Looking for the Best Restaurants in New Orleans? SoBou Makes My List.

Meet SoBou, one of my favorite restaurants in New Orleans. At SoBou, expect riffs on old favorites. Chef Juan Carlos Gonzalez’s menu is playful, tongue in cheek. No boundaries — or at least not many of them.

Geaux Fish at SoBou -- a restaurant that's one of the best in New Orleans
Geaux Fish at SoBou. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

With good food at every turn in the Big Easy, what does a restaurant have to do to make an impression?

Tough question, isn’t it?

I grew up in NOLA and regularly make it back to visit, to take photographs, and to eat — it’s one of my favorite things to do in this wonderful city. In my mind, there are three things a restaurant must do to make my list:

  • Be innovative
  • Be fun
  • Be consistently outstanding

SoBou knocks the ball out of the park along all of these lines.

Front dining room at SoBou, "a spirited restaurant south of Bourbon." And one of the best restaurants in the French Quarter.
Front dining room at SoBou, “a spirited restaurant south of Bourbon.” Photograph, Ann Fisher.

I first visited SoBou on a road trip through New Orleans in May 2017. It had good reviews, the menu caught my eye, AND it was one of the Brennan’s family restaurants I’d never tried.

My meal was an early supper, and I had a great table with a view out onto Chartres Street. I chose Geaux Fish,¬† fun faux-Cajun wordplay on the children’s card game. Great name for a dish that changes based on fresh fish and the inventiveness of the chef. The night I had it, the fish was black drum served with crawfish tails, spinach, and gnocchi that had been cooked in the crawfish liquid. Very enjoyable!

Exterior of SoBou in New Orleans -- makes the list of the best restaurants in the city
A warm glow from SoBou on Chartres Street in the French Quarter. Photograph courtesy of the Commander’s family of restaurants.

When you dine at SoBou, what will the dish be like? I don’t know — Geaux Fish! ūüôā

I’d say that SoBou doesn’t take itself too seriously. Except of course, they do, in terms of the quality of their food and the experience. What I mean by this, is this is no “stuck up” restaurant. It truly has a free spirit.

It’s wonderful that there are many restaurants in NOLA that adhere to the classics in a tried and true way. We need that. Otherwise, you risk losing the traditional recipes/traditional methods. But cuisine in New Orleans is also a living, breathing thing and should be allowed to grow and change — otherwise it’s as stuck as a dead body in a mausoleum.

At SoBou, expect riffs on old favorites. Chef Juan Carlos Gonzalez’s menu is playful, tongue in cheek. No boundaries — or at least not many of them.

In October, on a driving trip to Florida, I stayed a couple of nights at the Monteleone, and made a point of dining with SoBou again.

Honey Buzz Milk Punch at Brennan's SoBou restaurant in New Orleans
Honey Buzz Milk Punch: Honeynut Cheerio infused rum, acadiana honey, milk, holiday pie bitters. Photograph, Ann Fisher

Since there were two of us, I had the opportunity to try a wider variety of dishes. I love being able to taste many things without committing to a huge portion; small plates are big favorites.

I tried two of their current cocktails, one of which was the Pisco Punch (pisco, pineapple, tea, angostura, lime, fino sherry, violet). Pisco is brandy from Chile or Argentina. This was a delightful, light cocktail, with the tea and sherry preventing the pineapple and lime from being too acidic. The hint of violet was very subtle.

During dessert, lead bartender Laura Bellucci brought a seasonal version of milk punch for me to try; lovely take on this cocktail — sweet, but not overly so, certainly inventive version of a traditional favorite.

Smoky oysters en escabeche -- with a bottle of hooch in the background at SoBou restaurant in New Orleans
Smoky oysters en escabeche — with a bottle of hooch in the background. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Smoky Oysters en Escabeche: Cold smoked oysters¬†on the half shell presented atop bed of seaweed, and garnished with a frozen¬†ros√© (called “F’ros√©” at SoBou), with a scallions. I loved this dish. Such a different take on raw oysters – a delicate smokiness complemented by the delicate ice chips of¬†ros√©.

Red beans and dirty rice wontons dinner at SoBou in New Orleans
Red beans and dirty rice wontons. Photograph, Ann Fisher

Red Beans & Rice¬†Smoky red bean pur√©e. Dirty rice wontons Truly inventive fusion between the beloved New Orleans red beans and Mexican refried. Crispy, delicious wonton filled with dirty rice — perfect with a dollop of creamy red beans.

Chicken on the Bone¬†¬†Four drumettes of fried chicken confit. Creole seasonal salad, guava jelly. I’m a big fan of duck confit, and this version with chicken did not disappoint!

Chicken confit and a different version of Geaux Fish in the background, this one with broiled tomatoes. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Cherries Jubilee & White Chocolate Bread Pudding¬†with house made vanilla bean ice cream. Anyone who has been to Commander’s Palace is familiar with their fantastic bread pudding¬†souffl√©¬†. Since SoBou is a member of the Commander’s Palace/Brennan’s family — it has its own version of this dessert. Light, airy — a nice tartness from the cherries to offset the white chocolate. This is possibly the best dessert I’ve ever eaten. Be aware: if you want this lovely, it takes 25 minutes to make — so tell your waitperson that you want it when you order dinner.

Cherries Jubilee and white chocolate bread pudding — wicked and wonderful! Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Jazz Brunch and Bella Blue

My third meal at SoBou was a spur of the moment decision. I’d arrived in New Orleans in the late morning, and my group of friends wouldn’t make it in until 7:00 or so in the evening.

I looked at my watch. Hum . . .  what to do?

No reservations, but I set off to see if I could squeeze in to the Jazz brunch at SoBou.

One seat left at the bar! So lucky! While the bar menu is much smaller than the regular brunch menu, there was plenty to like.

The Jazz Brunch at SoBou is so much fun! Burlesque entertainment was a big part of the French Quarter scene from the 1940’s until the burlesque clubs were shut down in the 1960’s. Happily, it’s enjoying a renaissance in the Big Easy. Bella Blue‘s fan dancing is beautiful; a tasteful nod to erotic burlesque entertainment that is tame enough to keep most people comfortable ūüôā .

I chose the Legs and Eggs: poached eggs, apple cider braised pork osso bucco, with bourbon & bacon braised collard greens. The meaty, smoky pork combine well with perfectly poached eggs. There is a little heat from the Tabasco in the hollandaise, but it’s not overdone. I particularly liked their take on collard greens.

There is only one thing wrong with this dish — it’s SO filling! I loved it, but it’s impossible to eat anything following it. My recommendation: share it!

I leave you with a taste of a little jazz and fan dancing . . . signing off from a lovely Sunday afternoon in NOLA.

 

Bar Chef Laura Bellucci at SoBou restaurant in New Orleans
I really enjoyed the wonderful cocktails prepared team by Bar Chef Laura Bellucci! Photograph, Ann Fisher

 

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Fixe Restaurant – Southern Charm in Downtown Austin Texas

A 2018 review of Fixe restaurant in downtown Austin: Upscale and down-home — a hopping, somewhat noisy ambiance — like grandma’s back porch has been dressed up and adopted by the coolest city in Texas.

Fixe restaurant in downtown Austin: Upscale and down-home — a hopping, somewhat noisy ambiance — like grandma’s back porch has been dressed up and adopted by the coolest city in Texas.

Bar at Fixe restaurant in Austin Texas
Bar at Fixe restaurant. Reclaimed wood, tall leather chairs, and grandma’s plate collection on the wall in the background. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Chef James Robert and co-owner Keith House opened Fixe in 2015, with the concept of transporting guests to home-cooked southern Sunday dinner. Chef Robert, a native of Opelousas, Louisiana, used family recipes as a starting point for his menu, but don’t expect simple Cajun soul food — either in terms of food OR price. The dishes are innovative and often surprising takes on traditional preparations.

My first visit to Fixe was in the fall of¬† 2016 — while I was in town for the Austin City Limits Festival. After a great afternoon of music, my sister and her friend cleaned up and headed to Fixe for cocktails and dinner — one so memorable I asked to go back.

So here we are back on a warm December night — sisters and friends celebrating the end of 2017.

It’s as good as I remembered.

Barrel Aged Manhattan at Fixe restaurant in Austin Texas great craft cocktail with: Woodward Reserve, Carpano Antica, garnished with candied bacon and a dried cherry.
Barrel Aged Manhattan at Fixe: Woodward Reserve, Carpano Antica, garnished with candied bacon and a dried cherry. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Beet A-Rita cocktail at Fixe restaurant in downtown Austin
The Beet A-Rita: Milagro tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, and pickled beet juice. Calvin says — not again.

Happy Hour at Fixe is a good deal — a selection of their hand-crafted cocktails at $7 instead of the usual $14. Of course, my favorite, the Barrel Aged Manhattan — isn’t offered on the Happy Hour menu ūüė¶ .

From the Happy Hour selection: Calvin ordered the Beet A-Rita.¬† He rates it as good, but not outstanding — and would go with something else the next time around. Carolyn and Karolina both opted for wine — Fixe regularly features very good ones by the glass.

We ordered the smoked trout from the Happy Hour appetizer menu. After a very light lunch much earlier in the day, we were ready for something to go along with the cocktails. Smoked trout with buttermilk, trout roe, and fermented leeks¬†crispy, topped with a togarashi-seasoned trout skin — outstanding. The crisp black chips made of Carolina rice and seeds paired well with the mild smoky flavor and creamy texture of the trout, with a few drops of the hot chili sauce to give it a kick.

Smoked trout dip at Fixe restaurant's bar in Austin Texas
So good! Smoked trout dip with crispy rice chips. Photograph, Carolyn Fisher.
The central section of Fixe restaurant in Austin makes you feel like you're sitting outside on a screened porch.
The central section of Fixe makes you feel like you’re sitting outside on a screened porch. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Once we finished our cocktails, we moved on to our table.

The central part of the dining room at Fixe is a framed space made to feel like a big wooden porch, with outdoor light strings running back and forth across the ceiling (see above). Seating in this area is a collection of different kinds of comfortable leather chairs and banquettes, and wooden tables are set simply, with no table cloths, in keeping with the casual theme.

There are private rooms along one side of the porch area, and these feel like you’re in the house looking out onto the porch. As you can see from the picture, you might be at Aunt Mildred’s dining room table — but it’s just family, and she hasn’t pulled out the formal linens. Creative design touches include a distressed wall, a collection of trays used as wall art, and a nouveau-industrial chandelier suspended from a formal plaster ceiling medallion.

Low pass table in the kitchen at Fixe.
Low pass table in the kitchen at Fixe. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Our table was near the kitchen, which is open — and watching the activity can be a great part of your dining experience at Fixe depending on the location of your table. From my seat, I had a good view.

I loved the design of the kitchen. The low pass tables feel more like a big island in a home kitchen than an industrial space — building on the feeling of being invited to someone’s house for Sunday dinner.

Fixe Biscuits — the restaurant is rightly famous for them, and the recipe is a secret!

One must-order at Fixe. The BISCUITS — which are perfect, and are always on the list of the best in Austin. Golden brown on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside — could not be better. They are made fresh to order, so put your order in the minute you sit down. The biscuits are served with seasonal preserves and a savory nduja (a spreadable spicy salami), but I think they’re much better with just butter.

Our server was highly competent and knowledgeable of both the menu and the wine list. He was funny but not obtrusive, and it’s obvious that Chef Robert does regular food and wine tastings with his staff so that all of them know what is coming out of the kitchen — almost as well as the line cooks and the chef.

We ordered the beef tartare as a starter for the table. This was wonderful, and unlike the tartare I’ve eaten anywhere else. The quality of beef is outstanding, and we cut the oysters into smaller pieces so that we could all make bites that combined all of the ingredients. The beef, accompanied by the acidity of the gooseberries, and a little texture variation from the crisp oyster — all wrapped in a tender cornmeal pancake — so good!

Beef Tartare served with two crispy fried oysters, pickled gooseberry, celery root remoulade, and corn meal pancakes. Fixe Southern restaurant in Austin Texas
Beef Tartare served with two crispy fried oysters, pickled gooseberry, celery root remoulade, and corn meal pancakes. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Grits play a major role on the menu, served three different ways: Herbivore (kale, farm egg, garlic, romesco, and salsa verde); Carnivore (Texas quail, pickled pears, pecan granola, and BBQ consommé); and finally, Pescavore (Texas shrimp, freeze-dried corn, shrimp butter, bottarga).

However, as a girl who grew up eating too many grits in Mississippi (I nearly turned into a grit) they aren’t my favorite thing — so I rarely order them. If you are a grit connoisseur, you should try them here: they are supposed to be very good at Fixe.

On this evening, our main dish selections were the duck breast, the braised Duroc pork shoulder, the blackened red snapper, and as a side, we chose the charred broccoli. All of the main dishes were outstanding.

What was the best dish of the evening? Impossible for me to say.

My braised pork was wonderful, and I would order it again. Incredibly tender and flavorful, with a slight counterpoint of bitterness from the mustard greens. The potlikker beans? Cooked in the pot liquor of the pork — well, let’s just say they are well-named, in both senses of the word.

After tasting Karolina’s blackened red snapper, the poaching liquid was so good, we all wanted to drink it out of the bowl ūüôā . Carolyn loved her duck breast, so the entrees were a big hit all the way around.

The one thing I wouldn’t order again: the charred broccoli with blue cheese. This was a table consensus. Two members of our party actively disliked it . . . and while I love blue cheese, I wasn’t a big fan either. I felt like the strong flavors detracted from my braised pork, and we left most of this either on our plates or in the serving bowl.

The dessert? We were all SO full we almost passed it up, but ended up ordering one for the table to share. We chose the brioche donut with a creamy vanilla bean custard-ice cream.¬†So glad we did — it was outstanding — one of those desserts that tastes as good as it looks.

Brioche donut dessert at Fixe restaurant in Austin, Texas
Brioche Donut, vanilla bean custard, sunflower seed streusel, preserved fruit, honey ice cream. Pretty thing, isn’t it? ūüôā Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Practical Information

How much? Menu prices at Fixe in January 2018:

  • Most of the appetizers range from $8 to $12, but there are two more expensive choices: the ahi tuna and the beef tartare at $18 to $19.
  • Most of the entrees range from $21 to $30; the higher priced menu items are the dry-aged ribeye at $48, and the expensive dish, a massive 32 ounce tomahawk ribeye at $85.
  • Sides run from $8 to $18.
  • Desserts are from $8 to $10.

Could a vegetarian or vegan eat here? This is a very meat-and-fish-centric restaurant; however, a vegetarian would be able to create a good meal from the sides and a few of the starter options. I would not bring my vegan friends here.

Find current menu options, prices, and Happy Hour menus for Fixe here.

Location and parking: See map below, and valet parking at the front door solves the parking question.

Inside the kitchen at Fixe restaurant in Austin Texas
In the kitchen at Fixe restaurant, where they showcase just a few of the many local farms they work with on their menu that emphasizes locally produced meat and produce. Photograph, Ann Fisher

 

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Hereford Road: Great Neighborhood Restaurant in Notting Hill

Looking for a great restaurant in the Notting Hill or Bayswater areas of London? Hereford Road specializes in British cuisine using locally source fish, meat, and produce.

globe artichoke served with vinaigrette at the Hereford Road restaurant Notting Hill Gate in London
A perfectly cooked globe artichoke served with vinaigrette as my starter the first evening. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Hereford Road specializes in British cuisine using locally sourced fish, meat, and produce. Owner-chef Tom Pemberton opened his Notting Hill restaurant in 2007 with the aim of providing the area with a neighborhood restaurant serving great food at reasonable prices.

A row of Victorian townhouses in the Bayswater area of West London.
A row of Victorian townhouses in the Bayswater area of West London. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

I stayed in the Bayswater area on my last trip to London, and on my first evening didn’t feel like making a cab or tube ride to a different part of the city. I was happy to find Hereford Road in easy walking distance of my hotel, located on the border of the Bayswater and Notting Hill neighborhoods in the western part of the city.

The restaurant has a pleasing decor, cozy booths, and a feeling of being friendly and unpretentious. This is simple food, beautifully prepared — served by a wait staff that is knowledgeable and competent — at affordable prices.

The front part of Hereford Road Restaurant in Notting Hill has cozy leather booths facing the open kitchen.
The front part of Hereford Road has cozy leather booths facing the open kitchen. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Hereford Road occupies a site that was home to a butcher shop in the Victorian era. The design is light and informal, using white ceramic tiles that evoke its butcher shop past. Cozy red-leather booths for two in the front have a view of the open kitchen, and the restaurant opens into a larger room with a skylight in the back furnished with a combination of tables and six-person booths. When I was there, clientele appeared to be predominantly British, ranging from their thirties to their sixties in age.

The globe artichoke starter.

There is not a bar, and the selection of hard spirits is limited. This is offset by a good wine menu; most of the offerings are organic or biodynamic, and more than a dozen are available by the glass or half-carafe.

During the day, the skylight brings in great natural light, which prevents the back room from having that claustrophobic feeling many long restaurants without side windows have.

I visited Hereford Road for dinner two evenings in a row. Why? First, the food really was that good, and then a second visit allows me to try more things AND to see whether service is consistent.

The first evening I started with the globe artichoke served with vinaigrette in a ramekin. In late August artichokes in Britain are still in season, and this one was perfectly cooked — tender but not overdone.

Braised rabbit with turnips and bacon at the Hereford Road restaurant Notting Hill and Bayswater London
The braised rabbit with turnips and bacon was so wonderful, I started right in before taking the photograph — so sorry! Photograph, Ann Fisher.

I worked my way down through the leaves, then cleaned the choke off the heart. For anyone who has not eaten artichokes, they are mild, with a texture similar to a boiled potato, but with a nutty sweetness that is a perfect foil to the mildly acidic vinaigrette.

For the main course, I chose the braised rabbit served with turnips and bacon. The rabbit was so tender that it was almost falling off the bone. The braising broth flavored with turnips and bacon was savory and delicious, well-balanced, and did not overpower the mild rabbit. What beautiful comfort food!

The next evening, I returned. As a starter, I chose the smoked eel, served with potato and frisée with horseradish based dressing.

Smoked eel served cold along with potatoes and a bit of frisée. Hereford Road restaurant Notting Hill London
Smoked eel served cold along with potatoes and a bit of frisée. Photograph, Ann Fisher

I have not eaten smoked eel in a long time, and I’m at a loss as to why it’s rarely served in the United States. It’s firm and fine-grained, with just enough fattiness to lend itself well to smoking. This was delicate and delicious, and truly lovely with the potatoes and mild horseradish. Eel has a long culinary history in Great Britain — and it will be on my list to repeat when I’m back in London.

My final course at Hereford Road? The Blythburg pork belly with white beans, hispi, and mustard. Hispi cabbage has a pointy shape, is sweeter than regular cabbage, and is sometimes called sweetheart cabbage.

Pork belly with white beans and hispi at the Hereford Road restaurant in London
Pork belly with white beans and hispi. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

The Hereford Road pork belly is another fine example of British comfort food — simple in its nature, but beautifully prepared. Glistening, flavorful, tender — all the things you look for in this type of dish.

Menu at Hereford Road restaurant in Notting Hill London
The menu at Hereford Road changes frequently — often from one day to the other.

What about dessert? Well, I’m more of a savory-focused diner :-). And I was so well satisfied by my meals both evenings, that I simply couldn’t eat another bite — perhaps on my next visit to London!

The menu at Hereford Road changes almost daily, depending on the season and the availability of ingredients.

The restaurant typically offers seven starters, seven mains, and five desserts. Prices (in British pounds) range from £6.50 -£8.50 for appetizers, £12.00 Р£16.50 for entrees, and £6.00 for desserts. In London, this is incredibly reasonable for a restaurant of this quality.

You’ll find¬†the current Hereford Road Menu here.

Finding Hereford Road: the restaurant is located at 3 Hereford Road, Westbourne Grove, London, W2 4AB.

 

The Hereford Road restaurant is between the Bayswater area and its upscale neighbor, the affluent Notting Hill.
The Hereford Road restaurant is located between the Bayswater area and its upscale neighbor, the affluent Notting Hill. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

 


 

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Do You Remember the End of Prohibition? The Esquire Tavern Does

On December 5, 2017, The Esquire Tavern celebrated their 85th birthday AND the 85th anniversary of the END OF PROHIBITION! What a great night! Here’s my review of one of the best bars on the San Antonio Riverwalk.

Esquire Tavern craft cocktail Quiet Little Voices
Craft cocktails? You’ve come to the right place! Here is Esquire’s Quiet Little Voices: cognac, Jamaican rum, Italian vermouth, sherry, and chicory-pecan bitters. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

What? Don’t tell me you don’t remember the day booze became legal again in the United States?

Geez — what was Congress thinking, outlawing alcohol? Then the depression hit, and everyone needed a drink!

On December 5, 1933, Americans everywhere celebrated the end of Prohibition and the repeal of the 18th Amendment.
On December 5, 1933, Americans everywhere celebrated the end of Prohibition and the repeal of the 18th Amendment.

The day we came to our senses and repealed the 18th Amendment, drinkers everywhere rejoiced and took to the streets to raise a glass legally again.

That day was December 5, 1933, and that’s the day the Esquire Tavern in San Antonio opened its doors for business.

On December 5, 2017, I swung into the Esquire Tavern to help celebrate their 85th birthday AND the 85th anniversary of the END OF PROHIBITION! It’s several years since I visited San Antonio, but I remember this bar fondly — and they continue to make amazing drinks and great food.

Prohibition ends on December 5, 1933!
Prohibition ends on December 5, 1933!

Tying One on at The Esquire

The Esquire is the oldest watering hole in San Antonio, and it sports the longest wooden bar top in the state of Texas. The ambiance at the Esquire has a vintage quality in keeping with its 1933 beginning, including great jazz playing in the background. On some evenings, you’ll find live music and burlesque entertainment.

The long, long wooden bar at the Esquire Tavern in San Antonio.
The long, long wooden bar at the Esquire Tavern in San Antonio. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Their cocktail menu boasts ten house-created drinks with catchy names like The Texecutioner, as well as all the classics we know well.

Boar's head decoration the Esquire Tavern in San Antonio
The boar gets festive for the holidays!

I felt a personal challenge here, and decided to visit the Esquire Tavern twice in one day to maximize the number of libations I could sample and write about for my blog . . . . without ending up lying in a flowerbed along the Riverwalk.

I know. Sigh. It’s a tough job, but I just had to put on my big girl panties and get the job done.

Seriously though — my approach to writing about restaurants and bars when I travel alone is to go more than one time, if at all possible. I get to try more things, and I also have a chance to check on consistency in service and the quality of the food. Otherwise, I have to order a selection of dishes, knowing I’ll only be able to eat a little of each one. Wasting food is not something I like to do.

Esquire Tavern's Wonderlust King cocktail
The Wonderlust King. Yes, I know it looks the same as Quiet Little Voices, but it’s not. And it’s my fave! Photo, Ann Fisher.

I started with Quiet Little Voices (cognac, Jamaican rum, Italian vermouth, sherry, and chicory-pecan bitters — see top image) and went on to the Wonderlust King (rye whiskey, Amaro Nardini, Italian vermouth, Xocolatl bitters, and orange bitters).

These are both inventive variations on the Manhattan, and it was fascinating to see a drink with no rye whiskey, Quiet Little Voices, made to emulate the flavor you’d expect from a Manhattan. Both cocktails were outstanding, but my fave was the Wonderlust King: the Xocolatl Mole Bitters, with its combination cacao, cinnamon, and spice, along with a touch of Amaro Nardini, citrusy with a hint of licorice — makes this drink really special, and different.

Food at the Esquire is creative, but unpretentious — so right for one of the oldest bars in Texas. The chef focuses on making everything in-house, with organic, locally sourced ingredients, and the resulting quality of the food is outstanding. There’s a reason their bar program earned a James Beard nomination this year. You’ll find great bar nibbles, burgers, salads, and big plates. Find the current Esquire Tavern menu here. I took a look at all of this, and chose to focus on the small plate bar food.

Prices? Appetizers range from $6 to $12, Burgers, salads, and almost all mains run from $11 to $19. The most expensive item on the menu is the Texas Wagyu Beef Ribeye at $32. You’ll spend most of your tab on the craft cocktails at $10 to $14 apiece.

Chalupitas at the Esquire Tavern in San Antonio - one of the best bars on the Riverwalk
The Chalupitas were outstanding!
Riverwalk entrance to the Esquire Tavern in San Antonio
Riverwalk entrance to the Esquire.

My first choice out of the gate: The Esquire’s Chalupitas. Classic chalupas are a fried corn tortilla covered with a savory filling — and these little chalupas are wonderful. Organic chicken, chipotle refried beans, chimichurri, white cheddar, salsa verde, and a dollop of sour cream with fresh cilantro. Fresh, bright flavors — smokiness and a little heat from the chipotle pepper, without enough to be hot. I loved the unexpected combination of chimichurri, which has a bit of vinegar in it, with the salsa verde. It’s hard to write about them without wishing I could order them again — right now please!

Two drinks and one appetizer filled me up at lunch. I left the oldest bar in San Antonio, and headed to the Menger Hotel, the oldest hotel in Texas, to do some writing and to take a nap — and get ready for round two at the Esquire.

One of the Best Bars on San Antonio’s Riverwalk

If you find yourself in San Antonio, and you’re a visitor, then you will hit the River Walk.¬† Problem: many of the River Walk restaurants are either national chains or stale local restaurants slinging mediocre queso to capitalize on the tourist traffic. Do not despair! There are some wonderful places to eat and drink in downtown San Antone, and the Esquire Tavern is a fine place to start.

The Esquire Tavern has two entrances: one on the Riverwalk for the tourists, and one on Commerce Street, which more locals tend to use. I love the classic neon sign over the street side door. If you have difficulty with stairs, you’ll want to enter on the Commerce Street side.

I was lucky to be able to reserve the last available table this evening, since the Esquire was having a major party to celebrate its 85th birthday.

First Note cocktail at the Esquire Tavern in San Antonio - one of the best bars on the Riverwalk
The First Note — often I associate pink drinks with overly super-sweet — something I don’t care for, but First Note is nicely balanced.

My second foray into the Esquire’s cocktail menu started with their First Note, made of Aguardiente de Cana, Amaro Ramazzotti, guava, honey, lime. Enough citrus from the lime, along with some bitterness and spice from the Amaro to offset the sweetness of the guava and honey — resulting in a nicely balanced drink.

As part of the birthday party festivities, wait staff were passing hors d’oeuvres, one of which were the Esquire Deviled Eggs — which was great since I’d planned to order them. These free-range eggs were perfect, creamy concoctions topped with pink peppercorns and garnished with arugula.

So good!
The Texecutioner - one of the many craft cocktails at the Esquire Tavern on San Antonio's Riverwalk
The Texecutioner is aptly named. Too many of these, which are very, very easy to drink, and you’ll be sleeping under a bridge on the Riverwalk . . .

Second drink of the evening: The Texecutioner. With a name like that, I just had to try it. This is a combination of Espadin Mezcal, Xtabent√ļn¬†(a Mayan anise flavored liqueur), Cocchi Americano, and fresh¬†grapefruit juice. Another great cocktail — very refreshing. I think it would be particularly nice on hot summer nights — something San Antonio has a lot of!

In addition to the deviled eggs, wait staff were passing chicken-fried oysters, which are NOT on the menu at the Esquire — but available in their second bar (Downstairs at the Esquire). The oysters were so good, that I have no pictures. Sorry ūüė¶ .

About the same time, I ordered the Esquire’s Shrimp Toast, envisioning a couple of little bite-sized appetizers, you know, like you’d expect shrimp toast at a Chinese food restaurant to be.

Instead, I got shrimp TOAST. Texas-sized SHRIMP TOAST.

Wow! Crispy, fresh, perfectly fried — it’s like a Monte Cristo sandwich lost its ham and cheese, cavorted with fresh shrimp mousse, and ended up settling down in San Antonio. A crunchy bite of the toast, with a smear of ch√®vre, some chives, and a drizzle of jalape√Īo jelly syrup: this stuff is good. Wickedly good.

Shrimp Toast at the Esquire Tavern in San Antonio - one of the best bars on the Riverwalk
Shrimp Toast at the Esquire .Tavern is HUGE! And yes, I returned to my favorite drink, the Wonderlust. Photograph, Ann Fisher

Well, the Shrimp Toast finished me! But the next time I’m back in San Antone, I’ll head back to the Esquire and give you an update on other dishes here. I finished up my evening here, and headed back towards the Menger and a good night’s sleep — pausing to catch the square in front of the Alamo all dolled up for the holidays.

Merry Christmas from Texas!

Alamo and a Christmas Tree
As a sixth generation Texan, the Alamo is mighty important to me — lovely to see the mission at Christmas. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

 


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Mushroom & Orange Salad, Cumin Vinaigrette

 

Mushroom and Orange Salad with Cumin Vinaigrette

Mushroom and Orange Salad
Romaine lettuce, white mushrooms, orange sections, and red onion

It is a delicious, light salad that accompanies many kinds of meals well. I have also taken the mushrooms out and used avocado instead, depending on my mood and ingredients on hand. Enjoy!

Salad
  • Mushrooms, sliced
  • Orange, peeled and sectioned
  • Romaine lettuce, chopped
  • Red onion, sliced

Quantities? It all depends on whether you are serving this as a small side salad or as a main meal, doesn’t it? For a side salad,¬†I use one orange and¬†one large mushroom¬†for every two people that I’m serving.¬†One trimmed head of romaine per two people is more than ample.

Need help sectioning an orange? Here you go: Sectioning an Orange.

If your romaine isn’t as crisp as you would like it, wash it, then put it in a fresh bowl of water with some ice cubes for a few minutes.

Vinaigrette
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 clove garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon cumin
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Yields slightly more than a 1/2 cup of dressing. You will have leftover dressing.

Combine the vinegar, garlic, sugar, cumin, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in the olive oil. I generally make the dressing at least an hour ahead of use, so that the garlic has a chance to permeate the oil and vinegar. Refrigerate the dressing if you make it ahead, then whisk again before tossing the salad. The cold helps prevent the dressing from separating.

Ann Fisher

Mushroom and Orange Salad with Cumin Vinaigrette
Mushroom and Orange Salad with Cumin Vinaigrette

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Mushroom & Orange Salad, Cumin Vinaigrette

 

Mushroom and Orange Salad with Cumin Vinaigrette

Mushroom and Orange Salad
Romaine lettuce, white mushrooms, orange sections, and red onion

It is a delicious, light salad that accompanies many kinds of meals well. I have also taken the mushrooms out and used avocado instead, depending on my mood and ingredients on hand. Enjoy!

Salad
  • Mushrooms, sliced
  • Orange, peeled and sectioned
  • Romaine lettuce, chopped
  • Red onion, sliced

Quantities? It all depends on whether you are serving this as a small side salad or as a main meal, doesn’t it? For a side salad,¬†I use one orange and¬†one large mushroom¬†for every two people that I’m serving.¬†One trimmed head of romaine per two people is more than ample.

Need help sectioning an orange? Here you go: Sectioning an Orange.

If your romaine isn’t as crisp as you would like it, wash it, then put it in a fresh bowl of water with some ice cubes for a few minutes.

Vinaigrette
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 clove garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon cumin
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Yields slightly more than a 1/2 cup of dressing. You will have leftover dressing.

Combine the vinegar, garlic, sugar, cumin, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in the olive oil. I generally make the dressing at least an hour ahead of use, so that the garlic has a chance to permeate the oil and vinegar. Refrigerate the dressing if you make it ahead, then whisk again before tossing the salad. The cold helps prevent the dressing from separating.

Ann Fisher

Mushroom and Orange Salad with Cumin Vinaigrette
Mushroom and Orange Salad with Cumin Vinaigrette

Thank you for visiting ‚ÄĒ for other articles on life and travel, browse the home page:

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Tagliatelle with Mushrooms

Porcini mushrooms
Porcini mushrooms

Over the past two years, I have visited Italy multiple times, and I have learned so much through cooking with a wonderful woman in Florence. I think I’ve learned just as much eating there. One of the things I appreciate the most about Italian cooking is the simplicity of the ingredients. This dish is about mushrooms and onions with a caramelized tomato flavor.

What kind of mushrooms? If we were in Italy, I would choose porcini mushrooms, but getting them fresh here is not so easy. I have used cremini mushrooms (baby portobellos). This time I used shiitake mushrooms because my market had some really lovely ones. I would not use the standard white mushrooms because the flavor is not intense enough. Depending on the type of mushroom you choose, the stems may be tough and should be discarded, unless you want them for flavor in making a stock.

Shiitake Mushrooms
Shiitake Mushrooms

You can also use dried mushrooms. The benefit can be a more intense flavor. If I can get fresh ones — I like the texture better. If you do use dried mushrooms, use 3/4 cup, soak them in water for an hour, drain and then squeeze the excess water from them and proceed with the recipe below.

Cremini or baby portobellos
Cremini or baby portobello mushrooms

Then to the pasta. What is the difference between tagliatelle and fettuccine? They¬†are very close to the same. When I make pasta from scratch, it is tagliatelle. Fettuccine is a great substitute because it’s available dry in most stores, and it is the nearly the same¬†width as tagliatelle, only a touch wider. It’s just a bit thicker.

Ingredients

Serves four.

  • 2 cups mushrooms (see above for type), coarsely chopped
  • Half a medium¬†onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1¬†cup water
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 5 tablespoons tomato paste
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • fresh tagliatelle or dry fettuccine (3 – 4 ounces dry pasta per person)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano

Put water into your pasta pot along with some sea salt or kosher salt. Water takes awhile to boil, so you’ll want to turn the heat up on high about the time you put the water and wine into the sauce below. You can always drop the temperature on the pasta water down if it comes to a boil before you are ready to cook the pasta.

Cook the onion and mushrooms in the olive oil over a medium high heat for about four minutes, stirring from time to time. Add the water and the wine, continue cooking until liquid is reduced by half or more. Be sure your pasta water is heating.

Then add the tomato paste. Drop the heat to between low and medium and continue cooking for about 30 minutes, stirring often. This will become dense and non-liquid. You may need to drop the heat. If you are using dry pasta, begin cooking it in the last ten minutes of finishing the mushroom mixture.

Toss the pasta with freshly grated parmigiano cheese and the mushroom mixture, and serve immediately.

Note on tossing the pasta: I¬†toss individual servings — this way you get a balanced amount of mushroom mixture, pasta and cheese. Much better than tossing all of it together — where you have a tendency to get a uneven mixture.

Tagliatelle with Mushrooms
Tagliatelle with Mushrooms

How much pasta per person? It depends on whether it is a side dish, or the main dish. I would use 2 ounces (dry pasta weight) for a side dish, and 3 to 4 ounces for a main dish, depending on the appetites of the people you are serving.

Photographs: both my own and from iStockPhoto.