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Griffin to Go: Are Too Many Diners Expecting the Moon These Days?

Griffin to Go: Are Too Many Diners Expecting the Moon These Days?

Diners, beware. Open season has been declared on those of you who eat out. And the complaints aren’t just coming from wait staff.

Do you see this person as friend or foe?

Do you see this person as friend or foe?

Chefs, managers, critics and even some actors are getting into the mix.

Oh, sure, there are still a few people who go out to eat, politely order their food, eat and enjoy themselves, tip their server between 15 and 20 percent, maybe thank the chef and then leave. But if you’re one of those people, you need to realize that you’re part a dying breed.

Today’s diners are far less gracious. Don’t think that I’m merely talking about the hipster crowd or Millennials, because the rampant bad behavior seems to belong to no single age group. There are grumblers, old and young, who are never satisfied with what they’re served and make no bones that anything less than perfection is unacceptable.

Take tables, for example. Anywhere they’re seated is not good enough. Too close to the kitchen. Too far from the bar. Too noisy. Too close to another table. Too lacking in feng shui. After playing Goldilocks with the chairs a half-dozen times, they still haven’t found a place that’s “just right,” and they blame the restaurant for it.

Or maybe the table is filled with diners who spend 20 minutes taking pictures of their food and then complain that the meal is not hot enough. Really, folks? How long does it take to take a picture? I have often joked that food photography has become the 21st century’s way of saying grace, because, in a way, it’s a form of being grateful for the food that has been set before you. But if it takes longer to get your picture than it does to say the common table prayer, then you have no right to complain about the temperature of your food — or much of any else.

And let’s not get started on the issue of tipping.

Sure, service needs to evolve to meet the new standards, demands and eccentricities of today’s entitled diners. But where is the line drawn between reasonable and ridiculous? The gripes and sniping have gained in volume, as if some people think they’ll get a free meal if they scream loud enough; their puerile behavior leaves the rest of us wondering what we did wrong because we were enjoying our meal. Some of the restauranteurs who failed to cave in to these diners’ demands have later discovered online reviews from those same upset people who have lashed out in their outrage. These reports pile grievance on top of grievance until it seems as if their dinner had been served in a prison instead of a neighborhood bistro.

Too often, though, these posts come across as outrageous and unintentionally funny, and they have led to the hysterical Real Actors Read Yelp series on YouTube. There are more than 20 of these short videos, and each one is sadder and more laughable than the one that came before it. For a particularly apt example, click here. At the end, you can choose any of the others until you’ve had your fill.

In recent weeks, various stories have appeared about a supposed report that a New York restaurant has done comparing its service from 10 years ago to its service today. Why are so many more complaints are generated nowadays about the service? Videos from both years show that, of course, the diners are the problem and not the restaurant. That is why I say “supposed,” because the restaurant’s identity has not been revealed, so there have been claims that it’s a hoax.

Whether it’s false or true, you may want to read one account of the story (click here) because it offers a lot to chew on, in San Antonio as well as New York. Pay attention to the comments at the end of the piece, too. The vitriol from the readers, who come from all backgrounds and not just the restaurant business, equals the petulance of some diners.

This standoff is likely to get worse before it gets better. But all you prickly, picky diners who expect support from food critics, think again. Your behavior is turning off those who eat out for a living. In a recent online chat, Tom Sietsema of the Washington Post had this to say after being asked what a restaurant was supposed to do after a person slipped and fell in the dining room: “More than any other business I know, people expect restaurants to be and do everything. Can you imagine asking your hair dresser to give you a free trim because it was your birthday? Or expecting half-off on a root canal if your dentist kept you waiting more than 15 minutes?”

So, the next time you go out, leave your attitude at home. You’ll find yourself enjoying the experience more. So will the people around you. If you can’t do that, then kindly limit yourselves to restaurant drive-thru windows. You may not realize it now, but it never pays to bite the hand that feeds you.

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Robbie Nowlin New Exec. Chef at Hotel Valencia’s Citrus

Robbie Nowlin New Exec. Chef at Hotel Valencia’s Citrus

Chef Robbie NowlinAfter stints with The Lodge Restaurant of Castle Hills and Las Canarias at Omni La Mansión del Rio, San Antonio chef Robbie Nowlin has been named to the executive chef position at Citrus, at the Hotel Valencia Riverwalk, Nowlin also worked at famed The French Laundry in California.

As of Aug. 1, the Valencia Group announced, signature dishes such as spring lamb shank with piperade, pickled eggplant, frisée and a mustard seed glaze and “Foie Gras Mille Crepe” with compressed strawberry, celery, banana, Tellicherry black pepper crème fraiche and candied hazelnut. will be holding their rightful place on the Citrus menu. Look for flavors that follow the seasons as one of the hallmarks of the new chef.

Stephen Bilby, director of sales & marketing for the Hotel Valencia, says Nowlin works hard at his craft and “possesses a certain charismatic flair that fits perfectly with our brand.”

Nowlin’s culinary career began early.  At 14 years old, with no formal training, Nowlin took a weekend job as a cook to earn some extra dough for skateboards. Soon, he was swapping wheels for sauté pans and Japanese knives. Now, 16 years later, the chef’s resume links him with noted local names such as Jason Dady, Damien Watel and John Brand — and on the national level, with celebrity chef Thomas Keller of The French Laundry.

Local foodies will remember that Nowlin won the Chaîne des Rôtissuers competition for best young chef three years in a row.

“I have always liked a good challenge,” Nowlin says.  “I just felt it was time and that I was ready to be an executive chef of a four-diamond hotel, especially one as sleek, modern and sexy as Valencia.”

The Hotel Valencia River Walk is at 150 E. Houston St.

Houston-based Valencia Group is a fully integrated hospitality company that provides management, development, branding and repositioning services for independent, full-service hotels owned by the company, in addition to third parties.

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Sunday Night Has Been Saved: La Fonda Alamo Heights Reopens

Sunday Night Has Been Saved: La Fonda Alamo Heights Reopens

The crowds have returned to La Fonda Alamo Heights.

The crowds have returned to La Fonda Alamo Heights.

If you’re one of the Alamo Heights residents who’s wondered what to do with your Sunday evenings since La Fonda Alamo Heights on North New Braunfels Avenue closed more than three months ago, then your empty nights are over.

Juan Romero is back at the bar at La Fonda Alamo Heights.

Juan Romero is back at the bar at La Fonda Alamo Heights.

A new La Fonda Alamo Heights has opened at 8633 Crownhill Blvd. in a space that once housed Raffles. It may not technically be within Alamo Heights city limits, but the crowd on Wednesday evening couldn’t have cared less.

Queso Flameado

Queso Flameado

They were more interested in seeing that everyone on staff, including bartender Juan Romero, was back and that the margaritas were as wonderful as ever. Yes, on both accounts.

Romero, who started at La Fonda when it was on Broadway, is still mixing up some of the brightest margaritas in the city. And he was beaming to be back for the new incarnation. He has been working at La Fonda, no matter the location, since March 9, 1973.  By the way, when you visit, wish Romero a happy birthday; as the regulars know, it’s always his birthday.

They were also interested in seeing everyone else who usually shows up at this version of La Fonda, not related to the one on Main or the one in Oakhills, and to try out the new menu, which has been slightly redone since the new owners, the Hasslocher family of Jim’s Restaurants and more, took over.

Margaritas, chips and salsa.

Margaritas, chips and salsa.

The always-welcome fresh tomato salsa may have a slightly greater kick, while the queso flameado and fish tacos both earned approval from those who tasted it. Other dishes include Enchilada Fiesta with three colorful enchiladas, chile rellenos, carne guisada, soups and salads, ceviche and favorite combination plates.

For those whose families have been frequenting La Fonda Alamo Heights for more than 50 years, it was a welcome return to the dining scene that will be repeated on Sundays and more in the future.

La Fonda Alamo Heights, 8633 Crownhill Blvd., is open daily for lunch and dinner. Call 210-824-4231 or click here for more information.

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Wine Dinners: Bliss Sparkles, Sandy Oaks Does White Wines

Wine Dinners: Bliss Sparkles, Sandy Oaks Does White Wines

Mark Bliss

Mark Bliss

Chef Mark Bliss will present an elegant five-course dinner paired with champagne and sparkling wine from around the world on Wednesday, July 30 at Bliss, 926 S. Presa St.

Wine experts will join guests on a culinary-inspired exploration of the versatility and luxury these special wines impart. Some of the wine selections will be available for purchase as well. The cost is $165 per person, all-inclusive. For reservations, please call 210-225-2547.  To see the menu, check this link.


An evening of sipping and dining at Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard

One of the best ways to endure a hot, humid, Texas summer evening is to sip a cool, refreshing glass of white wine. Better yet, pair that glass of crisp, white wine with delicious food and you have ingredients for a memorable evening.

Sandy Oaks Chef Chris Cook has put together a meal pairing each course with a selection of white wines from some of the best Texas has to offer, including Pedernales, William Chris and Hye Meadow Wineries.

The event is Friday, July 25. There is a 7 p.m. reception and 7:30 p.m. dinner. Cost is $50 per person plus tax and gratuity. For reservations, call 210-621-0044. For more information on Sandy Oaks, visit them at the link here.

Sandy Oaks Olive Oil Ice creamMenu:

Reception:  Lump Crab Croquette with Grilled Strawberry Sauce and Sandy Oaks Fig Vinegar Reduction/ Pedernales Rosé 2011.  Second:  Fresh House-pulled Mozzarella and Compressed Cantaloupe, Fresh Honey and Garden Basil/William Chris, Mary Ruth 2012;  Third: Local Chicken Ballotine with House-made Pancetta and Garden Doughnut Peaches/Hye Meadow, Viognier 2012. Fourth: Crispy Skin Redfish with Apple Mint Orzo, Radish and Herbs/Pedernales, Cinco 2013; Fifth: Smoked Almond Country Bread Pudding with House Olive Oil Ice Cream and Vanilla Blackberries/Hye Meadow Trebbiano 2013.


Sampling the wines of Spain, at Crumpets

Crumpets, at 3920 Harry Wurzbach Road, will be celebrating some of the excellent wines of Spain at this wine dinner on Aug. 8,  beginning at 7 p.m.  The cost is $70 per person, not including tax and gratuity. Call for reservations at 210-821-5600.

On the menu:   Gazpacho, served with Ostatu Rosada; Paella de Rioja/Ostatu Blanco; Jamon Serrano/Ugarte Cosecha; Pierna de Cordero Asado (roast leg of lamb)/Tres Ojos OV Garnacha; Helado de Avellana (ice cream)/El Maestro Sierra Pedro Ximenez



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Big Events! GO TEXAN Restaurant Roundup Week, Charc Week

Big Events! GO TEXAN Restaurant Roundup Week, Charc Week

The seventh annual GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up is just around the corner, from July 21-27. Make plans to dine out in San Antonio at GO TEXAN restaurants highlighting the best of Lone Star food and wine and also making donations to food banks across the state.

Go Texan Restaurant Week 2-14 imageCheck out the list below for participating San Antonio restaurants. See list below. Or click the link here for more information on these. Plus, find links to those in other parts of the state.

Bella on the River
106 River Walk
Special Features:
Try our Seafood Paella featuring Texas Gulf shrimp!

Biga on the Banks
203 S. Mary’s Street Suite 100
(210) 225-0722
Special Features:
Wild Game Feature: 11-spiced Texas Axis venison and grilled Texas quail with parsnip puree, chestnuts, Brussels sprouts, cranberry raisin chutney and juniper sauce.

Bird Bakery
5912 Broadway St
(210) 804-BIRD
Special Features:
Sip ‘n’ Sweets: Tastings of local, healthy beverages paired with our house made sweets! Lattes, Americanos, and iced coffees from Cuvee Coffee in Austin, TX. Hibiscus Mint, Black & Cherry Sencha iced teas from Zhi Tea in Austin, TX. Freshly and locally-juiced juices from Crave Juices in San Antonio, TX.

Bite Street Bistro Food Truck
Roaming San Antonio
Check link for current location
(210) 287-9847

Boardwalk Bistro
4011 Broadway St
San Antonio, TX 78209
(210) 824-0100
Special Features:
Special Texas Food and Drink Pairings: Lunch: A la carte menu with suggested Texas beer or wine. Dinner: Four-course chef’s tasting menu with an optional flight of Texas wines. Special Texas Drinks Menu: Featuring 6 Texas beers and 12 Texas wines by the glass or bottle. Free Wine Glass Offer: Diners who order the flight of wine will receive a complimentary GO TEXAN wine glass.

Cappy’s Restaurant
5011 Broadway Street
(210) 828-9669
Special Features:
Try a bowl of Gumbo with Texas Gulf shrimp, chicken, andouille sausage and blackened catfish.

Cheesy Jane’s Food Truck
Roaming San Antonio
Check link for current location
(210) 826-0800
Special Features:
CJ features Oak Farms Dairy products.

Citrus at the Hotel Valencia Riverwalk
(210) 230-8412
Special Features:
Texas Dishes. Shrimp n’ Grits featuring jumbo Texas Gulf prawns, Texas Gristmill creamy grits, chorizo, piquillo pepper coulis, cilantro and sea salt. Texas Quail and Jalapeno “Bites” with bacon, sweet barbecue glaze and “grandmom’s” cole slaw.

Crazy Carl’s Food Truck
Roaming San Antonio
Check link for current locations
(832) 876-8753
Special Features:
Everything is cooked on site and from scratch using only premium ingredients and local produce. Try an OG Crazy Carl Burger featuring a handmade Angus beef patty, griddle smashed and loaded with cheese and locally-sourced lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion, and mustard on a butter-toasted bun.

Freetail Brewing Co.
4035 N. Loop 1604 W. #105
San Antonio, Texas 78257
(210) 395-4974
Special Features:
Try our beers, brewed right on site! You can’t get more local than that.

La Fonda on Main
2415 N Main Ave
(210) 733-0621

La Gloria Ice House
100 E Grayson
(210) 267-9040
Special Features: 
Featuring Texas wines from Becker Vineyards.

La Hacienda de los Barrios
18747 Redland Dr.
(210) 497-8000
Special Features:
Try our Coctel de Camaron (shrimp cocktail) featuring fresh Texas Gulf shrimp in a spicy cocktail sauce.

Oak Valley Vineyards Restaurant
27351 FM 3009
San Antonio, TX 78266
(888) 837-1647Special Features:
Special Texas wine list features Ed’s Smooth Red, Becker Vineyards Tempranillo and Llano Estacado 1836.

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen
76 N.E. Loop 410
(210) 340-7143
Special Features:
Grilled Shrimp Bruschetta with warm Texas goat cheese & fresh tomatoes

Pappasito’s Cantina
10501 I-10 W. at Huebner
(210) 691-8974
Special Features: Shiner Bock Beer – every drop of Shiner is brewed in Shiner, Texas.

Say She Ate Mobile Eclectic Fare Food Truck
Roaming San Antonio
Check the link for current location
(210) 446-8257
Special Features:
Try our Grown Up Grilled Cheese on bread from San Antonio bakery, Bakery Lorraine.

Sea Island Shrimp House
322 W. Rector
(210) 342-2800
10303 IH 10 W.
(210) 558-8989
5959 N.W. Loop 41
(210) 520-3033
2119 S.W. Military Drive
(210) 921-9700
11715 Bandera Road
(210) 681-7000
8223 Agora Parkway
Live Oak, TX 78154
(210) 658-1100

Special Features: Fried Oysters & Shrimp Plate features fried wild-caught Texas Gulf shrimp and fried Texas Gulf oysters.

The SpicySea Gourmet Food Truck
Roaming San Antonio
Check link for current location
(210) 601-2858

Tiago’s Cabo Grille
1771 IH 10 W #101
(210) 881-2700
8403 State Hwy 151 #101
(210) 647-3600

Special Features: For a taste of Texas, try our Cabo Fried Shrimp: Wild-caught Gulf shrimp lightly dusted, seasoned and fried, served with seasoned french fries, roasted corn and jalapeno tartar sauce

Charc Week, for lovers of
cured meats and artfully crafted plates

Restaurant Gwendolyn is sponsoring a host of restaurants in San Antonio as they prepare charcuterie plates — all house-made products — to offer diners at a great price July 22-26. The focus is on the timeless art of making sausages and other cured, smoked and preserved meats. Eateries around the city will offer an array of sausages, pâtés, terrines, confit and even a few vegetables—made completely in-house by San Antonio chefs.

Taste Elevated plate resizedThere is only one rule, everything must be made in house.

Participants include Restaurant Gwendolyn, Where Y’at Food Truck, The Granary, CURED, Biga on the Banks, Arcade Midtown Kitchen, Crossroads Southern Kitchen, LUKE, Sandbar, Mixtli, The Monterey, Hotel Valencia, El Machito, Il Sogno, Rosella (offering a vegetarian plate), Tre Trattoria in Alamo Heights, Boiler House, and Big Hops Gastropub, Hot Joy.

Each establishment will be charging $20 per plate of charcuterie.

Get updates by linking below on Facebook and Twitter.  The event is co-sponsored by Defining Delicious and Culinaria.


Twitter: @restgwendolyn and @definedelicious and @culinariasa #charcweek.  Also at @mysavorsa


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NAO Visits the Yucatan; Ocho Celebrates Hemingway’s Birthday

NAO Visits the Yucatan; Ocho Celebrates Hemingway’s Birthday

Ocho, Library Foundation to celebrate Hemingway’s birthday with food, drink

Ocho and the San Antonio Public Library Foundation’s First Edition Society will be celebrating the the birthday of beloved author, occasional Cuban resident and renowned cocktail enthusiast Ernest Hemingway with a special event on July 19, from 7-11:30 p.m.

PrintThe event is free to attend and will provide appropriately themed food and drink specials to celebrate the occasion along with live music from Tiburon.

VIP tickets are available for $30 with a portion of proceeds benefiting the SAPLF and San Antonio libraries. VIP guests will enjoy complimentary drinks and hors d’oeurves, and will be able to enjoy VIP terrace access.

Ocho is at the Hotel Havana, 1015 Navarro Street.

VIP tickets are $30 and can be purchased at by clicking on the events calendar. VIP tickets may also be purchased by calling 210-225-4728, ext. 10.

Nao Presents:  A taste of the Yucatan now at Nao

SAN ANTONIO — Nao has begun its Yucatan menu, a part of the Culinary Institute of America San Antonio  restaurant’s exploration of Latin America cuisines.

Nao diners have explored the flavors of Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Oaxaca, Peru, Venezuela, and the Spanish Caribbean through the restaurant’s Celebration of Cuisines program, and they will now step deep into the heart of southern Mexico. This Yucatan-inspired menu offers three courses for $42 and will run until Monday, Sept. 8.

Chef Geronimo Lopez and the Culinary Institute of America San Antonio students will bring this region’s most celebrated flavors from the Yucatan, where spicy Mexican chiles meld with cool Caribbean flavors often ending in a celebration of Mexican cacao.

Many of Mexico’s most important dishes, techniques, and flavor combinations were born in the Yucatan, and Nao will commemorate this culinary hot-spot by transforming the restaurant through food and culture.

Geronimo Lopez

Geronimo Lopez

“This menu is truly representative of the Yucatan and you can taste the rich Mayan influence that remains intact in every dish,” says Lopez. “Our goal is to give you a glimpse of that beautiful ancestral heritage through this dining experience.”

The special Yucatan tasting menu features an appetizer, main course and dessert for $42. The dinner begins with a choice between venison “tzic,” a crispy corn tostada with pickled onions, radishes, cilantro, and avocado; or a traditional pickled salad of lima beans, chayote and pearl onion “escabeche.”

The menu continues with two main course options, the seafood “pibxcatic,” featuring stuffed chiles with crab meat, lobster knuckles, shrimp, tomato and “hojasanta” sauce; or roasted pork tenderloin served with black “recado” sauce, black bean relish, sweet plantain puree, goat cheese, and corn dumplings. For dessert, diners can enjoy a cacao nib “nicoatole,” a cacao-corn pudding served with sapote fruit ice cream and anise sauce.

Nao’s beverage manager, Tim Bryand, will craft a Yucatan-inspired cocktail, the Ix Chel, to accompany this menu. The cocktail is made with Blanco Tequila, Yucatan Tangerine Liqueur, lime, orange, and Xtabentun spray.

Nao is a restaurant and CIA classroom dedicated to the exploration, preservation and celebration of the authentic cuisines, cultures and bounty of Latin America. Nao is open for dinner on Tuesday to Thursday from 5-9 p.m.  and on Friday and Saturday from 5-10 p.m. Nao also offers a pop-up taco stand at the farmers’ market on Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.; and happy hour on Tuesday to Thursday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m, and on Friday and Saturday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Gaucho Gourmet offers can sugars — now with natural flavors

Gaucho Gourmet Flavored sugarsGaucho Gourmet announces its organic, fair-trade certified pure cane evaporated sugar — but with an added zing. These sugars have natural flavors added to bring out the best taste possible without adding anything extra.  Use these sugars for sprinkling, baking, on hot or cold drinks, and anywhere else you need a pop of flavor.

Get these bulk sugars that you can now buy in home-sized quantities, but also with bulk sizes and pricing to stay stocked! Some examples include Raspberry Cane Sugar, Coconut Cane Sugar and Lemon Cane Sugar.

Other suggestions now are caciocavallo, a stringy, semi-hard Italian cheese that’s great for sandwiches and more of the popular imported burrata DOP.


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Get a Taste of Germany on the North Side

Get a Taste of Germany on the North Side

The wurst platter at Bavarian Brauhaus

The wurst platter at Bavarian Brauhaus

Bavarian Brauhaus has opened at 300 W. Bitters Road at West Avenue.



The menu, of course, features a host of German dishes, including some we haven’t seen on area menus in some time. There are also a few Texas touches, blended in for good measure. The appetizer serving of Kroketten, for example, features fried mashed potatoes stuffed with bacon, chives, cheddar and jalapeños. It’s a winning combination, and the serving of four arrived with a sweet-spicy mayonnaise sauce for dipping.



On a recent visit, we also tried the wurst sampler platter, which featured two housemade sausages. We opted for the jalapeño sausage and the currywurst, both of which were stuffed solidly in their skins and filled with that subtle veal flavor with some lively spices. The plate arrived with a touch of sauerkraut and a soft roll with plenty of coarse salt and caraway seed on top.

For dinner, we tried the Rinderrouladen, which is thinly sliced beef filled with onions, bacon, Dijon mustard and a pickle before being rolled up and cooked in a beefy brown gravy. My mother makes this dish on special occasions, and her version will always be the best I’ll ever have. That said, Bavarian Brauhaus offered a welcome version that had a pleasantly tart flavor from the pickle.



The Wienerschnitzel is made with your choice of veal or pork. We tried the pork version and liked the way the meat had been pounded tender while the breading stayed attached to the meat. Maultaschen, a Swabian specialty, featured beef, onion and spinach in pockets of pasta that were pan fried to a tender, toothsome state.

The side dishes include the expected red cabbage, sauerkraut and spätzle as well as potatoes in a number of ways, including cold German potato salad, pan-fried potatoes and onions, mashed potatoes, croquettes of fried mashed potatoes and fries. But there’s also cauliflower in a light herb cream sauce and broccoli in hazelnut butter, both of which are worth investigating.

Bavarian brauhausAs the name of the restaurant implies, beer is a big part of the dining experience. We enjoy Busted Sandal’s El Robusto Porter and the Hofbrau Original, both on draft, as well as a bottle of Bitburger. And we didn’t put a dent in the fine array of German and Eastern European offerings. (The wine list could use a little help. There’s also a full bar.)

In all, it was a promising first visit that will have us wanting to return to try the soups, the salads and the desserts, not to mention the Schweinshaxe, a 20-ounce pork shank that looked great as it passed us by to another table.

For more information on Bavarian Brauhaus, click here. Hours are 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For more information, call 210-396-7170.

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Chef Chris Cook Giving ‘Ranch’ Cuisine New Look at Sandy Oaks

Chef Chris Cook Giving ‘Ranch’ Cuisine New Look at Sandy Oaks

Elmendorf, TX – Ranch cuisine has never looked this good!

Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard has named San Antonio chef Chris Cook to a position as food and beverage director and executive chef. Cook will be overseeing all of the food and wine endeavors on the ranch’s culinary program, as well as overseeing The Kitchen at Sandy Oaks. Cook is also working with the ranch ownership to implement exciting plans for new culinary events and business ventures.

sandFor Cook, this is a new experience, a short step or two away from his most recent position at the venerable Emily Morgan Hotel in San Antonio. Or from Brasserie Pavil, where he was executive sous chef.

At Sandy Oaks, where he began working earlier in the year part time, Cook moves from traditional fine dining settings to a rural setting – and one that offers good dining, but quite a bit more.

Saundra Winokur founded Sandy Oaks in 1998, one of the pioneers in Texas to take on the agricultural endeavor of growing olive trees for production. Since purchasing that expanse of rolling terrain covering more than 260 acres, with sandy, red soil and plenty of sunshine, her 40-acre orchard of roughly 10,000 trees has thrived.

“We have really strived for excellence in our management of our olive orchard and production of high-quality olive oil at Sandy Oaks. Our mission is education, of course, for those who want to grow their own trees. But, we have also built a beautiful, cultivated retreat for those who love food and wine, appreciate a fresh and healthful approach to food and who want to take some of that experience home with them,” Winokur says.

Sandy Oaks cheese plateCook, says Winokur, has already shown himself as someone who gets it when it comes to Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard and the many facets of its business. These include not just the pursuit of great products and prepared food, but an overall dedication to quality that starts with the ranch crop and has permeated the entire environment making Sandy Oaks a place to visit – and spend time.

Cook wanted to be a part of it all, she said. He hit the ground running at the first event, where he was asked to step in to run the kitchen with just two days’ notice.

“It went very well, everything that had been put in place worked, the teamwork of the staff, the back of the house, kitchen,” said the chef. “I’ve experienced a lot coming up in the business, so what I had to do just came as second nature. And, you can accomplish anything if you’re organized.”

The chef has described himself as a “minimalist with a vision.” He likes to marry creativity with simplicity using seasonally fresh ingredients. Using textures, flavors and ingenuity coming from more than 20 years in the business, Cook likes to surprise patrons, bring inspiring combinations and balance to his dishes.

Since leaving Oro, at the Emily Morgan, the Johnson and Wales University-educated chef been involved in catering as part of the San Antonio Chef’s Cooperative — with some successes. But, as he noted, “Every chef wants a place they can put away their knives and not worry have to about them.”

Jazz on Sandy Oaks patio adds great musical ambiance to the a serene, country setting at Sandy Oaks.

Jazz on Sandy Oaks patio adds great musical ambiance to the a serene, country setting at Sandy Oaks.

Cook will be overseeing many aspects of ranch’s culinary endeavors, which include putting out a line of excellent skin care products made with olive oil and pantry items, such as Olive Leaf Jelly, jarred olives and of course, Sandy Oaks’ high-quality olive oil.

Cook also will be directing his energy toward building the ranch’s attractions as a destination. One of his new tasks will be to help guide a new venture at Sandy Oaks: This summer, the ranch begins offering its grounds for weddings, rehearsal dinners and other special events. He has instituted a new summer menu and, with the help of new front-of-the-house staffer, Ramon Florez, will be honing the food and service at The Kitchen at Sandy Oaks.

In the meantime, the chef has presided over several successful special events, such as the ranch’s popular Passport Series of dinners, where guests are transported to other countries for tastes of its wines, cheeses, olives and food, and learn some of the culinary traditions and history.

Summer Salad

Summer Salad

In taking Sandy Oaks’ culinary program to a new level, Cook thinks of the term “rural” as one would a renowned winery with vineyard-based restaurant in Napa-Sonoma wine country, or a Texas Hill Country venture of the same caliber. In addition to its farming and ranching implications, “rural” also encompasses elegant country living as a temporary or long-term getaway for city folks looking for a respite from city hubbub.

In the last decade or two, however, the country scene, especially with respect to agriculture, has taken on a new, far more significant meaning. Farm-to-table movements, sustainability, buying locally, eating and cooking healthfully, have all been encompassed in Sandy Oaks philosophy.

Building business at Sandy Oaks, Cook says, simply means to bring people in who are drawn by the kinds of things Winokur, and the ranch stand for.

“She’s a woman farmer, she operates on sustainable and organic principles, her products are excellent and she is an educator. The ranch has a richness of the kind that many people seek by going to wineries and resorts in the Hill Country – and Sandy Oaks has this much and more to offer,” says Cook.

Photos by Christabel Cook

Sandy Oaks nursery, with healthy baby olive trees.

Sandy Oaks nursery, with healthy baby olive trees.

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Copa Becomes a Smokehouse on June 28 for a Great Cause

Copa Becomes a Smokehouse on June 28 for a Great Cause

Copa Wine Bar, 19141 Stone Oak Parkway, is turning into a smokehouse for one afternoon in order to raise money for a young boy named Rowan.

Jeff Bridges will be smoking brisket and chicken.

Jeff Bridges will be smoking brisket and chicken.

Rowan’s Smokehouse at Copa will be held on June 28 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. or until all of the barbecue sells out.

“Rowan is a delightful young boy and the son of some dear friends of ours,” owner Angie Bridges says. “He has been diagnosed with a rare disorder, Shwachmann-Diamond Syndrome. It affects the pancreas, GI tract, immune system, blood and bone marrow. He is only 7 but has spent over 800 days in the hospital, had dozens of blood transfusions, made 59 trips to the OR, yet is one of the happiest, most amazing little boys you’ll ever meet. He finds joy in the little things and never ever feels sorry for himself.

“We all could learn a thing or two from Rowan, our little trooper!”

Bridges’ husband, Jeff, will be smoking briskets and chicken with side dishes. Plats are priced at $20 apiece or $50 for a family of four. Each plate comes with a ticket good for a bottle of Pedernales Brewing Co. beer, a glass of wine or a glass of Rowan’s ginger lemonade. There will also be some great silent auction items.

For more information about Rowan, click here.

For more information about Rowan’s Smokehouse at Copa, call (210) 495-2672.

Stephan Pyles, Paula Lambert team up

Two Texas food icons are coming together to bring Italy to San Antonio in a special four-course dinner at Sustenio this Saturday night.

Stephan Pyles

Stephan Pyles

James Beard award-winning chef Stephan Pyles, the driving force behind Sustenio’s Mediterranean menu, will join Texas cheesemaker and cookbook author Paula Lambert for an Italian-themed menu. Each course will be paired with a wine from Italy.

The dinner begins at 7 p.m. in the private dining room at Sustenio.

The cost is $85 per person, excluding tax and gratuity. Reservations are available on a first-come, first-served basis for 40 guests and can be made by calling Sustenio at (210) 598 -2950.

The menu includes a first course of Soft Shell Crab with Paula’s Mozzarella, Local Tomatoes and Basil, served with 2011 Feudi di San Gregario Falanghina from Campania, Italy.

Next, Tortellini with Swiss Chard and Fresh Herbed Ricotta will be paired with a 2010 Edoardo Sobrino “Vigna Cristina” Dolcetto di Diano d’Alba from Piedmont, Italy.

The third course features Grilled Free-Range Veal Chop with Peach Mostarda, Brown Butter-Sage Polenta and Fire-Roasted Artichokes and Almonds served with a 2009 Pasquale Pelissero Bricco San Giuliano Barbaresco.

Finally, Pyles’ Orange-Mascarpone Panna Cotta with Chocolate Chip Biscotti and Vin Santo Gelée will be paired with a 2008 Antinori Santa Cristina Vin Santo Trebbianco from Tuscany.


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Restaurant Notes: Starfish Opens this Month: Monterey’s Wild Beast

Restaurant Notes: Starfish Opens this Month: Monterey’s Wild Beast

Executive chef and veteran San Antonio restaurateur, Rene Fernandez, of Azuca Nuevo Latino, is joining forces with his son and chef, Diego Fernandez.

Starfish 03 cropThe two partners will open their new restaurant, Starfish, which is located in the historic building next to Azuca’s bar in the Southtown-King William area. Starfish will open its doors to the public on Wednesday, June 25.  The address is 709, S. Alamo St.

Diego Fernandez will be working front and center behind what he’s calling a “cooking bar,” that runs along the side of the entire restaurant. Guests seated at the bar will be able to watch as the younger Fernandez and his team, which includes his wife and pastry chef, Marita Fernandez and sous chef, Michael Evan Martinez, do what they do best, and that’s create stunning cuisine from fresh, often locally-sourced ingredients.

Diego grew up in the food industry. “When I was seven years old we lived in Aruba. My first memory in the kitchen is of seeing my Dad fabricating a 6-foot-long marlin. It drew me in because I had never seen anything like that before,” says Diego.

At 16-years-old, Diego Fernandez began his career as a busboy at Azuca. He worked his way up the ranks, learning to be a server, a bartender, a cook and even a manager. “What started as a job became a trade, then a hobby and eventually a passion,” explains Diego.

After graduating in the first class at the CIA in San Antonio in 2007, Diego left Texas to complete his studies at the CIA in Hyde Park, New York, then took a position at the Ritz Cartlon Hotel in Orlando, Florida. After three year honing his skills, he got a call from his dad, who wanted to know if he was ready to return to San Antonio and transform the building he’d been mainly using for storage.

“It was about time we did something with this beautiful space,” says Rene Fernandez. The “boundless cuisine” of Starfish will focus on seasonal fresh ingredients with a heavy attention to seafood and ingredients unique to Texas. The point being, at Starfish, the cuisine has no limits. The restaurant will also feature unique craft cocktails and specialty brews .

The Monterey and San Antonio Museum of Art Partner for Pop-Up Restaurant

Matisse horse artThe team behind the Monterey announces the opening of Wild Beast, a pop-up restaurant in collaboration with the San Antonio Museum of Art. It will operate in conjunction with the upcoming exhibition, Matisse: Life in Color, on display at the San Antonio Museum of Art from June 17 through Sept. 7.

The name of the restaurant comes from a short time in the life of the artist, Henri Matisse, when he was part of Les Fauves, which in English means “wild beast’”

Chad Carey, with the group that owns the Monterey, says their restaurant philosophy could well resemble the art of that period, as it is “exuberant, exaggerated and a little bit wild.” The Monterey is located at 1127 South St. Mary’s St.

The counter service cafe menu will be ever-changing; the cafe will be located in the Hops Building at the San Antonio Museum of Art at 200 W. Jones Avenue. It will be open for breakfast and lunch daily, with dinner served on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The hours coincide with those of the museum’s.

Mark Bohanan, owner of Bohanan's Prime Steaks and Seafood.

Mark Bohanan, owner of Bohanan’s Prime Steaks and Seafood.

Bohanan’s recognized as one of country’s top steakhouses in USA Today

Praise of the national kind comes from USA Today about Bohanan’s Prime Steaks and Seafood on Houston Street in San Antonio. Here it is: “Exuding a self-proclaimed blend of “Texas spirit and old world charm,” Executive Chef and owner Mark Bohanan cooks up culinary memories and at his eponymous steakhouse, pleasing guests time and again with prime aged center cuts of Midwestern corn-fed beef, along with Japanese Akaushi steaks and freshly prepared seafood dishes as well. Craft cocktails, an award-winning wine list and live jazz also add to the restaurant’s classically charming atmosphere.”

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