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Thursday, April 28, 2011

A First Taste of San Antonio

Sometimes you visit a place and experience just enough to know you want to come back. That's how I feel about San Antonio, famous for the Alamo, Tex Mex food and the riverwalk. Moments after arriving as I saw the flat barges on the river, I immediately thought of Mexico, and indeed, Mexico is just a few hours away by car.

Shiner Bock
But Mexico isn't the only influence, San Antonio has German heritage too since Germans settled in Texas Hill Country starting in the 1830's. That's why you find German style beer, which it turns out is awfully refreshing with spicy food or humid weather or both.

So it actually makes a lot of sense that John Besh would open up an outpost of his NOLA restaurant Lüke in San Antonio. The food is inspired by the Swiss, German and French food he learned to cook while living in Europe and the New Orleans style food he grew up eating, and of course a focus on what's local. At Lüke you can dig into Texas raised chicken or gulf shrimp "en cocotte" or jaegerschnitzel and somehow, it all makes sense.

The Majestic
The restaurant is located in the the Embassy Suites San Antonio Riverwalk hotel, which just recently opened. I hadn't stayed in an Embassy Suites hotel in a long time but I was pleasantly surprised. The rooms and lobby were spacious, and design elements mirrored the rambling natural feel of the riverwalk, which is right below the large picture windows on the ground floor. The location was great for poking around downtown and exploring by foot, taking in a bit of the fabulous Art Deco and Neo-Gothic revival architecture.

covered market
Just a few blocks from the hotel, I enjoyed the Museo Alameda, with its combination of art and cultural displays especially the Siqueiros, Tamayo and Rivera paintings and the historical recreation of a small local shop. Just outside the museum is the covered market, which feels very much like a tourist market in Mexico. I'm sorry I missed the actual farmers market!

Mi Tierra
It was too crowded with Fiesta revellers for me to get a table at Mi Tierra, a cafe, panaderia and a cultural landmark in San Antionio. But I did get a sneak peek...

...and also of the colors of Fiesta. I love this smiling face!

Another highlight for me was actually my breakfast at Taco Taco, another more recent dining institution and so typical of San Antonio where more often than not a blend of cultures and influences is what makes the city all the more interesting. Here a Greek woman makes her versions of Tex Mex food and the locals can't get enough. In fact they stand in line for her superb homemade flour and corn tortillas wrapped around chorizo, scrambled eggs and super creamy refried beans. Is the secret to her tender tortillas olive oil? Is it Greek honey drizzled on the I-can't-stop-eating-them sopapillas? Who knows. And really it doesn't matter. Taco Taco like the rest of San Antonio seems to embody fusion in all the right ways. It feels good and tastes even better.

My thanks to the Embassy Suites and the San Antonio CVB for hosting me on my first trip to San Antonio