Old School needs new students

The drive to Boerne isn’t the bucolic romp through the countryside it once was. But once you navigate the gauntlet of car lots, western-wear outlets, and chain eateries, Boerne’s main street still struts some of its small-town past. At Ye Kendall Inn, dating from 1859, there’s not a trace of simulacrum; this is the real thing — stone walls, wide porches, creaking floorboards and all. 

We threaded our way through an atmospheric tavern to get to the Limestone Grille, the Inn’s rambling restaurant. At 5:30 on a Saturday afternoon, not even the golden-age set is in attendance; a large group doesn’t arrive until nearly 7. But this is just fine. We can watch the light fade on the lawns sloping to Cibolo Creek, contemplate the menu and wine list at leisure, and slip into an unhurried mood.  

Perhaps playing to its prime audience, Limestone’s menu is a curious critter, at once worldly and homey. But wait: There’s also a slightly more offbeat listing of “extra special specials” on the reverse side, and from it we selected Thai shrimp and a three-soup sampler. From the front, we picked the pistachio chicken bites. Hopeful of the former, dubious of the latter, we were wrong, as is often the case.  

I doubt that I’d order the full-size pistachio-crusted chicken breast, a longtime menu stalwart, as an entrée, but as starters, the bites are bang-on. The nutty coating, the moist bits o’ breast and the grainy mustard cream sauce all work well together. Panko bread crumbs are the coating of choice for the shrimp, and the shrimp are almost OK alone. But the total package suffered some from casual plating. Leggy and a little over-the-hill, a halo of daikon sprouts got tangled up in the sticky ginger, orange, and chili sauce — essentially a spiked marmalade — that justifies the Thai in the title. Nix the sprouts, apply a small dab of sauce, and all is well. Crab and shrimp cakes with two sauces and the obligatory calamari are other options. 

The soup trio showcases the kitchen’s creativity in succinct form and is heartily recommended — emphasis on heartily. The mushroom gorgonzola really does sport wild mushrooms, and the gorgonzola crumbles on top are more than decorative. A creamy soup of the day featuring tomato and more mushrooms was subtly haunting. The roasted eggplant and tomato, drizzled with olive oil, scored well, too, but the others were superior. The house salad that followed was swamped in a creamy, cheesy dressing. 

Items such as jaeger schnitzel with red cabbage and prime rib with horseradish sauce give the entrée section of the menu its slightly stuck-in-time feel — fine, of course, if this is just what you want on a lazy evening. Probably more to the taste of generations X, Y, and Z is a dish on the order of the yellowfin tuna stack. Unfortunately, the perfectly seared tuna has been blackened in a very spicy crust and drizzled with a wasabi-laced aioli, and it’s frankly overkill. One or the other, guys, and I pick the aioli. The bedding of “frizzled” (flash-fried) spinach is fun and good as a counterpart, but the heavily herbed Israeli couscous, which would be a good partner to a blander dish, offers no relief.  

The smoked, roasted short ribs straddle several generation gaps — it’s just the kind of plate you hope to find in a savvy country inn. The smoking is evident from first sniff, but doesn’t overwhelm — nor does a sauce scented with mushroom essence and roasted garlic. Cheddar-laced mashers, alas, taste fine but are heavy where something light is wanted, and a scattering of angel-hair onion strings is superfluous. Here’s where a side of green beans and leeks might come in handy.  

We briefly flirted with the notion of a crème brûlée in a filo crust, and passed on the ultra-lush lava cake, the only dessert not made in-house. The dearth of Fredricksburg peaches this year ruled out the cobbler. So the hypocrisy of ordering an ornately adorned tres leches cake just after we complained about heavy mashers is hereby acknowledged. But boy was it good — caramel and chocolate drizzles, toasted almonds and all. 

In fact, it was hard to watch it sitting there while we finished the last drops of a very nice bottle of 2005 Bestué de Otto Bestué Finca Robleros from the Wine Spectator award-winning wine list. The reasonably priced list deserves mention for two reasons: It isn’t the encyclopedic tome you might imagine (and could use more wines by the glass); and it’s reflective of the Inn’s commitment to wine dinners, one of which, AWEsome Dinner #92, was happening the following day. Featuring the wines of Ferrari-Carano and a menu especially created to complement the wines, the five-course dinner was a steal at $57.95 plus tax and tip. Chef Mike McClure, brother of Ed McClure who runs the Inn along with his wife Elisa, puts heart and soul into these menus, with items such as fume-poached oysters, scallops, and clams in a pastry crust, and prosciutto-wrapped Berkshire rack of pork. We’d love to see dishes like this on the daily menu. Even if the special overnight room rate that prevails for wine dinners isn’t in effect. •

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