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Innovative San Antonio cuisine?

My husband & I are going to San Antonio from Houston for a quick local weekend getaway. Staying at Mokara (I think, unless someone has a better rec). Obviously, we have plenty of tex mex here at home, so we're really looking for some suggestions for dinner options that feature innovative chefs or cuisine. Houston is brimming with new trendy restaurants right now (e.g., Uchi, triniti, Underbelly, Roost), which we've had fun trying all summer, so we'd love to try something along those lines in S.A. Breakfast & lunch recommendations would be appreciated as well (probably mexican breakfast).

Thanks!

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  1. I'll keep my two cents focused on evening, though would heartily recommend Feast or Monterey for brunch if you're here on Sunday.
    As far as innovative, and in no particular order, you can't go wrong with: anything from Andrew Weissman (Sandbar/Il Sogno/The Luxury if he gets it open-lunch at any of these is an option), Bliss, Sustenio (bit of a drive but def worth it), The Monterey, Feast, Bin 555 (a drive), Nao, Biga or Restaurant Gwendolyn. Vastly different concepts/cuisines at all of these, so it more depends on what you're looking for. All but Weissman's and Nao have websites that should help you make up your mind. Be sure and let us know what you thought!!

    4 Replies
    1. re: Sam Spade

      Very good recs Sam.
      OP, there's an Uchi in Houston now? You are lucky, I had one of the best meals ever at Uchiko in January.

      1. re: Sam Spade

        Completely agree with Sam Spade's list. If you like oysters (not innovative but delicious!) you have one of San Antonio's very few oyster bars in your hotel in the Ostra Restaurant. Another restaurant I would recommend is Ocho in the Havana Inn (or Hotel, can't quite remember which it is).

        1. re: Sam Spade

          Are any of these by convention center / riverwalk by any chance? I have a conference in Sept and I probably won't have a car

          1. re: sbs401

            Sam mentions those that are a drive. The rest are in or close to the riverwalk area. You can get to the Pearl complex (Nao, Sandbar, La Gloria, Il Sogno) by river boat, you may have to change at the Brooklyn locks. It's on the riverwalk, but a fairly long walk from the DT area.

        2. "Innovative" may not be the most apt criteria for dining well in San Antonio, but for "innovative" plus only having one weekend to explore, I'd recommend Nao at the Culinary Institute of America (which may or may not include some innovative flourishes depending on the menu, but is located in the architecturally innovative Pearl Brewery complex and surprisingly good so far considering that its a teaching kitchen), Restaurant Gwendolyn (not innovative cuisine per se, but definitely unique for its adherence to non-mechanical techniques and hyper-local ingredients), the Monterrey for its inventive small plates and cocktails, the Esquire for its inventive cocktails, La Gloria (also not really innovative, but its a nice sampling of non-TexMex small plates from all over Mexico...and also in the Pearl Brewery overlooking the northern extension of the Riverwalk), and Sustenio (which is a newly opened suburban SA outpost of an innovative-for-Texas restaurant in Dallas).

          Two other restaurants I like downtown are Biga on the Banks (which was considered innovative once upon a time but is now more in the realm of established elegance - and my favorite non-Uchi restaurant in the state hands down) and Luke for perfectly executed New Orleans-inspired bistro fare sans the trip to New Orleans. People like the Andrew Weissman restaurants, but there's nothing innovative about a nice plate of pasta or a lobster roll in my opinion, other than maybe the price..

          Out of the restaurants I've recommended above, the Monterrey, Luke, La Gloria, and Sustenio all do some version of weekend lunch or brunch.

          Also, I always recommend the Hotel Havana, which is owned by an innovative Austin-based hotelier, but the Mokara is certainly nice too if you want someplace that's more luxurious than stylish.

          Have a fun weekend.

          7 Replies
          1. re: Omniverous

            This is an accurate review of the current SA "innovative" restaurant scene at the moment, IMO. Weissman's places have gone down quite a bit since the halycon days when Le Reve burst onto the scene. The man is also a terror to work for, from what I've heard.

            1. re: SAhomecooking

              Le Reve was a one-of-a-kind, no question about that. I don't think one should consider Weissman's current ventures an attempt to replicate his original venue as the concepts are completely different. Yes, I've long heard stories about him being a difficult employer (probably as common as "obnoxious Tommy Lee Jones" stories) but they shouldn't detract from enjoying a great meal. A bit off topic, there is a guest chef coming to Nao next weekend (link below)-our previous experience there with Chef Schiaffino was great. http://www.ciarestaurants.com/yara-ro...

              1. re: Sam Spade

                Missed out on the last guest chef at Nao, was unable to get a table. Went back last Saturday night and sat at the counter. Another excellent meal at a great price and it was fun watching the goings on in the kitchen. No students this time of year.

                1. re: Sam Spade

                  Personally, I haven't had a great meal at Sandbar since back when they still served cooked dishes out of the Le Reve kitchen. And I've never had a great meal at Il Sogno, although I did think it was very good when it first opened and the owner was actually supervising the kitchen every night. But no one else in San Antonio seems to mind eating a heavy plate of bechamel-laden lasagna or pappardelle with wild-boar ragu even though its August in Texas and not January in Bologna...so to each their own, I guess.

                  I've never spoken to him other than when he's put a plate of food in front of me, so I can't comment on how he treats his employees, but a cursory review of his Twitter page (which I've done a couple of times to see if his long-delayed trailer will ever open) shows that the guy has some issues...unless its normal for a middle-aged man to communicate in the style of 13 year-old white kid emulating his favorite hip-hop star. Word, bro.

              2. re: Omniverous

                Luke? Love the place in NOLA (been more than a few times), and not to pick nits, but that place is Besh's nod to Belgian cuisine.

                Only saying this because it would be very atypical of a NOLA restaurants food wise.

                If the SA location is executing as well as the original can do, it's a great place to visit.

                The fries are legendary.

                1. re: masnole

                  Heard chef McHugh was oening his own place somewhere around the Pearl complex...in re. my original (July 2012) recs, would add... Hot Joy (Sun-Mon nites only at the Monterey), Arcade ((T-Sat at the Pearl), Granary (Pearl), Laurent's (Olmos Park circle). Luxury from AKW is now open! Tentatively withdrawing my Sustenio rec due to chef Gilbert's departure.

                  1. re: Sam Spade

                    Had a private meeting at Sustenio last week. Limited menu, ordered the fillet because one of the sides was a fried queso stuffed squash blossom. Dish came, no squash blossom. Manager said it's not in season right now. Seriously, with a private typed menu, you can't omit an item you know you don't have? Lame.

              3. For Mexican breakfasts, we very heartily recommend Piedras Negras de Noche.

                http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/39/431821...

                1. Was able to attend the guest chef dinner at Nao last Friday. They started off with an hour of passed apps and free wine and mango/cachaca drinks. The chef worked the room and was very friendly, explained about the region of Brasil she represents and the type of food we were going to eat.
                  Although the main courses were a bit heavy and bland for our tastes, we had a great time and would go back for another event like this. We did get to try some unique ingredients, including a Brazilian truffle that she said we were the first in the US to try.
                  Well worth the price of admission ($65pp for the happy hour and 6 course meal).

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: saeyedoc

                    Glad you were able to make it! Agree with you re. blandness of some courses- Schiaffino's peruvian menu was tastier (full disclosure-I grew up there and love the food) but give chef Yara props for engaging the audience and explaining the dishes (didn't hapen at other event). I'm surprised that they still haven't got their website up or open table availability....pretty good turnout for a word of mouth event. Heard they had another event planned mid-Sept; curious to see what the final product will look like, service has gotten better on each of our visits.

                    1. re: Sam Spade

                      Nao has another event tonight featuring a Bolivian chef. Will be going tonight, they may still have some openings if anyone's interested.

                  2. I travel to Houston a lot and, although I don't know all the restaraunts there, I think you're going to find more and better innovative cuisine in Houston. I don't know how much "upscale" mexican there is in Houston but that is something I think San Antonio does well. Places like Poloma Blanca, Bahia Azul, and El Mirasol serve great food that reminds me of going to nicer places in Mexico. Definitely not Tex Mex - at least not in the American Cheese Enchilada sense.

                    Another great place in San Antonio although totally not innovative is El Bucanero. This is some of the best Mexican Seafood I've ever had and the fish tacos rule. So - totally not what you're asking for and I appologize but I've been to most of the places mentioned in this thread and while they are decent if you live here - I don't think they're worth traveling for. Just my opinion, of course.

                    Oh - and nobody has mentioned Bliss yet - that's a pretty good one if you're really set on innovative cuisine.

                    4 Replies
                      1. re: San Antonio Sam

                        Bliss is on my original list, and very rightfully so. Only gripe I have is their insistence on having a party of six to reserve the Chef's table. Personaly wish that the tasting menu experience was available for couples/foursomes and would not mind sharing the table with other foodies.

                        1. re: Sam Spade

                          Right you are - I guess I missed it. Sorry about that. You can add Feast to the "stupid resrevation policy" list.

                          We went to Feast the other night and originally had a reservation for 6. We called them to let them know we were only going to be 4. They didn't say anything over the phone but when we got there we were told our reservation had been cancelled because we were no longer 6 people. What's up with that? What's even funnier is that even though they made a point of telling us our rsvp was cancelled and they dont do reservations for less than 6, we were seated immediately because the place was only 3/4 full on Saturday night.

                          I guess you need to manufacture exclusivity if you want to do innovative dining in SA. I guess accomodating customers is not innovative enough.

                          1. re: San Antonio Sam

                            I should add, though, that Feast was actually pretty good. Recently have been to Sustenio, The Monterey, Bliss and Feast. Feast was the best of those visits. Food was great, service good and it was actually not that pricey even though we drank a boatload of thier signature cocktails.

                      2. I've never thought much of our "innovative" cuisine here in San Antonio . .I've said as much on this and other threads. However, there is a relatively new place called Laurent's Modern Cuisine in Olmos Park that I am happy to say is absolutely killing it.

                        I was blown away by my meal at Laurent's. The menu was small but packed with interesting options. The dishes were perfectly executed and the service was fantastic. Most importantly . .the flavors were just expertly matched and so well thought out.

                        Truly the most enjoyable evening of fine dining I've had in San Antonio. Actually, the only evening of fine dining in San Antonio that I've truly enjoyed as an entire experience. .not just enjoyed aspects of.

                        Nao had great drinks, ok food and wierd service. Sustenio had dishes that were hit and miss. Bliss was good but kind of played out with deconstructed, "big plate, small food" dishes that were popular 5-10 years ago.

                        Laurent's is the whole package. Modern and classic at the same time . .with flavors that will blow you away.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: San Antonio Sam

                          Does anyone know if Laurent's is still open? I just called and the number has been disconnected

                          1. re: antonia2

                            Been gone for a few months. Chef went to Fig Tree if I recall. You might consider Saveurs 209 for something along the same line-funky location on lower B'way but great food.

                        2. Late in the game, but Nao blew my socks off. I had just one night in San Antonio and am glad that I spent it dining at Nao.

                          The food and cocktails were extraordinary. The space is attractive and appealing. Each bite was a revelation and a joy.

                          The vieux carré cocktail was beautifully balanced and a great way to start the dinner.

                          I could have consumed at least 2 orders of the wild mushroom broth with a delicious cube of pork belly, tiny cubes of taro, and charred white onions. The flavors were subtle and concentrated at the same time.

                          The tacu tacu rice cake, topped with a poached egg, was delicious and surprising with its final kick of a spicy aji limo coulis.

                          My server/student made excellent recommendations and the pinot he suggested was a good pairing with the pork t-bone, which was moist, flavorful, not overcooked, extremely satisfying.

                          One spoonful of an intense passion fruit sorbet was the perfect end to a culinary adventure.

                          My only criticism is that the menu descriptions didn't always match the actual ingredients served. White onions seemed to replace the described scallions, limas took the place of the menu's favas, etc. The ingredients were excellent, but were disconcerting because of the menu expectations.

                          I thought the prices were moderate for the quality of the cuisine. I would return to San Antonio just to dine at Nao again.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Discerning1

                            Wow, this is some great review! Thank you for the good suggestion. We love culinary adventures.

                            1. re: Discerning1

                              Great review for what is imho one of the most underappreciated gems in SA dining!!!

                              1. re: Sam Spade

                                Had a blast at Nao Friday night. They brought in wine makers from Chile and Argentina and did a multi-course meal with about 8 different wines.