Another Fine Anniversary Dinner- Happy 24th!


Yes, spoiled we are in Austin.  There will never be enough days or meals to enjoy all of the tastes offered in our city – from fine restaurants, to food trucks, delis, cheese shops and wine bars (to name a few).   The summer, however, affords us with a little more time to whittle down our “bucket list”.

Fine dining was in order this weekend in celebration of our 24th wedding anniversary.  With the amazing experiences we have had in previous years at some of our favorite restaurants (Wink, Vino Vino and the Carillon), it always feels like a risk to try something new.  At the top of our “haven’t tried yet list” was Congress, located at the corner of Congress Ave. and 2nd Street on the ground floor of the Austonian condo tower.   Two enticing reasons sealed our decision to finally visit this fairly new (just under 3 years old) dining establishment – Chef David Bull, and our favorite sommelier, Paula Rester.  Chef Bull needs no introduction – he is a ROCK STAR in the culinary world.  We met Ms. Rester at her previous position at Vino Vino, where she delighted us at every visit with great tastes and incredible knowledge of all things “wine”.

Wait until you read about the genius cuisine and wine pairings to follow!

Both the hostess and our server greeted us with “Happy Anniversary”, and before we were even able to get a good look at the surroundings two glasses of Champagne were being poured at our table.  Soon after we were presented a menu.  There are two choices, a prix-fixe three-course meal, or the chef’s tasting menu (seven courses).  I can not imagine attempting seven courses, although there were a couple of offerings on the list that I would have loved to try.  The three-course menu presents plenty of choices, but does not include dessert (separate menu).  All of the menus can be viewed online at the restaurant’s website: Congress

Once we finally made our selections, the seamless presentation of dinner began.

First, the amuse bouche.  Even after having the server repeat the description twice, I cannot remember all of the details about this delightful start to our meal.  I will attempt to list the ingredients here, in a similar fashion to how the menu presented the other courses we selected.

Amuse Bouche:  Kaffir yogurt * horseradish crème * pickled watermelon * bergamot


Light, refreshing – a great way to prepare the palette for what was coming next.

Bread:  Focaccini is what I believe they called this bread.  A baby focaccia roll, warm, soft inside, slight crunch on the outside with a hint of sea salt.  OMG!


First Course: Steak Tartare · Sunchoke · Parmesan · White anchovy · Grilled Kale · Caesar Dressing


Luscious, rich, beautiful salt from the anchovy, tart from the dressing, Unbelievable.  Not sure I have the experience to describe this wonderful dish.

IMG_2003Sungold Tomato Salad · Confit Carrots · Rosemary Buttermilk · Nutmeg

Definitely the most artistic plating of the night!  The variety of heights and curves in the visual presentation of this dish reminded me of a roller coaster, but one you would see in a Dr. Suess book. Little stacks of carrots (reminded me of pickles, a little sour and crunchy), tiny orange-yellow hued tomatoes, accompanied by small dollops of two different creams, white and pale orange, that provided a another texture profile for the dish.  On top, a playful ribbon of some kind of crunchy veggie – our server believed it was made from a white carrot.  This dish was paired with an elegant, yet subtle French burgundy.  Excellent!

Second Course:  Garden Carrot Ravioli · Spinach · Gingered Carrots · lemongrass · Carrot Tops

Very good, interesting combo (sorry, no picture)

Suckling Pig · loin and Shoulder · Escarole · Ramen Noodle · Black Radish · Bacon Dashi

IMG_2005 IMG_2006 IMG_2007

… and now for something completely different.  A big pottery bowl arrives.  Inside a pile of ramen noodles, topped with a radish salad (I spied black and watermelon radish cut in very tiny matchsticks with microgreens) and transparent slices of raw pig.  Then the server took a beaker with the Bacon Dashi (a piping hot and rich bacon broth, filled with umami) and poored it over the pig, cooking it on the spot.

As the liquid mingled with the rest of the ingredients, pieces of pork emerged from the pile, along with the escarole.  This rather substantial dish was paired with an Austrian gewürztraminer, light but spunky.  Gewürztraminer is quickly becoming one of my favorite white varietals.  Excellent!

Third Course: Surprise!  The wine director, Ms. Rester, surprises us with a bonus course – her favorite offering from Chef Bull’s tasting menu:

Cheese agnolotti · Morel Mushroom · Tomato Provencal · Black Truffle · Parmesan

IMG_2008 IMG_2009

Has food ever made you cry before?  Here I go…

(Excuse me while I gain my composure)

This is what I imagine a perfect plate of pasta in Italy would taste like.  Delicate pillows of luscious cheese ravioli, accompanied by mushroom heaven, the most tantalizing tomato jam creation, and Parmesan two ways – foam and shaved.

Paired with a beautiful Italian Barbera

– Palladino ‘Bricco delle Olive’ Barbera d’alba Superiore 2007 Piedmont, Italy

Hands down the most exquisite cuisine we enjoyed all night.  Simply amazing!

Fourth Course: Ora King Salmon · Grilled Okra · Fried Yucca · Corn Mole · Roasted Corn · Epazote


Goat Tenderloin · Garlic Sausage · Morel Mushroom · Spring Peas · Cumin Yogurt · Pepita


I almost turned this entrée away after the last course.  My first time to eat goat, however, so the show must continue.  The tenderloin was not gamey at all.  It reminded me of a perfectly cooked piece of hanger steak.  The sausage was good, but very garlicky and not for the faint hearted.  The cumin yogurt and hint of pepita puree were nice accompaniments.  This was one of those rare times when I would have liked a little more of the accompanying condiment (not sure what else to call it).  I am not a fan of peas, so they were quietly left behind.

I loved the pairing of a Spanish petite syrah blend with this dish.

Fifth Course: Before dessert arrived, I ordered a cup of hot tea.  The server returned with a box of large test tubes, each holding a varietal of tea leaves.  From the long-winded descriptions, I could not decipher if there was anything resembling a traditional black tea (like English Breakfast).  Steering clear of the Earl Grey, I ordered the Goddess of Mercy.  The tea was presented appropriately, pretty silver teapot, hot water, sugar cubes and a small serving of milk.

Initially we ordered what appeared to be the chocolate dessert offering on the menu.

Chocolate Veloute  · Mint Marshmallow · Cocoa Nib · Strawberry-Coconut Sorbet


We were not impressed with this dessert.  The sorbet was very good, but the rest of the dish just didn’t meet the mark, in our opinions.  I was not taken with the presentation or the combination of textures and flavors.

Once again, an attentive staff member noticed a “disturbance” in the force.  They quickly removed the dish, and without even asking, remarked “Let me get you my favorite dessert on the menu.”

Banana Mousse  ·  Milk Chocolate Chiffon · Compressed Banana · Peanut Butter Ice Cream

Now that was more like it.  I am not a banana dessert fan, but this plate took the banana to another place.  The texture of the mousse was delicate and airy.  The combination of banana, peanut butter and chocolate (much more pronounced and better tasting than the chocolate in the previous offering) was a delight.  The presentation left you asking “How did they do that?”

Other observations and insights regarding our evening at Congress:

The décor of the room draws your focus to the food and the patrons.  Neutral colors, natural lighting, spacious surroundings and very comfortable seating provide no distractions.  The employees were also dressed in neutral colors, and moved effortlessly throughout the space.  They obviously had watchful eyes, because our table was continually attended to – water glasses never made it to empty and empty dishes were removed right at the moment when you realized that it was time to say “goodbye”.

So, there you go.  Probably way too much information for most folks, but I want to remember every detail of this special occasion.

Our sincere compliments and thanks to Chef Bull, Wine Director Paula Rester and the entire staff of Congress for a dining experience of a lifetime.
Congress on Urbanspoon

Triple Stop Tour

LICK – via Mister Tramps and East End Wines- for best viewing, view from the site – especially for our email-viewing friends.

You know it is summer when you find yourself at 7:00pm on a Friday night craving a cold treat.  We had just finished having dinner with my parents at Papa’s favorite sports pub, Mister Tramps.  The boys have joined my dad before for fish and chips at this spot and to watch soccer.  Sorry I did not take any pictures.  We all ordered fish and chips – batter fried cod fillet served in a basket with French fries, slaw and tartar sauce.  It was good – the Brit in all of us smiled.

On our way out the door, Marc and I decided to take a short road trip around Austin.

First to East End Wines for their  Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco tasting.  Of the four wines, we had tried two before.  Our favorite is the Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco Pruno Nero.  We first experienced this wine at Wink when it accompanied a dish of beef tartare.  The Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco Brut Rose Spumante also made it to the register with us.  A more delicate drink, the Rose will be nice to have on hand for the hot days ahead.

Next we steered west to Lamar, then south, down to LICK.

ImageLick: Honest Ice Creams, is a small ice cream shop that prides itself in using fresh, local ingredients for all of their small batch ice creams.  The list of local farms and food artisans that they partner with is impressive, and you can definitely taste the care taken to make “honest” ice cream in the combinations of flavors that go into their ice creams.  Some selections are “Every Day” flavors, while others are seasonal.  They also offer gluten-free and vegan varieties.

Here are the selections that we enjoyed today, along with the descriptions from Lick’s website.
Dark Chocolate with Olive Oil and Sea Salt- Buttery notes from Texas Olive Ranch Olive Oil and sea salt shine through this dark chocolate flavor.

Milk Chocolate — Local Great Bean chocolate and the finest milk and cream churned to classic perfection!Image 2

Caramel Salt Lick —Salty and sweet make it official! Homemade caramel is elevated with just a hint of sea salt.

Texas au lait – Milk and cream steeped in espresso, lightly sweetened with pure cane syrup and subtly accented with a touch of Mexican vanilla.Image 1

Blackberry, Lime & Basil –Subtle hints of lime zest and fresh basil illuminate our sweet & tart Poteet, Texas blackberries!

Honeyed Peaches with Rosemary– Deliciously sweet Texas peaches and local Round Rock Honey pair impeccably with fresh rosemary.Image 1

As you can see, we all picked different flavors, and all were amazing. Everyone in our family gives LICK a big “thumbs up” (or should I say a big “lick of the tongue”).  I will mention here that the store is pretty small.  We were really lucky.  We arrived shortly before 8:00pm and walked straight up to the counter just as a large party was exiting.  By the time we sat down (there are only a few stools available), the line had 20 people in it.  Our very nice server told us that about 8:00pm, the line starts growing – right out the door!

I wish I could remember the cute saying on the LICK t-shirt that the servers were wearing – I would post it here.  I guess that means we will just have to venture down to South Austin again this summer.
Lick - Honest Ice Creams on Urbanspoon

Pieous or “Pious”— Righteous!

(To get the full effect of, please click this link- it’s worth it!)

Pious – 1. Devoutly religious; 2. Showing reverence and devotion for the divine
Pieous – a new pizza spot on Highway 290


For some time now, Pieous has found its way to the top 10 list on the front page of Urbanspoon.  Lucky for us, our hip friends were dining with us one evening when the word “Pieous” crept into the conversation.  They had good things to say about their “Pieous” experience, and quickly invited us to join them the following weekend for dinner at the Pieous.

We drove way south to Oak Hill and arrived around 7:00pm at our destination.

Our friends quickly ordered a plate of homemade pastrami, the “Pieous Plate,” accompanied by sourdough bread, pickles, onions and mustard. IMG_2016

I will be the first to admit that I have never been a huge pastrami fan – that was until I put the first bite of the Pieous variety in my mouth.  Melt in your mouth and so full of flavor – it would definitely give a slice of Texas brisket a run for its money. IMG_2020

We also enjoyed a plate of fresh mozzarella and arugula.  Simple, yet decadent.

The menu includes several specialty pizzas, along with a create-your-own offering from an extensive (and festive) list of ingredients.  They make a lot of their ingredients from scratch, including the dough and the mozzarella.   We sampled three of their “pre-determined” combos.


First, the Marguerita pizza – marinara, fresh mozzarella and basil.  A classic that did not disappoint.

Second, Italian Sausage – marinara, sausage and onions.  Delicious.



And finally, “the Bacon Bleu” – marinara, mozzarella, blue cheese, arugula and bacon marmalade.   Yes, you heard it right.  The minute I read bacon marmalade my brain said “order that one.”  This pizza was special – one of those moments when your entire being enjoys a moment of magic.  The combination of flavors played beautifully together.

We topped off the evening with a slice of their chocolate pecan pie, enjoyed at our friends home, and paired with a fabulous glass of red wine.

Although it is definitely a trek for us to take advantage of this new pizza establishment, I definitely see us visiting Pieous again.  If Pieous was closer to our home, we could become deeply “pious” towards their culinary offerings.  If you are a pizza lover, I encourage you to visit Pieous – and take the kids!
Pieous on Urbanspoon

Happy Father’s Day

Yes, we have gotten way behind on our blog entries. What I’ve learned from scrapbooking is that it is best to start with the most recent events (hoping that your memory serves you best here), then work backwards.

We spent a quiet afternoon and evening at home for Father’s Day. Marc decided on steak for his special dinner. Since Marc is the king of grilling, he supervised Prince Nick at the grill. Prince Ben was in charge of the secret sauce. I prepared the sides – all veggies from our recent FarmHouse Delivery; fresh green beans, grilled corn and rosemary new potatoes.

The first course – CHEESE! (of course).


From Antonelli’s Cheese Shop (Antonelli’s Cheese Shop) -starting from the top, left corner:
* pecorino riserva, Italy – Sheep
* Bent River Camebert, Alemar Cheese USA – Cow
* Finocchiona
* Coolea, British Isles (Ireland) – Cow
* English Walnuts
* Bayley Hazen Blue, Jasper Hill Farm, USA – Cow
* Straberry Vanilla Bean Jam – Confituras, Texas – Yum!!
The Bayley Hazen Blue cheese is definitely a favorite of the blue cheese lovers in the house. I could not pick a favorite from this plate – each offering was an excellent example of fine cheese making.

WIne Bottle

We accompanied our meal with a Garnacha purchased at East End Wines (East End Wines)
2009 Bernabeleva “Navaherreros” Garnacha Vinos de Madrid

Fruit, Spice, everything nice (once the wine opened up). A lovely pairing with our rib-eye steak. We have also enjoyed the baby brother of this big guy – not as complex, but still a great drink.


Image 1For dessert, Marc requested Lemon Icebox Pie (a recipe that goes back to his grandmother). I’ve only made this pie a few times before – meringue can be a little scary, especially when it is humid. This one turned out great, trimmed in ‘Nilla wafers!

Happy Father’s Day Marc!

A 50th Celebration

On June 1st, my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.  The Carmack “5” held a special party in honor of their parents at our home.  Besides hosting the open house, I had the great pleasure of planning and preparing the menu.  Since my Mom is from England, and my Dad is from Texas, I thought it would be fun to include favorite foods from both of their “homelands”.  Here is what we served, with a few side comments and pictures of the table.


Norm and Jo’s 50th Wedding Anniversary
Buffet Menu


Cheese Platter

  • featuring Montgomery’s White Cheddar from England, accompanied by English walnuts and Carr’s crackers
  • featuring Birdville Reserve cheese from Granbury, Texas, accompanied by Confituras (Central Texas) Blackberry Jam and Glazed Pecans
  • Once again, Antonelli’s Cheese Shop scores!  I was especially excited to find a Texas cheese made in Granbury, since some of my relatives live there.
  • the Blackberry Jam (with a hint of lime) from Confituras was about the best recipe we’ve tried from them yet.  


Fire-Roasted Salsa with blue corn tortilla chips-  This is the salsa I’ve blogged about before, made from a recipe by Rachel Ray.

Deviled Eggs
Pimento Cheese Sandwiches

  • featuring a sharp Texas Cheddar and a White English Cheddar
  • Both of these dishes were made by my good friend Chef Mike Coughlan.  He runs a personal catering service, Specialty of the House Catering. (  Both were delicious and well received by our guests.


Roast Beef Sandwiches accompanied by a creamy horseradish sauce.  I enlisted a little help from HEB to prepare these silver dollar sized sandwiches. 

Cornish Pasties with Major Grey’s Chutney- My Dad is a big fan of these “British” hand pies.  He loves to make them as well.  I used my cream cheese pastry recipe for the crust, assembled the pies, then froze them.  The morning of the party, I put them out to defrost, then baked them for about 25 minutes.  A great make-ahead entrée.

Ham on Southern Biscuits – accompanied by a variety of mustards and pineapple preserves.  Homemade biscuits piled high with HoneyBaked Ham – yum!


Texas Caviar– a legendary black-eyed pea salad created by legendary Texas cook Helen Corbitt.  I had never prepared this recipe before, but it is going on my list of go-to side dishes for the summer.  This spicy, cold salad was a favorite of my Aunt Maudene.


Watermelon Basket featuring a variety of fresh fruit.  My Dad showcased his culinary artistry with this dish.  Take a look at the picture – yes, those are watermelon longhorns on top!

Strawberries with Mint Whipped Cream- It wouldn’t be a British spread without an ode to this famous pair.  I especially love my cream thick, but still pourable.  Next time I will increase the intensity of the mint (I don’t think the mint from my garden has the same potency as the mint you can purchase at the grocery store).

Shortbread Cookies- This recipe will also be joining the “make again” list.  With just three ingredients and a long shelf life, it was an easy treat to prepare ahead of time.

Peach Cobbler– made with Fredericksburg peaches.  Chef Mike’s cobbler made our house smell like a little piece of heaven all day!  We were happy to see that there were “leftovers” of this dish, so we could enjoy an extra serving the day after (with BlueBell Homemade vanilla ice cream, of course).

Cake!- My sister did a great job selecting the cakes for our celebration.  Take a look at this awesome cake decorated with a photo from my parents’ wedding:


So sweet!  My Dad told me a few days later that he just couldn’t bring himself to eat the piece with my Mom’s face on it.

We also got a small German Chocolate Cake (my Dad’s favorite). 



Both cakes were fabulous.  Here is a link to the bakery website: Ann’s Kitchen

With over 30 family and friends from all over the state of Texas attending, it was a grand day, and a wonderful celebration for two very special people.

We love you Mom and Dad!!



Swift’s Attic – Loft of Goodness

IMG_1861Marc has been so busy with Easter and Opera, that you could imagine my excitement when he surprised me on a Thursday to say he had Friday night off.

We really wanted to try something new.  I have been reading about the “HOT” new restaurants in Austin, and Swift’s Attic kept showing up.  After calling the establishment, it was recommended to show up early – we did, and as always, Marc’s ROCK STAR parking place was waiting for him, less than a block away.

Swift’s Attic is on Congress Avenue, situated above the Elephant Room Jazz Club.  It is not a huge place, but it gives the illusion of space with clever décor and lighting.

The menu is set up like tapas – lots of small plates to share, in various categories: appetizers, salads, fish, protein and dessert.  They recommend 3-4 selections per person at the table.  Here is how our adventure transpired:

IMG_1862For wine, we decided on a bottle of Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco.  It was a perfect companion for the variety of dishes we selected.  You really can’t go wrong with great bubbles!IMG_1863







Since we are behind on our blog entries, I will do my best to remember as many details as possible (unfortunately the menu online is not the same as the one we selected from that evening, so I have no reference there).

We started with two appetizers:

IMG_1865* Charred edamame with chili oil and poprocks. I loved the smoky, grilled flavor of the edamame with the heat of the chili oil.  The salt/poprock mixture (served in a separate dish), however, did not cling to the pods very well, so that was a little awkward.  I did have to smile when they would come by frequently to empty the bowl that filled with edamame shells.

IMG_1864* Serrano Ham “dumplings”, wrapped around some kind of cheese, and served with the thinnest slivers of heirloom tomato and a beautiful basil pesto.  I hope I got that right.  Our server insisted that we get a little bit of everything in one bite for the “full” experience of flavors.  This held true through out the evening will all of our dishes.  Definitely yummy.

Salad:  * Grilled Romaine lettuce with avocado dressing and sweet corn.


IMG_1866* Quail with blue cheese grits, spiced nuts (almonds?) and a cherry demi-glace.  I know I am not remembering all of the details here, but I do remember Marc and I licking the plate clean on this one – delicious!






* Antelope steak with chimichurri accompanied by pomme frites and tarragon yogurt sauce.  This was my first time with antelope.  It was a little chewy for my liking, but great flavor.  What blew my mind on this plate was the yogurt dipping sauce.  It was yellow, almost looked like a mustard, but with a surprisingly delightful, light texture and flavor.  If I could ask for ONE recipe from everything we ate that night, this would be the one I would beg for.  I am so NOT a mustard/ketchup/mayo girl, but I could get use to having this condiment on my plate.


IMG_1869* Chocolate empanadas with espresso gelato?  Help me out here, Marc.  I know he was underwhelmed by the chocolate aspects of this dish, but the gelato was a hit.





* Popcorn and a Movie.  How could I resist a dessert with that name?  The first words that come to my mind are CLEVER, CRAZY, FUN!  Little pieces of housemade chocolate candybar and salted popcorn gelato served on a plate sprinkled with caramel popcorn and little dribbles of rootbeer gel (not sure of the spelling on that one).  I smiled from first to last bite!

We both agreed that there was much to admire about our meal and the restaurant.  OK, so we were the oldest couple in the place until about 10 minutes before we departed.  It looked to be a popular spot for groups of same-sex friends and young professional couples.  It is also a very short drive to East End Wines, which is open until 10:00pm Tuesdays-Saturdays.  Yes, we made a stop on our way home to pick up a few bottles of a wine we fell in love with recently that they recommended to us on a previous visit.  We should do an East End Wines entry soon J.
Swift's Attic on Urbanspoon

The Jury is out…

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins are a hit!


At the end of my exhausting two weeks of jury duty, I got up early to bid my oldest son  (and his three friends that camped out with us the evening previous) “ciao” as they left very early Friday morning for their journey to Italy.  Thursday night I prepared them a little care package of fruit and muffins to grab on their way out the door.

Thus, I am now up with time on my hands.  This provided the perfect opportunity for me to bake another batch of pumpkin muffins to share with my fellow jurors and Judge Sulak’s staff.

I found this recipe years ago on, a site where home cooks share their favorite recipes via the internet.  These muffins are moist and flavorful.  The recipe is so easy to put together and makes 2 dozen muffins.  They are the perfect way to enjoy pumpkin outside of the traditional winter holiday season.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins recipe

BACON- nuff said…

During my two week stint at the courthouse, I had the opportunity to visit BACON with a few of my fellow jurors.  Located on !0th and Lamar, this cute little establishment has all the makings for a unique dining experience.

We approached from the backside of the restaurant.

Bacon Ext2

The décor of the building, both inside and out is fun and inviting.

Bacon Ext3

You can get your BACON fix breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Bacon door

The menu is packed with a variety of offerings – all of which include some form of pork.

Bacon Menu

Here are the pics from our meal.

I could not resist ordering the Hush Piggies.  What a clever name!  Pulled Pork formed into a ball, breaded and fried.  Served with the hosue BBQ sauce.  The piggies on their own were a little dry, but were rescued by the tasty BBQ sauce.

Hush Piggies

The Dublin Pulled Pork Sandy – slow cooked pork marinated in Dublin Dr. Pepper served on Texas Toast with pickles and red onions (which they kindly served on the side).  Oh, I almost forgot – the sandwich also included thick slices of bacon!

Pork Sandy

The BLT – A beautiful rendition of the classic sandwich, served with housemade chips – check out that bacon!

Chips and Sandy

Bacon Plate

We also sampled one of their mini pecan pies – very little “gooey” and chock full of nuts.  I nice bit to end our carnivore adventure.

Besides food, they also sell some pretty cool “swag”.

You can see a selection of their t-shirts here (My favorite is “Keep Calm and Sizzle On”.)


I can’t wait to take my sons to this place – they will have no trouble finding something enticing off of their menu!
Bacon on Urbanspoon

Vino Vino – Paella Night

Some dear friends invited me to join them for paella at Vino Vino on the occasion of Marc’s departure from the country.  We’ve posted about the amazing paella in at least one previous entry, so I will stick to sharing the wine and dessert.

We enjoyed a lovely bottle of r a pfaffl  “the dot” austrian pepper, ’11, stetten, austria  
gruner veltliner – dry citrus with fruity aromas and a lovely dry spice and pepper on the finish

Wine 1

For dessert we ordered the only “sweet” on the menu that I had not tried yet – the Almond Corn Cake with Pink Peppercorn Ice Cream.

Vino Dessert 2

The ice cream was uniquely delicious (and pretty).  The corn cake was more of a cookie texture – a little dry to be labeled a “cake”.  It was also difficult to eat due to it’s hard texture.  I suggested they might go for a corn cookie ice cream sandwich – now that would be fun!




Vino Vino on Urbanspoon

Valentines in San Antonio

Feb. 14, 2013

The Texas Music Educators Convention convenes every February in San Antonio, Texas.  Many years we find ourselves there on Valentines Day as we did this past week.  After a little nudging, I talked my colleague into joining me for a nice dinner.  Since we were lucky enough to snag a room at the beautiful La Contessa Hotel, I made a reservation at Las Ramblas, the Riverwalk restaurant on the bottom floor of this elegant lodging.  Not thinking about V-Day being a busy one, I made my reservation late – therefore we had a very early seating.

Although our intentions were to share a few tapas and a salad, it turned out that the Valentine Special 4-course “couples” meal  was just too good to pass up.  I could shoot myself for not asking for a copy of the menu – I will try to remember as many details about the makings of this great dinner as possible.

FIRST COURSE – Seared Scallop with wilted greens, peanuts and banana.  Sounds a little crazy, but the combination of textures and flavors was a hit.  I thought the paired Spanish Cava (SEGURA VIDAS, ARIA, BRUT CAVA), was a good match, although my dining mate preferred the cava with the next course.

FIrst Course

SECOND COURSE: Strawberry Gazpacho with prosciutto, watercress and infused oil (I think the flavoring was cumin, but can not confirm).  It was not the prettiest presentation, but the dish was definitely inspired by the holiday and satisfying. Not at all sweet, as I anticipated.   I did find myself craving a hot soup as I neared the bottom of the bowl (like the butternut squash bisque on the regular menu).

Second Course

THIRD COURSE:  We were given a choice for the entrée.   My dining friend selected the Striped Bass with Roasted Cauliflower.  There also appeared to be some mushrooms in the mix (chanterelles?).

Third Course

I chose the Lamb Chops with assorted Harvest Vegetables.  The chops were huge!  One was cooked perfectly, the other was a little rare for my liking (for those of you that know me, that is a rarity), but I was so full after the first, there was no need to complain.  The selection of vegetables included turnips, carrots (orange and yellow) and mashed potatoes.  I selected the 2010 Erath Pinot Noir from Oregon to pair with my lamb.  I enjoyed this fruit forward, light red with a long finish.  It was a very unassuming drink, which encouraged the relaxed dining experience we were enjoying.

Fourth Course

FOURTH COURSE: Dessert!  A Nutella Cheesecake, embellished with cute little pink macaroons, whipped cream and cherries.  A home run!  The presentation was playful and the cheesecake featured the divine flavor of Nutella with good texture and no heaviness.  Chocolate type desserts are not usually my favorite (although that has never stopped me from eating them).  I give this one high marks.  In fact, I am already on the hunt for a recipe.


To finish off the evening, the manager (who came by our table several times during the dinner)personally thanked us for dining with them and presented us each with a beautiful rose.  It was a fun surprise!  We have been impressed with the kindness that all of the employees of this hotel have brought forth during our stay at La Contessa.

Now off to meet some friends at a wine bar Marc told me about that is just around the corner.  Stay tuned for another blog soon!

Las Ramblas on Urbanspoon