A feast of all feasts 

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From front: Porcini-crusted New Zealand lamb loin with caramelized onion ragout and salt-baked Yukon potato with "works"; butterleaf salad with Spanish marcona almonds, pickled red onion, roasted tomato, and Danish blue cheese dressing; grilled Texas bobwhite quail with roast apple, blue cheese farrotto, and bosc pear salsa. (Photos by Mark Greenberg)

It doesn't get better than the Lodge

Stop me if I get too hyperbolic, but I'm about to rave. Starting with an amuse-bouche of sweet potato gaufrettes accompanied by a curry-spiked dip and ending with white peach tapioca pudding with caramelized persimmon, our dinner at The Lodge was one of the best eating experiences I've had in San Antonio in years. Only a tangle at valet parking and a 25-minute wait for a reserved table marred the experience. In hindsight, I can understand why the previous couple was reluctant to abandon the seats we later occupied for nearly three hours.

The Lodge has, in nearly every respect, tightened up its act since my last visit, which was far from a shabby experience. Service seems to have become more professional, the decor has been purged of most of its fur-and-feathers features (Mr. Moosehead remains in the stairwell, but he's probably part of the family by now), and chef/owner Jason Dady's cuisine has matured. The menu is currently organized as a multi-course tasting experience: $40 gets you three courses, $50 five, and $60-$80 will net you Jason's Signature Tasting.

Hitting the five-course middle ground (with a couple of extras slipped in for good measure), we began with grilled bobwhite quail with cabrales, blue cheese farrotto, grilled apple, pear salsa, and basil oil. Granted, you don't necessarily taste these ingredients individually, but the combination of smoky-moist quail with earthy-pungent cheese is killer, and the rustic, al dente farrotto grain adds great textural ballast. Lapidary slices of practically perfumed house-made, duck breast prosciutto served with grilled ciabatta, persimmon butter, and an exquisitely dressed mini-mound of greens played sophisticated city cousin to the quail.

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One of five upstairs dining rooms overlooking the oak-studded grounds of the Lodge of Castle Hills.
A butter lettuce salad with the same Spanish blue cheese as dressing (and amazingly wine-friendly), pickled red onions, Spanish almonds, and lightly roasted tomato was an ideal intermezzo at this point. But our bottle of 2001 Chateau de la Gardine Chateau Neuf du Pape, wasn't merely tolerated by the second salad, it was actually enhanced. Grilled radicchio/chicory with endive, candied walnuts, yes, more blue cheese, and a smoky bacon vinaigrette seemed to have an affinity for the pepper, tobacco and current of Rhone-style wines.

Now, just as we thought we'd made all the right choices and weren't over-indulging, some unexpected dishes appeared. Not being ones to look a gift course in the mouth, we pitched in to taste the Maine lobster bisque with its sotto voce hints of curry (sublime) and the duo-dish of braised pork belly and pork paté, much more than just an exercise in the flexibility of the world's most popular meat. Meltingly tender and rich, the pork belly is an experience those not ethically opposed should try.

Back on track at course three, pasta, a plate of perfect pillows of butternut squash ravioli materialized, only to disappear in a heartbeat. Its preserved lemon accents provided piccolo obbligato to the squash's earthy sweetness. Served on sourdough toast instead of pasta, the smoky pork and fennel ragu topped with a fried egg was an essay on deconstructivist whimsy that was more than just fun, though we might have liked just a trifle less smoke and a little more fennel, if only to keep the wine from feeling overwhelmed.

The Lodge Restaurant of Castle Hills
1746 Lockhill Selma
Hours: lunch, 11am-2pm Mon-Fri;
dinner, 6-10pm Mon-Sat
Price range: tasting menu, $40-80
Major credit cards
Bathrooms not handicapped accessible
The end was now in sight with the entrée, but we were beginning to flag. For no reason other than satiety, a masterfully cooked, porcini-crusted New Zealand lamb loin went half-begging, though we did manage to finish the exceptional, baby artichokes in brown butter. Ditto the olive-oil poached grouper, a beautifully flaky fish imbued with hints of extra virgin olive oil that were further enhanced by an intensely herbal basil pesto. I hated to see such good food go to waste, but there are limits.

Which managed to stretch once dessert time rolled around. The previously mentioned tapioca, al dente in a manner recalling Israeli couscous, had been scented with white peach for a very haunting flavor, and a wafer-thin slice of caramelized persimmon floated jewel-like on top. A vanilla, hazlenut and semolina "crumble" (actually more like a lightly sweet wedge of nutty cornbread) was almost comically partnered with a scoop of Dreamsicle mousse, but the joke worked.

It was indicative of Dady's perceived philosophy: Take your job seriously, but have some fun in the process. More chefs should do the same.



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