a chronicle of food: a sampling of the best captured memories of 2011.

What is it that drives us to remember those meals? You know, the ones that we salivate over profusely, cause our stomachs to growl, and when we close our eyes, we dream of eating? And, I have done my share of eating this year. Regardless, there are days where I breathe food, or rather, where I associate those special times with certain experiences. We all have them. These are mine from 2011.

Who doesn’t love breakfast? When I was pregnant with the little girl, I would hallucinate about warm, newly baked bread, fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, and poached eggs. Chef Andrew Weissman of Il Sogno serves his eggs truffled alongside rosemary potato and hickory bacon. Il Sogno, besides being known for having some of the best coffee in town, also makes their own jams and honey lemon marmalade.

If you have not tried The Monterey in Southtown San Antonio, then you are truly missing out. Out of all the restaurants in San Antonio, you can count on El Monty to change up the menu on a consistent basis. One of my favorite food memories from the fabulous garden patio is from the Offal Tasting Menu. Chef Quealy served up chicken hearts, Korean BBQ style with a tangy kimchee sauce. I will admit, I am a sucker for offal. This dish was executed perfectly, not overdone, and not oversauced.

Food trucks have become quite the distraction these days. One of the original food trucks in town belongs to Chef Jason Dady, aptly named the Duk Truck, which I associate with his expertise in duck confit. The bird is prepared in traditional confit style, pulled, and then arranged on a mantou bun with cucumbers. Doughy, plain, and light, the bun itself does not take away the flavor of the duck, and allows the cucumber to penetrate the comprehension of the dish.

The Sandbar Fish House & Market, located at the Pearl Brewery, absolutely has the best seafood in town. Flown in daily, you can choose from oysters, sashimi, ceviche, and countless others. Chef Chris Carlson served up this halibut sashimi, complete with lemon foam, radish, and micro greens.

Now I am not one for tiramisu, but this dessert by Chef Bruce Auden’s Biga on the Banks gets a thumbs up from me. Rich and creamy, without the slightest sogginess, this particular dessert was one of my favorites this year.

Now sometimes you must toot your own horn. This year, the sommelier and I participated in the San Antonio half marathon. The night before, I prepared this delicious pasta with clams, mussels, and scallops in a white wine butter sauce. It was a great way to get our carbs in.

On our sommvacay to Napa this year, we had the pleasure of dining at quite a few places. Market in St Helena provided a very pleasurable lunch, where I dined on farm fresh avocado, roasted red pepper, and free range chicken on homemade focaccia bread. The spring salad had farm arugula and pine nuts in olive oil and vinegar. Delicious.

Bin 555 is a neat little restaurant tucked away in Artisans Alley in North Central San Antonio, and is also run by Chef Jason Dady. Probably my favorite charcuterie eaten this year was served here. The rabbit charcuterie, complete with pickles, radishes, and micro greens laid in stone ground mustard. Presented beautifully, I felt as if we should be sitting in New York, LA, or Chicago. The marbling was flawless, the rabbit and micro greens blended perfectly with the mustard. Even the pickles and radishes were clean and fresh, local, and contributed to the essence of the dish.

Every few years my mother’s family has a reunion in St. Marys, just outside of Shiner. This year we were served Janak’s sausage from Hallettsville. Old fashioned and hickory-smoked, this Czech sausage, made in Texas for generations, is the best you can find.

This seafood tostada from Mustards Grill in St. Helena was worth every bite. Salmon topped with cabbage, black beans, and a red sauce eased my hunger and provided enough protein to make it through the rest of the day tasting wines. A surprisingly light dish, it also surprisingly paired nicely with the Chardonnay that the sommelier chose for lunch.

The sommelier and I escaped to the garden patio of The Monterey on his 35th birthday, complete with hungry industry folks. Not only were we able to enjoy a reasonable priced Chianti (or two), but the highlight was a dessert that QuealyQ brought out himself. A chocolate dipped HoHo served with crystallized ginger and topped with sea salt. The mixture of sweet and salty fashioned quite a memorable experience.

Now I wish I had pictures of our most memorable meal of the year, eaten at Cyrus in Healdsburg. I could explain the dishes in detail, even display our menu, but it just isn’t the same as seeing it in person. The tasting menu, the wine, the atmosphere: it rivals French Laundry in everything but price. There Cyrus has the floor. I can only say this: go there. You won’t be disappointed.

I am hoping now that the little girl is getting a little older, we will be able to take more trips and create more food memories. Up for 2012: Italy. I won’t even hesitate. Bring on the new year! Cheers and much food happiness to us all.

the eclectic character of The Monterey

I can still hear the clanging pots and pans that came from my childhood kitchen on Sunday mornings. I remember the pouring of the batter, the melting of the butter, and viscosity of the syrup that accompanied the brewing coffee. Although I did not drink the bitter caffeine as a child, the smell of the brew would awaken me to morning cartoons. As I watched the latest Scooby Doo or Snorks, Dad would be pouring pancakes and scrambling eggs. Sundays soon became my favorite, something to look forward to week after week, throughout my childhood.

Now, Sundays are my favorite for different reasons all together. The sommelier and I can sleep in, take in our CBS Sunday Morning News, and gather little Rhea for our Sunday family outing. We try to provide a variety of food adventures for Rhea to look forward to, but one of our most favorite brunch spots has quickly become Southtown’s The Monterey.

The developers of The Monterey really did their research. San Antonio has been lacking where Austin has excelled: eclectic fare made with local ingredients, served in an alternative atmosphere, with a kicking patio, and staffed by genuinely cool people. The moment you walk into “El Monty” you find yourself transported. And for those of us who covet South Congress on a weekly basis, it’s been a long time coming. While recent guests include famous foodies such as Gail Simmons and Chef Tom Colicchio, the sommelier and I have noticed several local San Antonio bon vivants in attendance throughout the past year. The Monterey has quickly become a gathering place of industry workers, local chefs, and food enthusiasts alike. There is even a late night menu. And it doesn’t hurt that the El Monty brand is so well managed, as exhibited by relentless banter found on social media sites. Character: it’s what’s for dinner. Regardless, it’s all about the food, right?

The trick to dining for brunch is to arrive early. Because the indoor section of The Monterey is cozy, it can fill up fast, especially during this extensive summer heat. This weekend we grabbed a table outside in the shade, with plenty of room for good wine, shared food, and Rhea’s toys. One of the things I love about El Monty is the beverage menu: the wine list is lengthy, varietal, yet affordable, and the beer list is comprehensively spectacular. This weekend, the sommelier chose the 2010 mas de la dame Rose. The wine dazzled with a color of faint melon and salmon, with aromatics of orange zest, peaches and pears. In the mouth, the wine was light, slightly acidic, and gave pale reminders of rhubarb and strawberry. It was a perfect summer wine to complement our upcoming feast.

The first to arrive: biscuits and gravy. The biscuit had a touch of honey and was somewhat crispy. The gravy country white with bits of sausage, pepper, and topped with green onion. The sommelier and I both enjoyed the flavor of the dish, even though it may have benefited from a dash of kosher salt. All in all, a good addition to the brunch menu, and since The Monterey is known for its small plates, the portion of two biscuits is perfect for sharing. In addition, the use of local ingredients is standard for all of their dishes. From vegetables to beef to free range eggs, the quality of Texas farm fresh is evident throughout your experience. The next plate was no different.

The egg casserole was beautifully surrounded by fresh vegetables and topped with arugula salad and parmesan cheese. The soft quiche style casserole was full of flavor and cooked perfectly. The romesco served alongside provided a robust kick of zest, and had hints of tomato and peanut. The heirloom tomatoes served were slightly pickled and tasted like they were just taken from the ground. By far, this summery brunch item was my favorite, as it provided a light and fluffy fare for us to savor. Even the arugula salad seemed airy, yet furnished a textural contrast to the egg. My compliments to the Sunday morning Chef, this dish had me at “hello.”

Before I knew it the sommelier was pouring me another glass of wine, and I was feeling pretty full. However, you can’t leave El Monty without trying the best burger in San Antonio, so our final tasting consisted of a bacon cheeseburger served with fresh cut fries. The taste of the burger is by far one of the best I’ve had in a long while, which makes sense once you find out how it’s prepared. The burger itself is sous vide in brisket fat, which gives the meat a naturally smoky flavor. It’s then topped with a smoked gouda cheese, thick crispy bacon, and served with lettuce and crispy onion rings. It is a very popular dish on the late night menu, and often sells out on Sunday mornings. It is definitely a must have at The Monterey, so get out there and make sure it ends up on your table.

Even though we frequent El Monty for brunch, some of the best times had are on the patio in the evenings. The lighting, music, and atmosphere all make for an experience in itself, and paired with the amazing food, including beef heart tartare, pork belly, and fried barbecued chicken, The Monterey is a current hot spot on the Southtown scene. With the continued brand intelligence of management, ever-changing menus, and incredible staff, I won’t be surprised to see El Monty a mainstay in San Antonio trends. Top Notch. Two Thumbs Up. First Rate….you get the point, right?