Friday, October 10, 2008

Texas trip - Part 3 / Eating out in San Antonio

As most people who've been to San Antonio know, the Riverwalk is a famous attraction there. We found it to be lovely, if a bit too touristy for us. Still, we knew we had to dine along the Riverwalk during our stay. But unlike most visitors, we had to find a gluten free friendly place to go. Like at home, I try and avoid those large impersonal chains with gluten free menus. In Georgia, most servers and even managers who work at such places could not explain what gluten is if their life depended on it.

Luckily for me, Anne at Chicken Paradise was able to steer us to several great options for safe, yet interesting gluten free meals. We were tired our first night in town (I'm always tired from flying regardless of the length of the flight) so we settled on a casual dinner at Paloma Blanco for Tex- Mex fare. Once there we were seated quickly at a nice table for two and handed gluten free menus. Interestingly, their version is called a Celiac Menu there. This is the first time I'd seen this and found it delightful. We knew from Anne's gluten free hand book that we needed to stress we had to have Celiac chips and so we did. But after a good long while our server appeared to tell us they were totally out of gluten free chips and they were very sorry. Since I have a place at home that has a dedicated corn product fryer and have Mexican fare often with safe chips, I got over it. The VIP margarita made up for the lack of chips and I loved that it was served in a martini glass!

The place was super busy but finally our meals arrived and mine was excellent! I ordered a stuffed poblano pepper with shrimp, veggies, cheese and spices and I thoroughly enjoyed it. My husband got the fish tacos and would not order them again. He said they were fine but nothing special. He says that about that about most everything he orders at Mexican restaurants these days. Maybe eating this fare in Mexico (work travel) has spoiled him. There wasn't any dessert I could have but I ate all my meal so I could not have had anything anyway. Knowing my husband loves Tres Leches cake I convinced him to order a piece but he didn't like that either. In his defense, the version served here is nothing like we're used to in Atlanta or in Mexico for that matter. It was dry and we thought maybe they gave him the wrong thing but they didn't. I loved the ambiance here and would go back when in San Antonio. Maybe next time they'll have the Celiac chips!!!

For lunch the next day we tried a real honky-tonk kind of place called The Cove. It's a restaurant with a garden, a playground and for some odd reason, a car wash. We knew they had gluten free buns and grass fed beef but the ordering process was sketchy at best. The gluten free menu was hand written on a yellow note pad sheet and didn't say gluten free on it except to describe the buns. They had sweet potato fries listed which my husband ordered but I knew they didn't have a dedicated fryer. He can eat gluten so no worries there. It was nice that the cook came to our table to explain the fries were not gluten free and was shocked to hear they are listed on their 'so called' gluten free menu. In any case, she was really nice about it. The bar tender insisted that they didn't carry Redbridge beer and offered only what was on the menu. So my husband had to carry the menu - with Redbridge clearly printed on it - to the bar and the guy finally found one for me. Our burgers were killer but I could have done without the bun. The frozen Whole Foods GF Bakehouse buns are better and I'm not in love with them by a long stretch. Still, if you get the chance to order a burger with a gluten free bun, I suggest you do it. You can always remove it if you don't like it. At The Cove, I ate only the bottom bun and it was okay that way.

We went to The Cove on an 'off' day, to say the least. And because my husband was so concerned they messed up my food, I could not enjoy the place or my meal that much. It's nice that he's so protective but sometimes he acts as if I'm going to drop dead if someone messes up my meal. I'm happy to report that my meal at The Cove was most definitely gluten free. If I were to go back I'd eat before going, and go at night when they have live music.

I have to say that our dinner that night more than made up for the lunch experience. Upon Anne's recommendation (and others on Trip Advisor) we dined at Las Canarias in the Omni Hotel on the Riverwalk. We were seated at a romantic table by the window and had a lovely Riverwalk view down below. Our server immediately explained that I should review the menu and ask for whatever I wanted and she would ask the Chef if I could have it prepared gluten free. When I eyed the duck entree I knew I had to order it, if it was not full of wheat starch like all the duck dishes I'd inquired about before. The server quickly returned to tell me the duck would be prepared safely for me so I ordered that and we ordered a salad to split - which was almost too pretty to eat. I could not eat what my husband ordered but he enjoyed it, though neither of us can remember now what it was. The salad was fabulous and I rarely get excited about salad when dining out. But my duck entree was probably the best I've ever had, and I've had duck in many high end places in the US and even in Paris. All I can say is if you live in or visit San Antonio and you like duck, you must go to Las Canarias and order it. I don't care of you eat gluten or not - this dish is not to be missed! There was nothing I could have for dessert except for creme brulee with cherry compote and I can have that (or plain creme brulee) most anywhere so we skipped that course. I had a Kahlua and creme instead. If you enjoy fine dining without the air of pretentiousness that is present at many please offering it, don't miss this special dining experience in San Antonio. Chef John Brand is happy to accommodate his special needs guests and is extremely creative and well versed in gluten free food preparation. Excluding tip our bill was $107 and we considered it quite a deal! I know I say it all the time but when you dine where there is an actual Chef cooking REAL food, you'll always have a better experience than at a large chain where they roll their eyes when you mention gluten, even when they have a gluten free menu.... There is just no comparison in the two types of places, and that is as it should be.
To the left is my favorite shot taken at The Alamo which we visited before lunch one day. Last but not least, is a shot of The McNay Museum which we visited upon Anne's recommendation. Luckily for us, they have a reciprocal membership deal with the High Museum of Atlanta which we're members of, so we were able to get in for free which allowed me to purchase a gorgeous glass art bottle stopper in the gift shop. It's hard to believe the place was once someones home but it was. One of the most interesting exhibits to us was Tim Burton's 'The Nightmare Before Christmas'. They had actual mini sets from the movie and it was truly fascinating! If you enjoy seeing fabulous art in a most spectacular setting, do not miss The McNay when visiting San Antonio. The general admission only runs $8 and I think one day a week you can get in for free. Check their website for details. Oh, and don't miss the spectacular sculpture garden on the McNay grounds!

Collectively we've been to eight cities in Texas and we agreed that San Antonio is by far our favorite place there now. I just wish it was within driving distance so we could visit more often!

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