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Griffin to Go: On the Trail of Slang Jang

Griffin to Go: On the Trail of Slang Jang

When Bonnie Walker and I were driving across the state to research our new book, “Barbecue Lover’s Texas” (Globe Pequot Press, $21.95), we learned about Texas culinary treats that went far beyond brisket and the pit. One was a dish that bore the odd name of slang jang.

Slang Jang made with fresh ingredients.

Slang Jang made with fresh ingredients.

I never encountered it at a barbecue joint. I came across it, instead, in the “Eats: A Folk History of Texas Foods,” by Ernestine Sewell Linck and Joyce Gibson Roach. It was in a chapter on Central Texas foods, and the authors included a recipe but little context, except to say it was part of a proper Sunday dinner and was served over peas. Not green peas, mind you, but cream peas or black-eyed peas.

The recipe looked good, really good. It was a mix of items fresh from the garden, including tomato, green pepper, celery and onion dressed in vinegar and a little hot pepper.

I wanted to learn more, so I turned to the Internet. That’s when things started to get weird.

Mary Anne Thurman, in a post on the northeastern town of Honey Grove, Texas, said the dish originated with a bunch of men in a grocery store who just started mixing things together. Their recipe didn’t include too many fresh ingredients, as her recipe illustrates:

Mix undrained canned tomatoes with chopped dill pickles and chopped onion to taste.  Add a can of oysters, chopped.  Add Tabasco, salt and pepper to taste.  Add ice cubes to chill.  Serve with saltine crackers.

Many people vary this recipe.  Some add canned salmon or Vienna sausage in place of the oysters, or in addition to the oysters.

Thurman goes on to offer a vegetarian version that included crumbled saltines to thicken the mix.

Really? No, really?

No answers were forthcoming in September 2006 article in the Dallas Morning News, in which Angie Rhodes of another northeastern town, Malakoff, talks about the dish. But she did add a hyphen to the name:

“My dad grew up in a small town in northeast Texas in the ‘30s. During warm months, families in the community would come together on Saturday nights to visit and play dominoes. Each would bring an ingredient that would be mixed in a giant washtub for dinner. It was a sort of cold stew called ‘slang-jang.’ The ingredients were canned salmon, oysters, green onions, dill pickles, Vienna sausages and canned tomatoes.”

The recipes began to vary wildly, too, such as the Oxmoor House version, which calls for three tins of oysters mixed with three heads of cabbage, apples and hard-boiled eggs. Recipe Binder‘s version calls for tequila, Dijon mustard and barbecue sauce in addition to the tomatoes, onions and peppers, and you can use it on “burgers, dogs and sausages.”

The articles on slang jang go back to the Lawrence Journal-World of 1922, which describes the dish as “neither liquid salad nor chop suey, but a combination with a Mexican piquancy and a sufficient relish to satisfy a healthy appetite.” It goes on to quote a newspaper publisher’s wife, Mrs. J.R. Ransone Jr. of the Dallas area town of Cleburne, as being “a square meal, which will put so much pep in a person that he will feel he has supped from the fountain of youth, for what one ingredient fails to give, another furnishes fully.”

Ransone’s recipe includes a host of canned and preserved items, including oysters, tomatoes, sweet pickle and Tabasco as well as saltines.

The article does make a veiled reference to another legend about the recipe’s origin, which is that those men in that grocery store Thurman referred to were actually a bunch of guys who tied one on and wanted something to ease their hangover. That would explain the mix of ready-to-eat foods easily grabbed off shelves, from oysters to tomatoes, and the welcome touch of something spicy, which can help take the edge off.

So, is slang jang something made with canned goods or fresh foods? Of course, it’s made however you want to make it. No two recipes are alike. It is what you want to make it.

But that didn’t stop my research. In fact, it made me want to find other variations. So, I turned to my collection of community cookbooks from across Texas. No mentions of slang jang were found in any of cookbooks from towns west of the Piney Woods, but it was fairly common in those from East Texas. That sent me to the Deep South to see what I could find. Sure enough, there’s a version in the hefty “The Cotton Country Collection” from the Junior Charity League of Monroe, Louisiana.

Not all of these community cookbooks were easy to search. Not all have an index at the back, so I found myself leafing leaf through volume after volume to see if a slang jang recipe might be tucked in among appetizers (usually the version with smoked oysters) or grouped with relishes, pickles, condiments or accompaniments, which means it you might find it categorized with recipes for spicy broiled grapefruit, cherry sauce for ham, mustard pickled relish and even barbecue sauce.

But several of these recipes did feature another odd ingredient, Accent, otherwise known as monosodium glutamate, or MSG. Do you really want that in your food? That’s up to you.

Part of the fun of such research is experimentation, so I tried several of the recipes, including the oyster combination. It may sound bad and it lacked visual appeal, but it worked as a snack and the flavors blended together surprisingly well. I wouldn’t eat a lot of it, but I also wouldn’t try it with salmon and most definitely not Vienna sausages. I preferred the fresh version, such as the one in the recipe below. It is great by itself on a saltine or over black-eyed peas. That’s slang jang to me.

Mama Perkin’s Slang Jang

If you have a dish that needs a little zip, slang jang will do it. It’s traditionally served over freshly cooked purple-hull or black-eyed peas or butter beans.

2 fresh tomatoes, finely chopped
1/2 medium bell pepper, finely chopped
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
2-3 hot peppers, seeded and finely chopped
1 to 1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

Combine vegetables in a medium bowl. Add vinegar, salt and pepper, and mix well. Refrigerate.

Makes about 3 cups.

From “More Tastes & Tales From Texas With Love” by Peg Hein

 

Posted in Featured, Griffin to Go0 Comments

If You Pour Margaritas, San Antonio Will Come

If You Pour Margaritas, San Antonio Will Come

Pour a margarita, get an audience.

Pour a margarita, get an audience.

Sunday brought the second annual Margarita Meltdown to La Villita, and temperatures in the upper 90s made it seem as if melting were on the menu. But the showcase, sponsored in part by Milagro Tequila, still drew hundreds of thirsty San Antonians to sip their way through samples from a dozen places around town.

La Fogata has its own margarita fountain.

La Fogata has its own margarita fountain.

The list of participants included Cha-Cha’s, Alamo Cafe, Two Step Restaurant, Cafe Ole, Henry’s Puffy Tacos, the Cork Bar at the Hotel Contessa, La Tequilera del Patron, Ojos Locos Sports Cantina and La Fogata. Whiskey Cake also poured their margarita even though their restaurant isn’t set to open at the Shops at La Cantera until early November. Margarita Texas, a mix in need of only tequila and ice, also poured their version of the local favorite.

Cha-Cha's offers tacos as well as margaritas.

Cha-Cha’s offers tacos as well as margaritas.

Tuk Tuk Taproom and Cha-Cha’s were among the restaurants offer snacks to munch on between sips.

Fresh squeezed lime juice, tequila and agave nectar were all popular ingredients, though some booths also added their unique touch, including cucumber, mango, peach and even some spices and herbs, from cilantro to chipotle.

In case you missed the event but still want to enjoy a tasty variation on this classic cocktail, here’s a version from the 1970s as it appears in the Houston cookbook, “Cooking Collectibles.”

Margarita

Place glasses in freezer after dampening edges and spinning the rim in salt.

3 ounces tequila
1 1/2 ounces triple sec or Cointreau liqueur
1 1/2 ounces lemon juice

Stir ingredients with ice. Strain into chilled glass.

Makes 1 serving.

From “Cooking Collectibles: Favorite Recipes from the Friends of the Greater Houston American Cancer Society,” edited by Ann Criswell.

James Gonzaba hands out margaritas from La Tequilera del Patron.

James Gonzaba hands out margaritas from La Tequilera del Patron.

The Puffy Taco wants a margarita.

The Puffy Taco wants a margarita.

Henry's Puffy Tacos uses an ice sculpture to chill its margaritas.

Henry’s Puffy Tacos uses an ice sculpture to chill its margaritas.

Posted in Drinks, Featured2 Comments

Chef Hamlet Dishes Up a Simple, Sensual White Bean Veloute

Chef Hamlet Dishes Up a Simple, Sensual White Bean Veloute

Chef Hamlet's White Bean Veloute

Chef Hamlet’s White Bean Veloute

Chef Hamlet Garcia, or simply Chef Hamlet to the lovers of TV food programs, was in San Antonio Wednesday as part of a fundraiser for KLRN. The star of “Vme Cocina” presented a cooking demonstration of the various dishes that were presented in a lavish dinner held at La Taquilera del Patron, 17776 Blanco Road.

One of the dishes from his Venezuelan homeland was a velvety white bean soup topped with queso fresco, bacon, chives and the earthy brilliance of a few drops of truffle oil. The soup is easy to make, though it takes a day to let the beans soak.

White Bean Veloute

12 slices of bacon
2 pounds of white beans, preferably soaked in water for 24 hours and drained
2 large ribs celery
1 large white onion, chopped in squares
5 cloves garlic, peeled
Fresh thyme
1/4 pound (1 stick) butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 gallon chicken broth
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Queso fresco, cut into small cubes, for garnish
1/2 cup sliced chives, for garnish
4 tablespoons truffle oil, for garnish

Chef Hamlet speaks with guests at the KLRN dinner.

Chef Hamlet speaks with guests at the KLRN dinner.

Cook the bacon in the oven or in a pan until it is very crisp. Remove from the pot and save the fat for later. Finely chop or crush the bacon in a food processor; reserve for garnishing the dish.

In a saucepan, add the bacon fat and briefly cook the onion and celery in it; stir constantly without browning. When the onions are translucent, add the drained white beans, thyme, garlic, butter, cream and chicken broth. When the liquid is boiling, simmer the beans for 90 minutes, stirring and mixing the ingredients occasionally in the pot. Add salt and pepper as necessary.

When the beans are tender, remove the pot from the heat and let it stand for one hour. Then, reserve a little of the broth and add the mixture in a blender or food processor; blend until it achieves a velvety texture. Then add the reserved broth and add salt and pepper as necessary to achieve the desired texture or taste.

Garnish each serving with queso fresco cubes, chives, bacon pieces and a few drops of truffle oil.

Makes 4-6 servings.

From Chef Hamlet

Posted in Featured, Recipes0 Comments

Augie Brings His Barbecue to Broadway

Augie Brings His Barbecue to Broadway

Augie's Alamo City BBQ Steakhouse on Broadway

Augie’s Alamo City BBQ Steakhouse on Broadway

Augie Cortez has brought his barbecue to Broadway.

A three-meat plate at Augie's

A three-meat plate at Augie’s

Augie’s Alamo City BBQ Steakhouse has opened at 909 Broadway at Ninth.

Fans of Augie’s Barbed Wire Smokehouse will likely be familiar with the brisket, beef ribs, pulled pork, jalapeño sausage, chicken and burgers that are on the menu. But new to most will be the addition of grilled rib-eyes and strip steaks.

All are available with an array of sides that include macaroni and cheese, borracho beans, pintos, green beans with bacon and coleslaw. There’s even “rabbit food” for those who want a salad. (Look for the mounted rabbit head above the counter.)

The restaurant’s hours are 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Monday – Tuesday; 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. Wednesday – Friday; and noon – 6 p.m. Saturday – Sunday.

Call (210) 735-0088 for details.

 

Posted in Restaurants0 Comments

For a Handful of Places, Restaurant Week Continues

For a Handful of Places, Restaurant Week Continues

Culinaria’s Restaurant Week had originally been set to run through Aug. 23, but a few restaurateurs don’t seem to be able to tell time.

Tre Alamo Heights is continuing Restaurant Week.

Tre Alamo Heights is continuing Restaurant Week.

A large number of places will continue the celebration another week:

• Arcade Midtown Kitchen
• Boiler House
• Biga on The Banks
• Bob’s Steak & Chop House
• Kirby’s Prime Steakhouse
• Zedric’s
• Tre Alamo Heights
• Umai Mi
• Tuk Tuk Taproom
• Texas de Brazil
• Ruth’s Chris Steak House
• Morton’s the Steakhouse
• The Fruteria

So, expect to get three-course meals at a special rate, ranging from $15 to $35, for another week. For full menus, click here. And enjoy!

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Tuk Tuk Taproom Offers a Feast for the Eyes and Taste Buds

Tuk Tuk Taproom Offers a Feast for the Eyes and Taste Buds

Bahn Tom Ha Noi are yam and shrimp fritters you fold up in a lettuce leaf and top with herbs and fish sauce.

Bahn Tom Ha Noi are yam and shrimp fritters you fold up in a lettuce leaf and top with herbs and fish sauce.

Time is running short on Culinaria’s Restaurant Week, which runs through Saturday. There’s still time to grab the special dinner at Tuk Tuk Taproom, which runs long on flavor.

Chef David Gilbert’s menu is a feast of small plates worth sharing. He presents a riot of colors, Asian-infused flavors and textures, all of which are perfect with many of the beers available, such as the Hitchitano Nest Real Ginger Brew or the light, seasonally welcome Wasatch Apricot Hefeweizen. If beer’s not your think, try the Proseccco on tap or the kombucha that’s made specially for the Taproom.

Rather than sing the hymns of the many dishes we sampled, here are photos of several to whet your appetite. Surprising flavors abound, but for this one time, we’ll let the photos do the talking.

 

Ya Rou Mian is a crispy noodle salad with tofu, Sichuan chiles, scallions and a sesame-soy dressing.

Ya Rou Mian is a crispy noodle salad with tofu, Sichuan chiles, scallions and a sesame-soy dressing.

Gat Tod Samoon Prai is Thai-style fried chicken with lemon grass and other seasonings.

Gat Tod Samoon Prai is Thai-style fried chicken with lemon grass and other seasonings.

For an extra $10, you can add a plate of pork belly to your table.

For an extra $10, you can add a plate of pork belly to your table.

Kaeng Matsaman Curry featured stewed lamb in a sauce with potato, eggplant, clove, cinnamon and peanuts.

Kaeng Matsaman Curry featured stewed lamb in a sauce with potato, eggplant, clove, cinnamon and peanuts.

Che Chuoi Chung is a refreshing mix of poached bananas, tapioca pearls, coconut soup and litchi.

Che Chuoi Chung is a refreshing mix of poached bananas, tapioca pearls, coconut soup and litchi.

Tuk Tuk Taproom
1702 Broadway(210) 222-TAPS (8277)
tuktuktaproom.com

 

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Restaurant Week Lunches Offer Excellent Food, Bargains

Restaurant Week Lunches Offer Excellent Food, Bargains

Chez Vatel's chicken with pasta (Photo by Bonnie Walker)

Chez Vatel’s chicken with pasta (Photo by Bonnie Walker)

Two recent lunches during Culinaria’s Restaurant Week illustrate what bargains can be had during this week-long celebration. Think about it: You get a three-course meal for $15. When was the last time you paid that for fine food?

Zinc's Meatloaf

Zinc’s Meatloaf

At Zinc Bistro & Bar, some friends and I settled in among the attorneys and downtown professionals having their power lunches to enjoy a three-course menu that will largely vary by the day on which you visit.

You can choose a cup of the day’s soup or the house salad. Either should be a good choice, if you have the luck we had. The soup that day was a curried tomato with plenty of spice and a complex series of spices bolstering the fresh tomato flavor. The Zinc Salad featured a lively mix of greens, grape tomatoes, nuts, pears and goat cheese tossed in a bright orange sherry vinaigrette.

As good as both of these dishes were, they couldn’t hold a candle to the day’s special, which was meatloaf with a mushroom-laden sauce. If you’ve had Zinc’s burger, known as the “crack burger” to its addicted following, then you might consider this the meatloaf equivalent. It was that rewarding. Credit also goes to a healthy array of vegetables and starches on the side, including pan-fried potatoes with blue cheese crumbles, roasted red pepper, cooked red onion and sauteed yellow squash. If Zinc ever features this again as a special, don’t think twice; just order two helpings and have at them both with gusto.

Dessert was listed as a peach cobbler, but it was more like a rustic cupcake with peaches baked in. The batter was suffused with warm spices that offered the promise of cooler fall temperatures to come, and it left a smile filled with the pleasure that comes from something made with love.

Chez Vatel's seafood chowder

Chez Vatel’s seafood chowder (Photo by Bonnie Walker)

Chez Vatel & Bistro had a chalkboard full of options and, since we were early, a couple of unadvertised specials. So, before the restaurant filled up, we started with a comforting bowl of seafood chowder, a refreshing vichyssoise and a salad tossed in a basil vinaigrette that let the herb, not the vinegar, dress the greens in flavor.

From the main course options, we feasted on skate that practically melted on the tongue, braised pork butt that was tender, and chicken served up with a welcome helping of house-made pasta. The big surprise was how good the vegetables were. Once again, there was a generous array that included snow peas, carrots, broccoli, broiled tomatoes and french fries that approached perfection. The vegetables varied from plate to plate, but all were fresh in a way that really satisfied. So much so, in fact, that this diehard carnivore will give chef Damien Watel’s vegetarian plate serious consideration the next time I’m there.

Dessert was the French classic, Far Breton, a prune flan-style cake that arrived with a gorgeous splash of color on the side , thanks to berries, creme anglaise and a coulis. Beautiful as it was, it was no match for our forks. No trace of it was left behind.

It was yet another reminder why fans of the restaurant have voted Chez Vatel & Bistro the No. 1 restaurant in San Antonio in the recent Zagat guide.

Culinaria’s Restaurant Week continues through Saturday. Several restaurants have announced extensions, including Kirby’s Prime Steakhouse, Arcade Midtown Kitchen, the Boiler House, Tre Trattoria Alamo Heights and Umai Mi.

Zinc Bistro & Bar
207 North Presa St.
(210) 224-2900
www.zincwine.com

Chez Vatel & Bistro
218 E. Olmos
(210) 828-3141
www.bistrovatel.com

Chez Vatel's skate

Chez Vatel’s skate

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Analyzing Restaurant Week Strategy Over Seared Halibut at Bolo’s

Analyzing Restaurant Week Strategy Over Seared Halibut at Bolo’s

Sink your teeth into Bolo's Cubano.

Sink your teeth into Bolo’s Cubano.

A record number of San Antonio restaurants are taking part in Culinaria’s Restaurant Week this year, and the approach differs from place to place.

Seared halibut with Peruvian potatoes

Seared halibut with Peruvian potatoes

Some load up on options, so you and your dinner companions can have your choice of courses offered. Others, like Bolo’s at the Omni in the Colonnade, have a single choice on the menu, one appetizer, one main course and one dessert, for $35.

Which works best?

That’s what Bonnie Walker and I pondered as we had dinner at Bolo’s.

We could appreciate being able to try a place new to us that offered an array of choices, because who knows when we’d be able to return. So, we might have a lingering taste of several small plates, several entrees and who knows how many desserts.

But when you have only one choice on your menu, someone in your party can branch out and sample the regular menu — and who knows what surprises that might yield.

In this case, smiles abounded with most every bite, no matter which menu the dish came from. We could also limit the amount of food somewhat because, to be honest, a week of three-course meals can take their toll, even on old pros like us.

Texas morel and hazelnut crusted scallops

Texas morel and hazelnut crusted scallops

We started the evening by sharing the Restaurant Week appetizer, a pair of Texas morel and hazelnut crusted scallops served over melted leeks. The scallops were firm, pleasantly on the rare side, with a crumble of mushroom and nut sprinkled over the top of each. The leeks had been melted, as promised, and every last bit of solid food disappeared. Neither of us cared for the sweet sauce that accompanied the dish, which undercut the sweetness of the leeks, but it was easy to eat around.

Our entrees may have seemed like a study in contrasts, but each worked well. The Restaurant Week menu promised seared halibut over purple Peruvian potatoes and a saffron sauce. Little did I realize that the dish would be a riot of color that included microgreens on the fish, a light purple from the potatoes, the buttery yellow of the sauce and more. Helping it were the inclusion of roasted carrots and asparagus spears wrapped in some type of ham or prosciutto, both of which offered added textures and, of course, flavor. The centerpiece, a beautiful slab of halibut, had been cooked through, so that it flaked easily with a fork and yielded a solid sense of the sea.

Bolo's Chocolate Bombe

Bolo’s Chocolate Bombe

Bonnie had been craving a Cubano ever since she saw the movie “Chef” earlier this summer, and the pressed sandwich is a staple of Bolo’s menu. After making sure the roast pork had been freshly made in house, she ordered the traditional favorite, which arrived with plenty of ham, Swiss cheese and pickle all melted together with the roast pork. The bread was ciabatta, not the traditional Cuban bread. It was a little crustier than expected, but not a bad substitution.

For dessert, Bonnie ordered a peach cobbler, which more like a crumble with oats, dried fruit and brown sugar over slices of caramelized peaches that practically melted on your tongue. Of course, there was some butter permeating the warm serving, while a scoop of vanilla ice did its best to melt in.

My Restaurant Week offering was a called a Chocolate Bombe, and it was “da bomb,” to use some slang from a few years back. It wasn’t a traditional bombe, but was it ever tasty. Instead of chocolate mousse encased in a chocolate shell, this was a dome-shaped, dense chocolate cake, frosted and covered with Texas pecans. A little mousse had been piped around the outside of the cake and in a nest on the other side of the plate, which served as the home of a truffle. It passed the welcome excess test, and what I couldn’t eat made for a nice breakfast the following morning.

The restaurant wasn’t overly busy, so our chef came out to greet us after dinner and ask how the special menu was. That’s always welcome when you’ve had food that’s satisfying. And it makes me want to head back to Bolo’s again and try a few more items on the menu. Isn’t that what Restaurant Week is supposed to do?

Bolo’s at the Omni Colonnade
9321 Colonnade Blvd.
(210) 691-8888
http://www.omnihotels.com/FindAHotel/SanAntonio/Dining.aspx

Peach cobbler

Peach cobbler

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Morton’s Thrives on Fine Flavors

Morton’s Thrives on Fine Flavors

Morton's Double-Cut Pork Chop

Morton’s Double-Cut Pork Chop with Creamed Corn

Let’s face it, $35 doesn’t often get you into the door at Morton’s the Steakhouse. So, the Restaurant Week prix fixe menu was especially welcome.

The question, though, was which entree would I get? The double-cut pork chop or the 6-ounce filet mignon?

Morton's Salad

Morton’s Salad

My friend was asking the same thing, so we ended up sharing a bit of each, which made us both happy. Those were but two of the four choices you can order during Culinaria’s Restaurant Week, which runs through Saturday. The other two are Honey Chile Glazed Salmon and Chicken Bianco, which features artichokes, capers and a white wine sauce.

The generous portion of pork was moist and tender, presented medium, as ordered. It may have taken a little pressure from the hefty steak knives to cut through each bite, but there was a natural sweetness to the meat that made the effort well worth it. Alongside the chops was a serving of creamed corn with plenty of bacon and a dusting of nutmeg, which added a brightness to the plate.

Sure, the pork dwarfed the filet in terms of size, but not flavor. A little salt and pepper on the outside of that slab of meat was all that was need to bring up the natural beef richness of the cut, which was perfectly complemented by an order of Lyonnaise potatoes, pan-fried slices tossed with onions and a sprinkling of garlic.

A bottle of 2010 Greg Norman Cabernet-Merlot had a bright cherry quality that went well with both meats.

Morton's Lemon Souffle

Morton’s Lemon Souffle

To start our dinner, we had a Morton’s Salad with plenty of hard-boiled egg crumbles over a bed of romaine and iceberg that had been tossed with a creamy blue cheese dressing. A lone anchovy graced the top, adding a voluptuous umami quality that only made me want more. But then again, I always want more anchovies. A five-onion soup was a little too sweet for either of our tastes; plus the appearance was not terribly appetizing in a white cup that it made the soup look like brackish dishwater.

My friend and I had our hearts set on different desserts, and we each got exactly what we wanted. She ordered the key lime pie, which was dense, lightly sweet and pleasantly tangy, just what she wanted on a hot summer’s day. I went for the lemon soufflé with a lemon zabaglione for the center. I love the dichotomy of the dish, which is airy and light yet boasts a substantial egg richness marked by the bright addition of lemon in the soufflé as well as the sauce. It made me very happy.

You can get other soufflé flavors, including chocolate and Grand Marnier, or you could opt for chocolate mousse or cheesecake. The depth of choices in each course makes Morton’s well worth considering as Restaurant Week continues.

Morton’s the Steakhouse
300 E. Crockett St.
(210) 228-0700
www.mortons.com/sanantonio

Morton's 6-ounce filet mignon

Morton’s 6-ounce filet mignon

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Tiu Steppi’s Steps Up for Restaurant Week

Tiu Steppi’s Steps Up for Restaurant Week

Who doesn’t love a bowl of handmade noodles, all eggy and rich, covered with a sauce made out of mushrooms or plenty of cream and cheese?

tiu steppis

The patio at Tiu Steppi’s

Steve Warner knows their appeal. His Restaurant Week menu for Tiu Steppi’s Osteria features several entree options, which you can get served over handmade fettucine, if you like. Mashed Yukon gold potatoes is another option, if you prefer.

Caesar Salad

Caesar Salad

Those noodles were a welcome nest for Prosciutto-Wrapped Chicken Florentine. At the center of the chicken breast meat, kept moist by the prosciutto, was a scoop of warm sauteed spinach, all of which melted together over in a cheesy sauce made with Parmesan, asiago and mozzarella. But even better were the oven-dried tomatoes that added a bright touch that cut through all that velvety sauciness.

Yellow and green pasta were the base chosen for the 8-ounce beef tenderloin, which was topped with gorgonzola, garlic and chives. The meat could have used a little more marbling for flavor, but it worked well with the rest of the ingredients in the dish, including a porcini mushroom sauce. That sauce had full mushroom flavor, but we wondered if powdered porcini had been used to achieve that, because the slices in the sauce looked more like cremini or button cap.

If you’ve ever been to Tiu Steppi’s on a Saturday night, Restaurant Week notwithstanding, you likely have faced a wait. When my colleague Bonnie Walker and I arrived, we were informed that it would be 30 minutes before we got an inside seat, but we were also told that we could start our meal on the patio. Thanks to a giant fan that kept the air moving, sitting on the patio wasn’t unpleasant, but we actually got our table before our first course arrived.

Smoked Salmon Carpaccio

Smoked Salmon Carpaccio

So we settled down in the air conditioned comfort of the cozy dining room just as our order of smoked salmon carpaccio arrived with plenty of welcome, salty capers on top.  It disappeared so quickly that it might not seem possible for us to have noticed how carefully layered the flavors were, but we did enjoy the tang of the lemon dressing along with the peppery arugula and bitter radicchio.

Our other start was a lively Caesar salad with plenty of anchovy flavor — thanks go to our waitress for pointing that out — along with fresh garlic, tangy grape tomatoes and salty Parmesan cheese.

Dessert brought the lone misstep of the evening. A dish listed as Coffee and Doughnuts featured cappuccino semi-freddo and house-made doughnuts dusted in cinnamon sugar. It certainly looked impressive when it arrived, but the semi-freddo, which is supposed to be soft, had frozen rock hard, and that forced the texture off balance, leaving each bite slick and overly unctuous. The doughnuts may have been made in house, but they had also been made a long time before they were served and had partially dried out.

The dark chocolate torte was an unqualified success, silky and rich yet light enough after that filling dinner.

A fine meal, pleasant service and steady air conditioning, so bracing after a day of manual labor, certainly made for an enjoyable  evening. But the intimacy of Tiu Steppi’s carried our fun Saturday one step further. The people around us were really enjoying themselves. A family next to us were visiting for the first time, and they raved about their meat-laden pizza, while enjoying the looks of the dishes that arrived at ours. That easy-going give-and-take made us really feel at home.

Tiu Steppi’s Osteria
9910 West Loop 1604 North #123
210-688-9885
www.tiusteppis.com

Coffee and Doughnuts

Coffee and Doughnuts

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