The revitalization of the North St. Mary’s Street area near U.S. 281 continues tonight with the opening of Pieter Sypesteyn‘s Cookhouse at 720 E. Mistletoe Ave.
The space, which previously housed Carmens de la Calle, will be the home of New Orleans food filtered through Sypesteyn‘s culinary talent.
The restaurant opens at 5 p.m. this Friday and Saturday. Next week, lunch will be added, and the restaurant will be open Tuesday through Saturday.
Sypesteyn‘s work is known to fans of food trucks in the city. His Where Y’At truck, parked most often at Alamo Street Eat Bar on South Alamo Street, has gathered a host of fans because of his po’boys, including the Peacemaker, which features a winning mix of fried oysters and crisp pork belly.
You’ll find that sometimes on the lunch menu, when the New Orleans sandwiches are offered with such filings as fried shrimp, fried catfish, hot roast beef, hot sauce and cheeseburger.
At dinner, entrees might include Sypesteyn‘s award-winning New Orleans BBQ Shrimp, Paneed Pork Chops and charbroiled oysters. The lineup will change regularly with stuffed mirliton, a k a chayote squash and a real NOLA favorite, filled with shrimp and ham; roasted duck and dumplings; hanger steak with bone marrow butter; and, for the vegetarians in the house, tomato artichoke cannoli with handmade pasta.
Turtle soup; Gulf oysters; a wedge salad with bacon, pecans and blue cheese dressing; shrimp remoulade; and smoked duck boudin are among some of the other dishes you might find there.
For more on the Cookhouse, click here or call (210) 320-8211.
With Tycoon Flats, Faust, TBA and Candlelight all nearby (not to mention El Milagrito, which closes far too early in the day), this is a great time for a pub crawl through the area.
Attagirl in the works
Sypesteyn‘s neighboring truck at Alamo Street Eat Bar is Chris Cullum’s Attaboy, known for its hamburgers made from freshly ground beef on a house-made bun and topped with other handmade treats. Cullum is going to be his neighbor again when he opens Attagirl Ice House at 726 E. Mistletoe Ave.
The space once housed Willard’s Jamaican Jerk and still has the barbecue pit out back, which Cullum is planning to put back into use. The menu is still under construction as renovations on the space continue, but Cullum is hoping to have the space open in October.
It’s Cullum’s latest venture after taking over Tucker’s Kozy Korner on East Houston Street, another area that is showing welcome signs of revival.
Carmens wants to come back
If you are among the crowd that misses Carmens de la Calle, the sangria, the tapas or the flamenco, then you may be interested in the fact that the search is on for a new location. To fund the new space, the owners will be launching a Kickstarter campaign on Sept. 17, according a post on Carmens’ Facebook page. Click herefor more. (By the way, Sypesteyn used Kickstarter to get Cookhouse funded.)
Think TV doesn’t change a person? Ask Luca Della Casa, who recently spent a season on the cooking show, “Food Network Star.” He emerged from the show in second place, as the runner-up to cowboy chef Lenny McNabb, and he says the experience has helped him become “a better version of myself.”
It’s not just talk. Those who knew Della Casa before the show can sense a difference in the way he carries himself. There’s a greater poise in his manner as he sits down for a chat or greets his customers. His face is more open and welcoming, as he flashes his now-famous, dimpled smile. There’s more of a connection when he carries on a conversation. And, yes, it’s all because of being on TV week in and week out for an entire season.
Luca Della Casa sits down for a talk at Nosh.
It wasn’t easy work. Della Casa wasn’t used to being “judged so directly,” as he calls it. When a Bobby Flay or an Alton Brown takes you to task with a camera rolling, it’s tough. So, the Italian chef who runs the kitchens at Silo Alamo Heights and Nosh on Austin Highway had to learn not to take everything on an emotional level. “I learned to accept criticism in a more constructive way,” he says.
He also had to learn how to keep his energy levels up because there might be a long lull between shots. He drank a lot of coffee, which wasn’t always the best answer because “I would get nervous waiting,” he says. That came out when he had to pour a sauce over a dish he had to prepare for the judges, and his hand started to shake so badly that Brown reached out to steady it. “I wanted to stop it, but there was no way,” he says.
Then there is the stress, part of which comes from the whole setup. “TV is unreal,” Della Casa says, adding that during the filming of “Food Network Star” “there were hundreds of people around us at every turn. It was worse at the very beginning because there were so many of us.”
Still, “Food Network Star” fans could see Della Casa’s progress happen slowly but deliberately. It began after he got kicked off early in the process because he had failed to connect with the camera while cooking. His food, as local fans will attest, won raves, but he just didn’t raise his head as he prepared his food. So, he went to the online redemption show, “Star Salvation.” After several weeks of winning those judges over with his panini, his culinary skills and his engaging personality, he earned his way back onto the main show.
More changes began occurring. His first episode back was in Las Vegas, and he found himself surrounded by gorgeous women who had really taken to his charm, his good looks and his accent. It was something that had not escaped the attention of the show’s third host, Giada de Laurentiis. A sex symbol was being born. He looks back on that episode with a sheepish grin. “I’m flattered,” he says of all the attention. “But I didn’t earn it. It wasn’t anything I did.” He credits his parents’ gene pools with the way he turned out and leaves it at that.
Luca Della Casa thanks San Antonio for the support he’s received while he was on “Food Network Star.”
Della Casa gives plenty of credit to his wife, Marcella Algarra Della Casa, for the rest of his success on the show. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her,” he says. Marcella is an attorney who spends her some of her time addressing justices and juries, so she knows something about speaking in public. She drew on her background and Toastmasters to help him before more confident. “She told me, ‘You’ve got to get better at speaking in front of people,’” he says, adding that it helped him find himself in a way that made him become relaxed at ease in front of other celebrity chefs, his fellow contestants and the camera.
It helped that Della Casa is “a quick learner,” as he describes himself. His efforts, combined with his culinary skills, propelled him on to the finals, against McNabb and Nicole Gaffney. The outcome was voted on by viewers of the show, not the judges, and no one knew who would be the winner. “I thought Nicole was my first competition, which shows you what I know,” he says with a laugh. “I’m really happy for Lenny.”
This has been the latest chapter in Della Casa’s culinary journey from his hometown in Torino, Italy to the Canary Islands and then to Texas. “I didn’t go to culinary school,” he says. “I use the memory of certain flavors and I learned from other chefs,” as well as the grandmother he referred to often on “Food Network Star.”
“My food is the sum of all of these,” he says.
Ten years ago, he arrived in San Antonio to work for Massimo Pallottelli at Sage in the Fairmount Hotel. From there, he went to work for Andrew Weissman at Le Rêve and Il Sogno, and then Fralo’s before going to work at Silo and Nosh.
One night while visiting Copa Wine Bar on Stone Oak Parkway for a wine tasting, he noticed a woman who had come in to buy a bottle of wine. That turned out to be Marcella, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Luca Della Casa hopes his appearance on “Food Network Star” brings attention to San Antonio’s culinary scene.
When the opportunity to appear on “Food Network Star” arose, Della Casa pursued it vigorously; but he didn’t tell his boss, owner Patrick Richardson, until he had been accepted on the show. The chef was a bit nervous about that, but Richardson was excited for him and offered his support.
Della Casa is repaying that trust by pouring his energies into his work now that he’s back in town. “My first thoughts are about coming back to the restaurant,” he says. Fall menus are being planned and they could include some of the dishes he prepared on the show, dishes that made an appearance at a special meal Silo offered while the chef was still competing. There might even be a collaborative dinner with one of the other contestants from the show.
As if that’s not enough, Della Casa’s also helping local restaurateur and bar owner Chris Erck of Swig Martini Bar and Viva TacoLand, among other ventures, launch Panzanella Pizzeria, which will feature salads and pizza by the slice. The new eatery will open this fall with two locations, including one next to Erck’s Stay Golden Social Club on Pearl Parkway.
Della Casa is grateful for the encouragement he’s received from San Antonio throughout the “Food Network Season” and after it. “I couldn’t believe the kind of support I’ve received from everyone here and on social networks,” he says. “I feel blessed.”
Is there any more TV in Luca Della Casa’s future? “I’m confident that something good is going to come of it,” he says. “Where I am now is just the beginning.”
Augie Cortez has brought his barbecue to Broadway.
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.
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.
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
• 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!
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 (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.
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
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
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
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?
Congrats to one of San Antonio’s newer restaurants, the all-over-the-plate inventive Hot Joy at 1014 S. Alamo St.
Bon Appetit released its Top 10 Best New Restaurants — and right at No. 7 is Hot Joy. It edges out an Austin food truck called Thai-Kun, at No. 8. (This is something we’d like to see become a trend!)
Described by writer Andrew Knowlton as a pan-Asian stoner-food temple in San Antonio, the slide show starts with Hot Joy chicken wings and meanders through the menu by chef Quealy Watson. Chad Carey is one of the restaurant owners.
Watson may not have ever been to Asia, but the food of this restaurant is described as a “new sub-genre” which, “when executed with passion and skill, rewards the pleasure center of the brain just as much as some preciously foraged $100 tasting menu.”
Before choosing their top 10 best, Bon Appetit also placed San Antonio’s Cured, at the Pearl and owned by chef Steven McHugh, to the top 50 best new restaurants in the country.
The other 10 restaurants can be seen here, with slideshows, at this link.
Hot reds and cool stone welcome guests to San Antonio’s Hot Joy.
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?
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.
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
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.
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?
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
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.