticated twist on chicken and dumplings, substituting toothy potato gnocchi for the usually doughy dumplings and tossing the gnocchi with wood-roasted chicken, peas, carrots, and celery in an herbed veloute.

Chef Maurelli shared the recipe sized by single portions, and I’ve adapted it to make two servings.  The chicken, which is roasted with indirect heat from a wood fire, is brined for 24 hours in a standard brine (3 tablespoons kosher or sea salt, 2 tablespoons granulated white sugar, 6 cups of water). Maurelli removes the bird from the brine and lets it rest an hour before roasting.

CENTRAL’S CHICKEN AND DUMPLINGS

Maurelli makes his own potato gnocchi from scratch, but I generally substitute a very good commercial version. Maurelli’s mirepoix is a standard ratio of 2 parts onion, 1 part carrot, and 1 part celery. See the veloute recipe below for my take on Central’s rich veloute.
chicken and dumplings

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients

8 ounces of potato gnocchi (blanched)
2 tablespoons water
1 cup mirepoix
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, sliced paper thin
3 cloves of garlic, sliced paper thin
6 ounces wood-roasted chicken breast, medium dice
1/2 cup green peas (frozen hold best)
2 tablespoons white wine
1 1/4 cups fine herb chicken veloute

Directions

Flash fry the gnocchi until crisp, about 3 minutes, and place on paper towels to remove excess grease.

Place water in small frying pan and add mirepoix. Turn heat on high and cook for about 45 seconds after water boils. Drain mirepoix and set aside.

In a separate skillet, over medium heat, place olive oil with finely sliced shallot and garlic. Sauté until caramelized (about 2 minutes). Add mirepoix, chicken, and peas and sauté. Deglaze skillet with white wine and cook off alcohol (about 1 minute).

Add veloute and bring to a simmer. Once sauce is simmering add the gnocchi, quickly toss and serve immediately to make sure the gnocchi are still crisp.

Garnish with local herbs, or micro greens.

CHICKEN VELOUTE

Maurelli usually uses a mix of thyme, rosemary, and parsley to season the veloute.

32 ounces chicken stock
6 tablespoons clarified butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 ounces of chopped fresh herbs

Bring stock to a simmer.

In a separate skillet, heat butter and use a wooden spoon to blend in flour start to create a roux. Be careful not to brown the roux, but cook slowly until the raw flour taste is gone.

Once roux is done, slowly whisk in the stock one-quarter cup at a time. Whisk constantly to make sure there are no lumps. Simmer for 20 minutes, add fresh herbs, and let cool. I use leftover veloute as a cream sauce for dishes like chicken tetrazzini or simple sliced meat and gravy on toast or rice.

13

05 2014

Gourmet chicken salad at Mobile’s Spot of Tea

Calvert's Gourmet Chicken Salad
For truly ambitious eaters, the state of Alabama has come up with a handy list of “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die.” It’s a big undertaking, but I got a start when I partied in Mobile during Mardi Gras. Located across the street from Cathedral Square, Spot of Tea (310 Dauphin St., 251-433-9009, www.spotoftea.com) is right in the middle of the festivities and is also one of the few restaurants in the state to be recognized for two standout dishes. In this case, it’s two breakfast dishes: Bananas Foster French Toast and Eggs Cathedral (a variation on Eggs Benedict featuring local seafood). Locals are just as likely to stop in for lunch and it’s a good bet that they will order the “gourmet chicken salad,” either as a sandwich or atop a salad. The recipe, which uses only white meat chicken, was passed down from the grandmother of owner Ruby Moore (That’s Ruby below.)


CALVERT’S GOURMETRuby at Spot of Tea
CHICKEN SALAD

This is the version as served at Spot of Tea in Mobile. I prefer using 1 teaspoon of ground celery seed in place of the celery salt, as it lets me adjust the seasoning more carefully. I also prefer using roast chicken breasts to poached breasts, though that’s truly a matter of taste. Finally, I sometimes substitute fresh goat cheese (chèvre) for part or all of the cream cheese. It makes a slightly drier, more tangy chicken salad.

Serves 10

Ingredients
3 lb. boneless chicken breast
8 oz. cream cheese
8 oz. mayonnaise
4 ribs celery, chopped fine
celery salt
salt
black pepper
4 oz. pecans, chopped fine

Directions
1. Poach chicken until fully tender. Cool under cold water, pat dry, and dice.
2. Add cream cheese, mayonnaise, chopped celery, and chopped pecans.
3. Adjust to taste with celery salt, pepper, and salt. Blend well. If not creamy enough, add more mayonnaise.

25

04 2014

What to eat at the airport in Málaga (AGP)

Bull burger
Until last year, international travelers at Terminal 3 in Málaga’s airport servicing the Costa del Sol were pretty much stuck with international fast food like Starbucks, Burger King, and England’s Soho Coffee. So we were delighted to see that Michelin-starred local superchef Dani García had opened Dani García DeliBar. Much of the menu overlaps offerings in García’s Manzanilla tapas bar in downtown Málaga, which is one of our favorite spots in a city that has belatedly but enthusiastically embraced contemporary Spanish cuisine. One of García’s strengths has been the reinvention of some classic sandwiches by giving them a distinctly Andalucían twist. His bacalao (salt cod) sandwich with tomato sauce and chipotle mayo is heads above the best filet-o-fish. His Burguer Bull (pictured above) has brought him a lot of attention from other chefs as well as fast food aficionados. Created in 2008, the burger is a patty of slow-braised oxtail, aka rabo de toro. It’s served on a bun spread with mayonnaise made with beef juices instead of oil, then topped with some arugula and a melted slice of Havarti cheese. It has all the taste depth of the classic dish of rabo de toro with the form and flourish of a great cheeseburger. If you’re staying over in Málaga, be sure to eat at Manzanilla at Calle Fresca, 12 (tel: 95-222-6851; www.manzanillamalaga.com). If you’re staying on the Costa del Sol, take a train into the real city. It’s only 23 minutes from Torremolinos to the Alameda stop in Málaga on the C-1 line. That’s just down the street from Manzanilla.

11

04 2014

What a great thing to do with an egg!

pisto manchego with cod a pil pil
We’ve been lucky enough to visit Sevilla’s Taberna del Alabardero every few years over the last few decades, but it’s possible that our most recent meal was the best yet—even though it was off the modest bistrot menu instead of from the haute cuisine fine-dining menu. Now with sites in Madrid and in Washington, D.C., Taberna del Alabardero began as a social-work program launched by a priest to teach marketable skills to boys from the streets. It’s evolved into one of the top hospitality schools in Spain. The original location in Sevilla near the bullring is the laboratory where all that hospitality training is put into practice. The townhouse mansion has fine dining rooms upstairs with a menu that would have made Escoffier smile. (The third level has elegant bedrooms for the small hotel.)

Taberna del Alabardero

Frankly, we’re just as happy to eat off the bistro menu in the tile-encrusted dining room downstairs that adjoins the central atrium café. The dishes are simpler and everything is prepared—and served—by the faculty and students of the hospitality school. (Note the students standing by, waiting to serve.) Dishes tend to be Spanish rib-stickers: the hearty potato and sausage stew known as Riojanas, or cod a pil pil served with pisto manchego (Spanish ratatouille) topped with a poached egg (above). Here the pisto and poached egg constituted a side dish, paying second fiddle to the cod. But we think it will make a great light lunch this summer when we’re swimming in tomatoes, squash, and eggplant.

The three-course bistrot menu at Taberna del Alabardero is a steal, costing 12.50 euros on weekdays, 17.50 euros weekends. Here’s the contact information: Calle Zaragoza, 20. The phone is (+34) 95-450-27-21, and the web site is www.tabernadelalabardero.es. The restaurant is closed in August.

13

03 2014

Tapa to try at home – stuffed peppers

pimientos rellenos de melva We’re in Sevilla at the moment, researching what’s great and new for the new Frommer’s Spain. Part of what’s new is the completely re-done public market in Triana, just across the river from Sevilla proper. This tapa of sweet red peppers stuffed with king mackerel (melva, to the Spanish) was a bargain at 2.80 euros at La Casa Fundida (stall #46A). It’s topped with mayonnaise and grated cheese and baked in a hot oven. It tasted as good as it looks. It’s one in a list of tasty bites we hope to replicate when we get home. This was made with canned fish, which makes it even easier. It doesn’t hurt that the Spanish make the best canned fish and shellfish in the world….

14

02 2014

Pimento Cheese for holiday South in your mouth

Pimento cheese
Chef Matthew Bell hails from Montana, but after about a decade in the South, he felt confident to head the kitchen at South on Main restaurant in Little Rock, Arkansas. It’s a collaboration with the Oxford American, the magazine that chronicles the literary and cultural life of the South and is often called the ”New Yorker of the South.”

”We are taking our cue from the magazine and keying in on the cuisine from all regions,” Bell told a gathering of writers who previewed the restaurant and performance place while it was still under construction. ”Arkansas cuisine is a microcosm of the whole South with influence from the Ozarks and the Smokies,” he said. ”We have a long growing season and close access to the Gulf for seafood.”

Now open for business, Bell is offering updated versions of classic dishes, such as a starter of pork cheeks with gnocchi, parmesan, and a fried egg, or a main course of catfish with fried brussels sprouts, hushpuppies, and rémoulade. But for my small group he proved his chops with a masterful version of the Southern staple Pimento Cheese. I like to serve the colorful dip during the holidays — all you need are some celery sticks and a few crackers.

PIMENTO CHEESE

To add heat, chef Matthew Bell favors Frank’s Red Hot Sauce or Crystal Louisiana’s Pure Hot Sauce. Since I had neither on hand, I used traditional red Tabasco from Louisiana’s McIlhenny Company.

Ingredients

1/2 roasted red pepper, peeled and seeded and finely chopped
1/2 pound grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 teaspoon finely grated garlic
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 1/2 teaspoons pickle brine from your favorite dill pickles
3/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
pinch of salt and black pepper to taste

Directions

Using a strong wooden spoon and a bowl, combine all ingredients in order, stirring well after each addition. Pack into small bowl or ramekin and serve with celery sticks or crackers.