On Wednesday, along with several other local food bloggers (and my husband), I attended a preview for the upcoming opening of the new John Besh Restaurant, Lϋke, on the San Antonio Riverwalk. This will be the first foray into uncharted territory for James Beard Award winner Chef Besh whose restaurants have been up until now all been based in New Orleans. This leap may seem strange to some, but actually New Orleans and San Antonio have long had ties. The owner of the Saints, Tom Benson is a San Antonio businessman, after Katrina San Antonio opened its heart and its homes to thousands of displaced New Orleans residents and more recently and even closer to home for the Besh restaurant family when its own executive chef Stephen McHugh received a cancer diagnosis, he came to San Antonio for treatment. Thankfully Chef McHugh, now wonderfully cancer-free, decided to stay and bring Lϋke with him.
Lϋke will serve fusion food unlike most, inspired by the cafes and brasseries of Alsace region between France and Germany, and not coincidentally, blending the sensibilities of Louisiana French and the strong German heritage of the Texas Hill Country, with a nod to Chef Besh’s southern roots. The menu features items honoring all these culinary traditions, including Jumbo Gulf Shrimp “en cocotte” with andouille sausage over creamy grits with mascarpone cheese, white bean and duck cassoulet served with garlic sausage, Hill Country Cabrito, red beans and rice with a breaded pork chop, jaeger schnitzel with bacon, mushrooms and spazle and Texas raised herb roasted chicken, as well as the fried Texas quail drizzled with honey and buttermilk ranch. Chef McHugh has a deep commitment to the farm-to-table movement – Lϋke is a member of the Go Texan coalition of restaurants supporting locally sourced ingredients – as evidenced by the Broken Arrow Ranch wild boar to the Pearl Farmer’s Market vegetables and the Bluebonnet greens, to the wildflower honey also purchased at the Pearl Farmer’s Market, as well as the Gulf shrimp and fish.
Also on the menu will be a variety of sausages “from the butcher” which Lϋke served at this event. My favorite was the Wild Boar Sausage or wildschwienwurst. It combined really fabulous flavor with decent texture. The Bratwurst was also very good, especially alongside the yummy pickled radishes (did I detect hints of cherry?) and watermelon rind. The other two sausage offerings: the garlic sausage and the Bockwurst need some work. While you obviously know what you are getting when served garlic sausage, for me the garlic was too overpowering. The Bockwurst on the other hand had very good flavor. However, the texture was off – too soft. This Texas girl likes her sausage firmer with a golden, even slightly charred, casing that pops when bitten. This lack of color and texture of the casings, actually present on all the sausages but especially evident with the Bockwurst, may be explained to some extent by the cooking method. The cooking conditions at this event reminded me of a Top Chef episode. You know where the chefs are cooking on hot plates atop wobbly tables. Despite the circumstances I felt all the dishes were fairly well executed, but I also think that some of the misses can be explained by these conditions. My intention here is not to unfairly criticize a restaurant which has yet to even open its doors, rather it is to be constructive and give my honest feedback, which I hope is also why we were invited.
Lϋke also served its fried Texas quail which were crispy perfection drizzled with wildflower honey, bought earlier in the week at the Pearl Farmer’s Market, and buttermilk ranch. I could have eaten a half dozen of these wonderful little birdies. Sort of a riff honey barbeque chicken wings you would find at a tailgate party, but elevated and refined. And before anyone gets all technical foul on me, tailgate food is not what it used to be. Many people are really bringing a lot of game to pre-game parking lot parties. And I happen to love eat with your hands, sweet and salty, crunchy, savory food. I was probably supposed to use a fork and knife, and I may have started out that way, but in a second I was picking them up and munching away, licking my sticky fingers. The breading was just right with great taste, the rich quail offset with the light touch of the floral honey that was not sickeningly sweet and the creamy buttermilk ranch. YUM! Also a highlight was the shrimp. The shrimp made with andouille sausage, piquillo peppers, thyme, shallot and Creole seasoning were cooked perfectly and tasted amazing. The cheesy marscarpone grits had seized up a bit and lacked the creaminess I like to see, but the broth from the shrimp ladled over them helped. Again I think this can be explained by the conditions and won’t be a problem coming from a real kitchen. Chef McHugh was kind enough to give us the recipe which I have attached here so that you all can get a taste of Lϋke too! Luke Shrimp and Grits Recipe
Stephen Jeffcoat, Lϋke’s resident Mixologist and beer guru, served several beer offerings to match the various dishes served. I am no beer connoisseur but enjoyed most all of them, particularly the Brooklyn Lager, the light and smooth Lawnmower and a Bavarian beer with hints of spice and clove which was served brilliantly with the amazing cinnamon bread pudding (and I don’t even like bread pudding. I’m not a convert, I just want Lϋke’s). Who knew that beer could compliment butter and cream so well?
As part of this event we also had the opportunity to preview the restaurant space still under construction, guided by General Manager Victor Cervantes, a 25 year veteran of the restaurant business and San Antonio native. The beautiful two story space will seats 350, although surprisingly does not have river level dining. This shortcoming is made up for with the wonderful views from both levels afforded by the floor to ceiling windows, but particularly from the second level where you will also enjoy watching Lϋke’s creations come to life in the glass surrounded kitchen. Adjacent to the new Embassy Suites, Lϋke has entrances from the hotel, as well as an elevator from the River and on Houston Street, across from the Valencia Hotel. Entering from Houston Street, patrons will be greeted first with a raw bar offering Gulf oysters and shrimp, then a forty foot wet bar, where you will find innumerable craft and specialty beers, as well as wonderful wine selections from all over France, Germany, Alsace and Texas. It is here that you will also be able to order one of Lϋke’s signature cocktails, including the French 75, a blend on Cognac, fresh lemon juice and champagne.
I really look forward to the opening of Lϋke, which is currently slated for some time in late October, early November. Lϋke will be open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., lunch and dinner. I can’t wait to try some of the other menu offerings and get my hands on more of those crispy fried quail with a St. Arnold’s Lawnmower Beer and finish with Lϋke amazing bread pudding and that Bavarian beer whose name escapes me. San Antonio is very fortunate to welcome the addition of such a fine restaurant, offering some extremely good food with a remarkable team of wonderful people.
P.S. Much thanks to Crave Communications, Cat and Paula, for putting together a wonderful event, and to Lauren Madrid and Garrett Heath for the great company. Want to know more about Luke? Check out Lauren’s Oh My Puddin Blog, Garrett’s San Antonio Joe Blog and Lϋke’s website.