Best of San Antonio 2004 — Food Part 1 

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Best Business Lunch

Staff pick: Silo

1133 Austin Hwy., 824-8686

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A server from Silo Restaurant & Bar dons the Fiesta crown to show some of the lunch specials that won the restaurant Staff Pick for Best Business Lunch. From left: wasabi-tempura jumbo prawns with hydroponic greens, crispy veggies, and sesame ginger vinaigrette; dill-crusted salmon on fettuccine primavera with spicy marinara sauce. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)
In many ways, a business lunch can be like a romantic rendezvous: seduction may be going on, it's just taking place in plain view. With this in mind, I suggest that the environment and the food are both important components, with speed and efficiency coming in somewhat distant, though not inconsequential, third and price - also not to be ignored -bringing up the rear. Certainly to the party being seduced. With this in mind, I was surprised to be reminded recently of the lunches at Silo; not only are options such as slow-cooked, dill-crusted Atlantic salmon, sautéed sea scallops provençale, and herb-marinated New York strip appealing, they're well priced at $9 - and they are served quickly. There's not a truly quiet table to be had in the pleasant, but wide-open dining room (it's hard to have both visibility and acoustic privacy), but neither is Silo as loud as Azúca - which might have made been a contender if not for its combination of noise and table-tops too large to talk across. Seduction of any sort is tough when you're constantly having to repeat yourself. RB

Best Street Vendor

Staff pick: Woman between Municipal Plaza and San Fernando Cathedral

The Chili Queens of Military Plaza were displaced when the new City Hall was built in 1889. Louis Paletta Sr. used to operate his first delicatessen from a horse-drawn wagon, but no more. Hot dog stands on city streets are scarce these days. Where have all the street vendors gone?

One woman continues the tradition. And you can find her on the sidewalk, between the Municipal Plaza Building and San Fernando Cathedral on most days, dispensing blessings, bubble gum, and other dulces to the public in San Antonio.

If you're breath is sour from all the rhetoric down at City Hall, pop by this small sidewalk stand on a Thursday afternoon, slap down a dime or two and pick up a treat for the sweet tooth. MC

Best Cheese Selection

Staff pick: Le Rêve

152 E. Pecan, 212-2221

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Le Rêve's varied cheese menu has won this year's Best Cheese Selection. Clockwise from front: Ibores, a goat's milk cheese from Spain; Persille de Malzieu, a blue-veined sheep's milk cheese; Tomme Crayeuse from Savoie, France; Saint Blasé, a sheep's milk cheese from Haut Provence; and Shropshire Blue from central England. The cheeses are paired with an apple & thyme reduction, a balsamic reduction, a plum marinated in balsamic, and a crunch of fresh black pepper. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)
If you're the sort who makes purchases based on political convictions, then you may be in trouble in the cheese department, no matter what your stand on the war in Iraq. The French, of course, were the contrarians; years ago, De Gaulle did say something to the effect that a country that produces 725 cheeses is ungovernable. Still, 725 cheeses (or whatever the actual number is) are hard to ignore. On the other hand, Spain, a country whose quesos are increasingly prominent on local shelves, was a supporter of the administration, and Britain, with all those fantastic farmhouse cheeses - well, we know about Britain. Perhaps that leaves the ever-neutral Swiss, the fear-of-commitment Italians, or just our own cheese industry, fast becoming among the world's most respected. Good selections from around the globe are to be found at both Las Canarias and Biga, and the presentation of their cheese plates is at least as rewarding as the actual product. But it's Le Rêve's Andrew Weissman who has, with a natural emphasis on le fromage français, most dedicated himself to the art of cheese culture and presentation. At any given time, there are 15-17 cheeses on the menu, both raw milk and aged. The popularity of cheese "has grown and grown," says Weissman; "80 percent of patrons order a cheese plate, most just before dessert, but an increasing number as a first course." Weissman's current favorites include Persillé de Malzieu (a blue, sheep's cheese), Sovion le Valleroger (goat, with a wine-washed rind), and Livarot, an "extremely pungent, stinky" cow's milk cheese. By-the-glass wines are suggested to accompany each cheese - even the Livarot, one assumes. RB

Readers' Picks

Best River Walk Dining
1. Boudro's
2. Paesano's
3. Dolores Del Rio

Best Menudo
1. Mi Tierra
2. Rocky's Taco House
3. Panchito's

Best Vegetarian fare
1. Twin Sisters
2. The Cove
3. Adelante Mexican Restaurant

Best Puffy Taco
1. Henry's
2. Las Palapas
3. Ray's Drive In

Best Eclectic
1. The Cove
2. Liberty Bar
3. (tie) Carmen's de la Calle/Mad Hatter's

Best Barbecue
1. Rudy's BBQ
2. Bob's Smokehouse
3. Bill Miller

Best Pizza
1. Main Street Pizza
2. Rome's
3. Florio's

Best Chinese
1. Formosa Gardens
2. Golden Phoenix
3. Hung Fong

Best Thai
1. Tong's Thai
2. Thai Taste
3. Thai Kitchen

Best Mexican Seafood
1. Golfo de Mexico
2. The Cove
3. La Playa

Best Burger
1. Chester's
2. Chris Madrid's
3. Sam's Burger Joint

Best Italian
1. Paesano's
2. Capparell's
3. Main Street Pizza

Best Indian
1. India Palace
2. Simi's Indian Cuisine
3. India Oven

Best Soul Food
1. Mr. & Mrs. G's Home Cooking
2. Hoover's
3. Chatman's Chicken

Best Wine List
1. Candlelight Coffehouse
2. Van's Chinese Seafood
3. Biga on the Banks

Best Beer Selection
1. Flying Saucer
2. Chester's
3. Hills & Dales

Best Mojito
1. Azúca Cocina Latina
2. Beto's
3. Club Cohiba

Best Coffeehouse
1. Candlelight Coffeehouse
2. Espuma
3. Café Revolución

Best Sushi
1. Sushi Zushi
2. Koi Kawa
3. Niki's Tokyo Inn

Best southside Icehouse
1. La Tuna
2. Stanley's Ice House
3. Sanchez Ice House

Best Place for Kids
1. At home, at school, etc.
2. The Cove
3. Willie's Grill & Ice House

Best Dessert
1. Boccone's
2. Liberty Bar
3. Ultimate Cheesecake Bakery

Best New Restaurant of 2003
1. Sip
2. James' Café

Best TakeOut
1. The Cove
2. (tie) Central Market/ Taco Cabana

Best New Chef

Staff pick: Jonathan Parker

Pesca in the Watermark Hotel
212 W. Crockett, 396-5817

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Executive Chef Jonathan Parker, the Best New Chef of the Year, tantalizes refined palates at Pesca in the Watermark Hotel. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)
As usual, there are a couple of categories here. One is Best New Chef to Have Risen Through the Ranks, and here two come to mind: Gus Ortiz at Silo and Jesse Perez at Francesca's in the Westin La Cantera. Jesse takes his marching orders from consultant chef Mark Miller, but he manages to put a personal face on the food nonetheless. Gus played second fiddle to Mark Bliss until the Golden Boy left to pursue a higher calling at the Tower, and the food hasn't suffered in the least. But for Best New Chef Fresh Off the Noon Bus, I'd have to give the nod to Pesca's Jonathan Parker. Recruited from the Manhattan Ocean Club for the restaurant in the new Watermark Hotel & Spa, Parker's credentials are impressive enough, but the proof is definitely in the pescado, and the boy can cook fish. An utterly astonishing skate in brown butter with capers stole the show at a recent lunch, and it wasn't even my plate. Well-placed spies with finely honed palates also speak in hushed tones of Parker's crab fritters, his New England clam chowder and his daily fish specials, literally flown in daily, and prepared pan-roasted, grilled, or steamed over seaweed. RB

Best Sommelier

Staff pick: Janet Easterling

Ruth's Chris Steakhouse (Concord),
7720 Jones Maltsberger, 821-5051

First, it helps to know that sommelier is not a title one can get by correspondence or off the back of a matchbook cover: It has to be earned through rigorous training and testing. By this criterion, we have few certified sommeliers in SA - not that there isn't good wine service in many places without strict credentials. Myron's in nearby New Braunfels comes to mind immediately, due to the attentions of resident wineguy Darren Scroggins. Steven Kruger at La Cantera, a certified, bona fide sommelier, deserves mention, even if the wine list isn't as voluminous or encyclopedic as those at some other locations. But for all-around stewardship of an impressive list, the nod has to go to Janet Easterling at Ruth's Chris Concord. Not only is she sharp on the California cabernets that are the restaurant's mainstay, (and are responsible for its Wine Spectator Award of Excellence), she's also dedicated to finding just the right wine for each diner's plate and palate, without intimidation. "Wine is not stuffy," says Easterling, and in her hands, neither is the wine experience at RC's. RB

Best Fried Chicken

Staff Pick: Chatman's Chicken

1747 S. WW White, 359-0245

Not being from the South originally, I've made a point to try to adopt the mannerisms of my new home. I watch Designing Women, and Gone with the Wind, studying their accents and mimicking their mannerisms. I've tried sweet tea, fried okra, and corn fritters - though I've stopped short of eating trailer-trash casserole. And, in true Delta Burke fashion, I've devoured every piece of fried chicken I've laid eyes on. And without a doubt, ladies and gentleman, Chatman's Chicken reigns supreme. I've waxed eloquent about the first bite before - that hot, delicious squirt of fat that floods your mouth when you pierce the crispy fried skin of the chicken. It takes a true Southern belle to strip every last morsel of flesh from the bone, crunching the skin and savoring the grease - all while maintaining her ladylike dignity. Fortunately, the folks at Chatman's are as friendly as can be - and ever so forgiving when you make a total mess of the place - dripping chicken grease all over the floor, and leaving shreds of meat in your wake. They know that it's the best fried chicken in town - and they're mighty understanding when you make a fool of yourself trying to stuff in every last bite. LMF

Best Coffeehouse

Readers' and Staff pick: Candlelight coffeehouse

3011 N. St. Mary's, 738-0099

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Candlelight Coffeehouse is the apple of our eye - and it's no surprise that the readers feel the same, awarding the café Best Coffeehouse for the umpteenth year in a row. This year, Candlelight won the Readers' Pick for Best Wine List as well. Pictured are a slice of German chocolate cake and a cappuccino. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)
Espuma in Southtown makes the best cappuccinos, with the perfect ratio of foam to espresso. Café Latino cooks a mean stack o' pancakes. With its delicious paninis, Sip has spruced up the corner of Houston and St. Mary's. The Christian-based Lighthouse in Stone Oak makes a heavenly cup of joe, but the North Side traffic can be hell.

The best is Candlelight Coffeehouse, which stands out not only for its divine java, but also for its couches, cats, and wine.

Soup, salad, and pastries accompany your drink of choice, which you can consume sitting at a table, sequestered down in a comfy sofa, or relaxing on the outdoor patio amongst the junglesque greenery. (An occasional cat might brush against your legs, so unless you carry a lint brush, don't wear black pants that attract fur.)

Candlelight's only drawback is that it doesn't open until 4 p.m., which in coffee terms, is about the time to drink decaf unless it's the weekend. On the other hand, it's the perfect time for wine. LS


RB:    Ron Bechtol
MC:   Michael Cary
LMF:  Laura Fries
LS:    Lisa Sorg
EW:   Elaine Wolff

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