Posts Tagged ‘Fine Dining’

Silo Elevated Cuisine

Friday, June 25th, 2010

What started as a fun twist on its unique original location on Austin Highway above the old Farm to Market (now Nosh), Silo Elevated Cuisine’s name is little more than a contrivance with regard to its second story digs on the outskirts of Stone Oak. This is only a minor mental annoyance. Unfortunately, being cute also comes with a real, albeit small, physical inconvenience – the elevator to the dining room is toe-tapping slow.
 

Once you have risen above, both to the second floor and your impatience, you enter a dining room that, despite residing in a generic shopping center, is smart, upscale and modern, clean and crisp. Perhaps it does feel a bit sanitized and detached, in keeping with its suburban surroundings, and in relative contrast to the warm, inviting, familiar atmosphere of its Alamo Heights digs. One could make that argument. But, for me, Alamo Heights is too far removed in distance to justify the extra mileage for a small degree of added atmosphere. Besides, sometimes going somewhere chic (very true of Silo 1604 at dinner), warranting this busy self-employed mother of a four-year old to dress up and wear sassy shoes, is a fantastically welcome thing. http://www.siloelevatedcuisine.com/

On this occasion, our party of five dined at Silo for lunch in celebration of jobs well done. Our group always goes to Silo for this semi-annual event to thank those who work hard and at such a consistently high level. Apropos? Certainly. And on this occasion especially, since, like this amazing group of women, the food was impeccable with evident, but elegantly veiled, effort…skill appearing easy. The service also seemed effortless, with a comfortable balance of banter and quiet, attention and restraint.
 

 

Silo's Grilled Miso Glazed Salmon

Three of the five in our group ordered the Grilled Miso Glazed Salmon with Cilantro Texmati Brown Rice and Julienne Vegetables. Unanimously, they enjoyed the dish immensely, one raving that it was perhaps the best salmon dish she had ever eaten; and after a small pause, another saying that could quite possibly be true for her as well. Since I only had one bite of this delicious dish I cannot go to such heights. However, I can say that the salmon, for which our outstanding server kindly recommended a medium rare preparation, was cooked perfectly. It was moist and flaky. The miso glaze was a wonderful salty, sweet calming complement to typically strong salmon. The miso enhanced the taste of the salmon, lifting the flavor even, by grounding it and taking the edge off. The vegetables were colorful and firm, the rice fluffy and flavorful.    

Oak Grilled Beef Tenderloin with Loaded Potatoes

Another in our group ordered the Oak Grilled Beef Tenderloin with “Loaded” Whipped Potatoes and Grilled Asparagus with a Whole Grain Mustard Hollandaise. Sounded amazing, looked even more so. Her silent focused eating and happy dreamy face, indicated she was so relishing her meal (like this was the last before weeks of soup and pudding) that I dared not interrupt.   

Blue Crab Cake on Angel Hair Pasta with Sautéed Spinach

I ordered the Blue Crab Cake on Angel Hair Pasta with Sautéed Spinach and Roasted Corn-Jalapeno Tartar Sauce. The crab cake was exceptional, the lumps of crab incredibly generous in size and amount, and divinely sweet. The overall texture was fabulous, with just enough breading to bind and lend to the cake’s golden exterior. The tartar sauce, which for me was a bit heavy-handed, was layered with great flavor and also had wonderful texture. The vinegary bite of the pickled jalapenos, the slight smokiness of the corn, hints of tarragon and the creaminess of the real mayonnaise came together very nicely and complimented the crab cake incredibly well.

My only complaint about this dish is that in some ways it lacked cohesion, particularly with regard to the spinach. While the spinach was done well with great garlic, it seemed like an afterthought – just plopped on the side. The pasta was also very tasty, but it was another soft element and in my opinion the dish would have been better served with something crisp, perhaps a slightly chilled slaw. Despite this, I would order this dish again in a heartbeat. The crab cake was so delicious and really…isn’t that the reason for ordering the dish.
 
The food and service at Silo’s second location are elevated in the best sense of the word and the one which ultimately matters most, and they are absolutely worth the little more than brief wait for the elevator to get you there.
   
Silo 1604 on Urbanspoon   
 
 

 

  

Watermark Grill

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

Girls Night Out last month found us at Watermark Grill, the sister restaurant of Pavil Restaurant and Bar. Not only is Watermark in the old Reggiano’s site, at the corner of 1604 and Stone Oak Parkway, its interior décor is very similar to Reggiano’s, retaining much of the old furniture and fixtures. Those are where the similarities end. Along with a more fresh and bright atmosphere (if memory serves Reggiano’s was quite a bit darker), Watermark offers some of the freshest, most high-quality seafood in town. Pair this with expert service and reasonable wine prices, and you have a sure bet for an exceptional evening with great friends.

On this night, we thought we had the good fortune of in season soft-shell crab (a personal favorite). The dish came with two crabs on a bed of haricot verts with a butter cream sauce. The haricot verts were well-seasoned and cooked just through, preserving a nice snap. However, the soft shell crab was in my opinion lacking. The crab, quite obviously very fresh, had good color, with a wonderful, firm texture. Unfortunately, they were over-salted. This is a common mistake for the average person given crab’s already salty nature, but for professional chefs at this level – and price – it is disappointing. In addition, given the choice of sautéed and tempura, I ordered the crab tempura style. For me, tempura suggests a light and airy, crunchy breading. The barely there breading on the crabs in this dish did not fit at all into what I think of as tempura. Rather, it was soggy and strange. I probably would have faired better with the sautéed soft shell crab. 

Although my main dish did not meet my expectation, our appetizer of Judith Point Crispy Calamari (with lotus chips and scallions) in a Chile Coconut Milk Sauce far exceeded all expectations. The fiery spice of the sriracha (a Thai chile sauce) and cool sweetness of the coconut milk was beyond fantastic. The calamari rings were fried to perfection, not in the least rubbery, with exceptional flavor. The incredibly thin lotus chips were a nice surprise, adding to the exoticism of the dish and lending a fun, flavorful, crunch which I enjoyed immensely. Then there was the sauce…a sauce in which I could have dipped my fingers and licked them off…one by one…over and over again.

But of course I was not alone at home, rather I was at a fine dining establishment with friends, so bread had to suffice. Watermark happens to have its own bakery next door which supplies bread to seven other restaurants in town, including Pavil, as our kind waiter explained. So this was not a terrible second option. And suffice it to say that when the calamari and bread were gone, we requested that bowl of sauce remain at our table and more bread be provided. When that bread was finished off, one friend then went to dipping some of her seafood from her seafood platter (which she thought was excellent) in the sauce. Delicious!

While I actually had a wonderful time at Watermark and look forward to trying other dishes, including those from its remarkable raw bar, it is the memory of our amazing appetizer that assures my return to Watermark Grill.

Watermark Grill on Urbanspoon

Cochineal (Marfa, TX)

Friday, March 12th, 2010

I find it incredibly uncomfortable to say something negative about a restaurant having as favorable a reputation as Cochineal. For most highly esteemed restaurant owners (as the owners of Cochineal are) the food they serve is personal, and means something more than a product sold for profits. Knowing this has made writing this post particularly difficult. But I also feel no one will respect your opinion that something is good, if you cannot frankly state when something else is not. So, I have to say I was mostly disappointed by Cochineal. Prior to eating there, I read many reviews raving about the food, stating it was excellent, even spectacular. That is not at all what my husband and I experienced.

While we enjoyed the modern, yet inviting, setting and feel the wait staff was welcoming and friendly, our entrees were uninspired, ordinary and plainly lacked finesse. Essentially, we received standard steakhouse fare in a modern arthouse setting. Many things may explain this, including that it was February in Marfa and we were the first diners of the night, but if you are going to charge $30 for an entrée, it should be something special regardless of the time of year or the time of day.

My Mr. ordered the Wood Grilled Rack of Lamb served with Rosemary Sauce on Cannellini Bean Puree with Grilled Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce. The well underdone lamb chops, as well as the grilled asparagus with hollandaise sauce, were indicative of both poor execution and lack of imagination. The rosemary sauce listed on the menu was a complete no show on the plate. Perhaps, this missing element would have elevated the dish, but we will never know. The bean puree was gummy and bland; and therefore was left mostly uneaten. Coincidentally, the night before at Café Cenizo at the Gage Hotel, our jumbo shrimp appetizer included a white bean puree and I had a lamb entrée. We could not help but make a comparison, but really there wasn’t one. Both the white bean puree and lamb chops were exceptionally better at Café Cenizo. (If you are interested, I have posted my thoughts on Café Cenizo. See Café Cenizo post dated March 4, 2010)

I had the Black Pepper Crusted USDA Ribeye Steak with Herbed Butter and a Classic Caesar Salad which was highly recommended by our server. Although the steak was prepared perfectly to order, it was thin and lacked flavor, the pepper sparse. The herbed butter, rather than being on the steak enhancing the flavor, it was melted on the plate and into the Caesar Salad. At this point most people would wish that they had ordered something else. But there were only five choices total on the menu (yes, five); leaving a crispy skinned roasted boneless young chicken served on sautéed spinach and rosemary mashed potatoes; sautéed baramundi with lemon buerre blanc and toasted almonds served with shredded Brussels sprouts on French green lentils; and a wood grilled loin of pork with Dijon mustard source served with Japanese white rice (white rice – really?) with garlicky broccolini. Most of this I can make on a weekend night at home – not exactly what one would expect from a place this pricey.

Unfortunately, the entrees were not the only disappointment of the evening. Shortly after we were seated, we were presented with the wine list, as is customary. The wine list was extensive and probably had some wonderful, reasonably priced (by that I mean in the $50-$60 range) offerings, but there was no one there to educate us or make a meaningful suggestion; we were essentially directed to the Wines by the Glass, of which they had four, one each of White, Rose, Red and Sparkling. And the winner was….the Red…a feeble Bordeaux. At every fine dining establishment I have ever been to, the wait staff has been trained extensively on the wine offerings and pairings. Cochineal might be known for its wine list, but I found it unbearably patronizing that no one at Cochineal would graciously assist us in deciphering the list and ease us into a choice suited to the meal, our individual taste and comfortable price point. You have a four page, single spaced wine list and have no one to confidently make a recommendation. At these prices, service should include more than the expected attentiveness and a friendly smile.

I will say that the bookends of the meal were good. The starter – the appetizer of crab cakes on roasted red pepper with lemony mayonnaise was heavy on the crab with a breading light and golden; the flavor of the mayonnaise was bright with citrus notes, accenting the crab cakes nicely. Our dessert was the delicious Rich Flourless Callebaut Chocolate Souffle with a Warm Chocolate Center, complimented by the wonderfully rich, perfectly brewed coffee. If there was a highlight, the coffee and dessert was it. So at least we ended the meal on a high note.

It is interesting to me that the relatively inexpensive street food from a walk up food truck out in the open in the center of town, served far and away superior tasting food to the pedestrian food served at the hard to find (the restaurant is tucked away off the street and the wood sign in front is so worn rendering it practically unreadable), sleek and expensive Cochineal. Too bad Food Shark doesn’t serve dinner. One of the gallery managers said that she likes having dinner at the new Marfa Table. Maybe next time – since we will not be going back to Cochineal.

Cochineal on Urbanspoon

Cafe Cenizo (Marathon, TX)

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

In the middle of nowhere, in the blank interior of the triangle formed by Big Bend National Park, Alpine and Fort Stockton, Texas lies the small ranching and oil town of Marathon. In that town sits the magical Gage Hotel. Originally constructed by Alfred Gage in 1927, the hotel also served as the ranch headquarters for the 500,000 acre ranch owned by Gage, a transplant from Vermont. The hotel then sat unoccupied for many years, the commerce of Marathon no longer able to support it. That is until an oilman and Son of Texas, J.P. Bryan, bought it and took on the decades long restoration process to restore the hotel to its old glory. With that mission accomplished and, new hacienda-style rooms, Los Portales, added, the Gage Hotel is now a destination not to be missed. The Gage’s beauty and mystique is matched equally by its restaurant, Café Cenizo. The painstaking attention to detail and the authenticity to culture and lifestyle found throughout the property are also most certainly found at Café Cenizo and in the food it serves. http://www.gagehotel.com/

We began our evening at the White Buffalo Bar (the White Buffalo also a transplant – this time Wyoming), the intimate and authentic Texas bar adjoining Café Cenizo. And while it serves up a wide array of specialty tequilas and margaritas, I decided on a fine Pinot Noir, the Mr. ordered a Cab, and we sat back with our son enjoying the warm atmosphere and toasty fire before our meal. Once seated, we again were treated to a decidedly relaxed, comfortable atmosphere where the only outward indications of fine dining came with the quiet, candlelit setting and the white table linens. No pretention here.

The same holds true for the food. But don’t equate lack of pretention with ordinary or uninspired. Rather, the food is sophisticated and imaginative, while honoring the ingredients and flavors of the southwest. Appetizers include Grilled Quail with black currant veloute sauce, persimmon bread salad in apple vinaigrette, Pan Seared Sweetbreads, Scallop Cocktail with a red pepper sorbet, Duck Risotto, Braised Shortribs with a green chile polenta, Ginger Sweet Potato Soup, Chipotle Dusted Jumbo Shrimp with white bean puree, avocado mousse and tortilla crisps. Entrees include Mole Rubbed Tenderloin with mashed potatoes in a poblano cream sauce and chayote squash, Crispy Skinned Adobo Rubbed Chicken with a cilantro rice and refried white beans, Duck Enchiladas, Pan Seared Scallops with a roasted sweet corn chowder, Grilled Lamb Chops with herbed couscous, tomato and pearl onion confit, in an orange-coriander demi-glace, Wagyu Ribeye with oregano roasted potatoes, ranchero sauce and sautéed kale, Chicken Fried Steak, Pepper Crusted Venison with potatoes au gratin and a truffled mushroom demi-glace.

As you can imagine it took some time to order. No matter, we just continued to sip our wine leisurely. The server checking in occasionally, not rushing or pushing, answering questions about the menu, at which he was obviously uncomfortable or untrained. We are still unsure of whether the venison my Mr. ordered was local axis, as another server indicated to the patrons sitting beside us, or shipped in from eastern New Zealand as our server told us. My Mr. ordered it anyway and it was excellent (more on that a little later). Decisions made, we started with the Chipotle Dusted Jumbo Shrimp with white bean puree, avocado mousse and tortilla crisps. Visually, the dish was beautiful, the taste…incredible. Not usually a big bean fan, it is amazing what a lot of butter can do to change one’s mind. The bean puree was creamy and silky, with none of the usual chalkiness. The richness of the beans played wonderfully against the heat of the chipotle on the perfectly cooked shrimp and in the chipotle sauce drizzled on top. Not tangential, the rich avocado mousse rounded out the flavor by adding a touch of sweetness. The tortilla crisps while mostly decorative brought some crunch to the dish, which I always appreciate. Needless to say, the plate had not a spot left on it – we used the remaining bread served earlier to literally wipe the plate clean.

For my entrée, I ordered Grilled Lamb Chops with herbed couscous, tomato and pearl onion confit, in an orange-coriander demi-glace. The dish, an obvious nod to traditional Middle Eastern cuisine, was delicious. While one of the chops was slightly undercooked and fatty, the other was cooked to a succulent medium rare. Both chops had a good sear on the outside and great overall flavor. The herbed couscous was a delightful and appropriate side. I particularly enjoyed the tomatoes and onion confit, sweet and fun as some of the tomatoes had not burst in the cooking process, so I got to “pop” them in my mouth. Bringing the dish together was the orange-coriander demi-glace. Not in the least overpowering, the sauce scented and accented the dish nicely. As with our appetizer, this entrée was a complete experience for your palate; there was no lingering feeling that something, somehow was missing.

In keeping with Texas, the portions are substantial at Café Cenizo. Not wanting to be wasteful, I ate the last of my lamb by dipping it into the extraordinary, wildly addictive, truffled mushroom demi-glace served with my Mr.’s entrée. As said before, his Pepper Crusted Venison with potatoes au gratin and a truffled mushroom demi-glace was excellent. The venison grilled to a spot on medium rare. The potatoes au gratin were very well done – the potatoes fork tender, the sharp cheese sharp matching well with the strength of the pepper and venison, and the top fabulously golden. But the star of the show was the definitely the sauce. Once I finished the lamb, I was still looking around for things to dip into it.

Finally, not wanting to skip dessert, but having no more room and barely able to move, we ordered a Chocolate Blueberry Peanut Butter Tort to go (which the kitchen did with absolutely no problem, even including cloth napkins and silver) and we rolled back to our room. After some time to settle, we dug into the dessert, which was only average. The chocolate glistened, but the other elements were disappointing. I am glad the dessert experience was separate, in both time and place, from our main meal since the dinner was so wonderful.

This is not the first time we have eaten at Café Cenizo and it will not be our last. The Gage Hotel holds a special place in our hearts; and we are not alone – we met a couple who have been going there every year since 1983. The Gage is also incredibly popular – it was completely booked. We would come to the Gage regardless since it is a wonderful place and makes a perfect one night layover before heading into Big Bend National Park for a few days. The fact that one can get amazing food here as well is just a cherry on top.

Cafe Cenizo on Urbanspoon

Bistro Vatel (or I should have had the Duck)

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Tuesday my business partners and I went to Bistro Vatel for lunch to celebrate a profitable 2009, our second full year in operation. For us, as for most, Bistro Vatel is a special occasion place with its relatively high priced menu and chalkboard specials, although I suspect many of the more well-established residents in Olmos Park make this a regular haunt given its traditional, quaint and cozy, neighborhood feel. We are not talking young and chic here – the addition of us three reduced the average age of the patronage by a couple decades. At least, this was the case lunch. Obviously, many restaurants change attitude after dark. Having never been to Bistro Vatel for dinner, I cannot speak to this.

Bistro Vatel is housed in a non-descript building in the heart of Olmos Park, on E. Olmos just off the Olmos Circle. Although I have heard much about this little gem and its highly venerated chef, Damien Watel, who operates a number of restaurants in San Antonio through his Watel Restaurant Group, including Ciao Lavanderia next door, and the wonderful European bakery/cafe, Bistro Bakery across the street (which has the most amazing almond croissants, flaky, buttery, melt in your mouth with toasted almonds and a dusting of powdered sugar…oh my, I could go on, but that will have to wait for another post), I have never had the opportunity to eat at Bistro Vatel. For more information about chef Watel and his restaurants go to their website at http://www.bistrovatel.com/.

You will find classic French, European cuisine at the highest level at Bistro Vatel, coupled with impeccable service. Our server, Pascal, was conscientious, attentive and opinionated in a good way. His suggestion of a French Bordeaux prompted by our request for a medium bodied red to accompany our meal was welcome and well received. He also took the initiative to suggest an alternative sauce for my scallop dish for what he believed would be a better pairing. Although ultimately I was unimpressed with the substitute, I appreciate knowledgable staff who attempt to lead patrons to their best possible experience.

The menu selection and specials all made my mouth water, including pork roast with truffled mashers, sauteed flounder with lemon butter and new potatoes, and roasted duck with herbed gnocci (more on this later). After extended contemplation, I ordered prosciutto wrapped scallops in the currant butter sauce suggested by Pascal, steamed vegetables and thyme roasted potato and tomato halves accompanied. The vegetables were cooked and seasoned to perfection. The prosciutto had fantastic crispy edges. The texture was fabulous – the chewiness and the crunch of the prosciutto together with the tender, lightly firm scallop. Really good. However, in my opinion the seasoning of the individual elements in the scallops was a bit off – the sauce a touch to sweet, the scallop itself a little too salty. Together decent, but I have had similar dishes at other fine dining establishments around town, namely Silo, that I believe do it better.

Which brings me back to the duck. Ms. D ordered the roasted duck with a tomato and kalamata olive ragout and a side of sauteed herbed gnocci. Before she wiped her plate clean (and that is not an exaggeration), she kindly allowed me a taste. HOLY MOLY! That taste is what will bring me back to Bistro Vatel. The duck was moist and rich with a crisp skin. The ragout, with its perfect acid and saltiness, paired with the richness of the duck wonderfully. The gnocci were just fluffy pillows of yummy goodness. I am not sure when I will have the opportunity to return to Bistro Vatel, but next time I will definitely be ordering the duck. Every element of that dish was absolutely delicious.

If you are looking for a exceptional, traditional fine dining experience with an emphasis on classic french cuisine, Bistro Vatel will not disappoint.

Bistro Vatel on Urbanspoon