For better or worse, San Antonio has evolved into a food-loving city to the point where a growing contingent snaps endless photos of their food (guilty), pens awkward reviews (hopefully not guilty) and talks about the latest eateries. I can't complain — it keeps me employed, after all — but this wave of culinary prowess has led to certain expectations.
I expect any restaurant that isn't a taqueria to be relatively active on social media. If I can't find your phone number, hours or menu readily available, then what are we doing here? This is more or less the case with Alberico Fine Wine, a McAllen transplant that's made a home for itself inside the former McCullough Wash and Fold in Olmos Park.
Long gone are the washers and dryers, and in their place is an extremely posh space, decked out with sleek leather chairs, white linens and fanciful light fixtures. Dark wood is used throughout the airy bar area, and of course, the wine room, where upward of 375 wines are available.
But that's my first quibble with Alberico. The eatery opened in mid-December, yet my affable server wasn't able to produce a copy of a wine list because there isn't one yet. Though it's billed as an "International Restaurant" on Facebook, owner Rick Ramos pens an explanation of the establishment on the same page labeling it a "retail wine shop that just so happens to have a restaurant."
But it's not helping on the accessibility front if you can't see a wine list. It is offered online, but is the expectation that clients will pull out their phones to peruse it? They could do that from home. If you're sitting at the restaurant, you want to see an actual list, just like you do with a menu for food selection.
For my first visit, sans a dining buddy, I set up camp at the bar. Surrounded by tall tables, for two to three people, the area is cozy and would likely make for a nice happy hour (not available quite yet) with girlfriends.
The menus, both lunch and dinner, are broken down into salads, soups, appetizers, entrees and desserts. Ramos, who according to my server has traveled extensively throughout the world, has chosen and designed each item as homage to places he's visited. Dad's Salad (more on this later) is inspired by The Stock Yard in Nashville, Tennessee; the falafel is a nod to Mama's Bakery in San Diego; while the Southwest Avo and Shrimp comes via sister eatery, Alberico Fine Wine in McAllen.
I chose the corn empanadas, which I mistakenly thought were made of corn masa and not, as it turns out, filled with elote. At $10, the foursome of empanadas was decent, if ho-hum, though chipotle and cilantro cream sauce smears on the plate helped liven things up. I paired this with Dad's Salad, which came with cubed avocado, sliced green onion, tomato and pepper and an herb vinaigrette, heavy on the red wine vinegar, atop two Romaine spears. Though leagues better than my first course, the heavy-handed use of dressing was a downer.
My lunchtime visit this past Wednesday was interesting. Trying to find some rhyme or reason for the eatery is a stretch, especially for my boss, who isn't a culinary nerd just yet — "should I trust them with falafel?" he argued. It's a fair enough question, as once again, the retail shop/eatery's concept steers too broad. Though we were one of two small parties, somehow, a dish of falafel and jamon-wrapped shrimp took close to 20 minutes to show up at our table. My boss' falafel plate was quite pretty, but unfortunately, the three nuggets he was served were far too dry and crumbled at the touch of a fork.
My shrimp on the other hand was a wash — the jamón, which is used in the $50 Mi Vida Española charcuterie plate, was the only highlight in the otherwise lackluster dish. The shrimp were overcooked and unless my taste buds deceive me, they also yielded a sour, unpleasant aftertaste. Again, the chipotle cream, this time used alongside angel hair pasta, helped, but not enough to save this dish.
Maybe I went at it the wrong way. Maybe I should have happily pranced into the decked-out wine room and chosen a wine alongside the sommelier, regardless of cost (to the chagrin of my editor's budgeting concerns), but I didn't. When it comes to staying transparent, accessible and inviting, whether as a retail shop or accidental restaurant, Alberico seems lacking – at least this time. The brunch menu looks enticing, and I can't argue with mimosas, so perhaps there's still hope. But for now, the shop needs a good rinse.
5221 McCullough Ave., 320-8466, albericofinewine.com
Skinny: Alberico joins a revamped Yard in Olmos Park with international fare.
Best Bets: Dad's Salad
Hours: 10am-midnight Mon-Thu; 10am-2am Fri-Sat; noon-5pm Sun
Price: $8-$69 dinner; $9-$18 lunch
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