Thursday, November 15, 2012

Restaurant Gwendolyn: The Pearl of San Antonio

This excellent jewel box destination deserves to become a legend.  Foodies, mark it on your must visit list.

Chef Sohocki Presides Over Restaurant Gwedolyn
     Neil had read about Restaurant Gwendolyn on Urbanspoon, where it’s very highly ranked for a restaurant that’s not yet two years old.  The dishes were created before 1850 (with contemporary touches) and the cooking methods are elemental in avoiding electricity as a heating method.  Wylie Dufresne and Grant Achatz are the leaders in the molecular gastronomy movement, but Chef Michael Sohocki moves in the opposite direction philosophically and aesthetically.  And yes, he deserves to be mentioned along with Dufresne and Achatz because he’s devoted to his approach and his staff is thoroughly committed.  The dessert chef hand cranked ice-cream practically the entire time we were there, and they cure and smoke meat, dry fruit and 
Housemade Bread and Butter
create all jams, jellies, syrups, and sauces from scratch.  They even make their own bread and Neil thought it was the best he’d ever eaten.  For me, it was up there with the sourdough at Chez Panisse. 

Gwendolyn's Portrait
     It’s a charming, elegant dining room with a portrait of Gwendolyn, Sohocki’s grandmother and some of her antique furniture as well as her chairs.  The service is intelligent, intensely focused, and more than willing to offer more than the diner might have warranted.  Okay, so how’s the food?

     The cuisine is extraordinary, but it’s aimed at serious foodies.  The meat is cooked medium for fowl and medium to medium rare for beef.  Three of the diners at the table next to us sent their meat back to be cooked more.  However, by refusing to overcook, Sohocki realizes the actual taste of the protein.  There are three-course and five-course prix fixed menus, but the boundary is two choices for each course and the menus change nightly so what we ate is probably not what other diners might find.

Amuse Bouche
     We started with an Amuse Bouche, which was a large piece of pork belly with their home made ricotta, strawberry jam, and purslane (Neil plants it every year and didn’t know it was edible).  It was a salty, sweet, sour, and umami in two bites.  Neil ordered the Merlot Poached Pear Salad with arugula, walnuts, feta, and balsamic vinaigrette, where the fruit was hot while I had the Cherry red and yellow Tomato and fresh Corn Salad with dill and dressed lightly with vinegar and oil.  

Grilled Cherry Tomato Salad

Poached Pear in Merlot with Goat Cheese
Shrimp Stuffed Quail
Ribeye with Blackberry Demi-Glace

My entrée was the Shrimp Stuffed Quail – a combination I’d never seen before – served with flash fried green beans and great crispy pommes.  The winning detail was the olive butter that melted over the meat.  Neil chose the Ribeye for his entrée.  It was more difficult to cut because it was grass fed, but the taste was authentic and the texture tender.  It was crusted with coriander and a blackberry demi-glace plus a fried sage garnish so there was a wide variety of flavors.  The fried collard greens were delicate and the sweet potato mashers were soufflé-like.

Meyer Lemon Bavarois
Spiced Pumpkin Tart
     The desserts were amazing.  I had the Spiced Pumpkin Tart, which had a crust that Neil thought was as good as my Mom’s.  That’s a high compliment because hers is both melt in the mouth flaky and strong enough to hold a filling.  The pumpkin was a mousse served with a cinnamon crème and a ginger snap ice cream.  It tasted like autumn.  Neil chose the Meyer Lemon Bavarois, a beautiful dish with a delicate sponge cake surrounding a lemon curd soufflé topped with a prickly pear glacé that provided a rose color and accompanied by kaffir sorbet and a poppy tuille cookie.  

     We then jumped in fully and ordered the Cheesecuterie – a plate of about a dozen different meats and cheeses.  As Mike Sohocki said, he’d like to make the cheeses, but it didn’t work out except for the ricotta.  These were some of the items on the plate:  smoked gouda, tomato jam, parmesan, apricot jam, pig heart mousse, brie, head cheese, andouille sausage, local honey, pickled okra, von sorman.  When the chef heard we hadn’t had the pig heart jerky, he wrapped some for us to take back to the hotel.  We were delighted.

     And how’s the price?  Worth every penny and more.
Restaurant Gwendolyn on Urbanspoon

Sounds fantastic, but I'm a little pooped.

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