The old saying that “God is in the details” has been referenced to everything from architecture to computer programming, however, most recently I found it applied perfectly to my experience at San Antonio’s fine dining restaurant Signature.
Located on one of the highest hills in the northwest part of the city; this beautiful venue is the prestige offering of La Cantera Resort & Spa and celebrated Chef Andrew Weissman.
The restaurant, which opened in November of 2016, is located in what was the original golf academy on the property. It underwent a complete renovation by San Antonio’s Dado Group which ultimately garnered a Builders industry award for its beautiful rehabilitation of space.
The building kept many elements of the original King Ranch inspired design of white walls and red tile roofs but incorporated modern elements in parts of the façade punctuated by many iron paned windows and French doors.
Though the exterior is crisp with little overall embellishment, the interiors designed by Jill Giles are sumptuous and warm with the absolute feeling described by the resort as “South Texas meets the South of France.”
The restaurant is filled with beautiful details; antique French sofas, carpets, antique and custom-made wood furniture, and even a massive French stone fireplace dating from the 1880s. The walls are decorated with sconces, antique paintings and French country touches like vintage trays, weathered bread boards, and even an impressive stuffed pheasant.
Texas-centric touches are also everywhere in the restaurant; from the wide plank floors reclaimed from the famed Joske’s department store to tables made from wood sourced from shuttered oilfield installations. The latter having every appearance of just being made of exotic wood.
As you walk into the restaurant, the space transitions from tall hewed wood columns and massive beams to a lighter dining space with dark rafters and large circular iron chandeliers.
At the far end of the room, just past the very impressive display of French copper pots is a decidedly modern open kitchen gleaming with custom-built cooking equipment and featuring a much-used rotisserie, and wood-burning oven.
The evening started with a very brief stop in the comfortable waiting area with easy access to a beautiful zinc bar. A wide selection of cocktails is available and prepared by bartenders that somehow look elegant in their shaker technique. As I walked past them at one point in the evening, it reminded me of a scene from a movie.
Our dinner started with an Andrew Weissman signature touch; as we were seated, napkins placed neatly on our laps, a large antique silver tray stunningly layered with slices of; grapefruit, orange, lemon, lime, cucumber, and mint leaves was offered simply for our water glasses. This little gesture sends a clear message; a beautiful meal is to follow.
Chef Weissman and Executive chef Laurent Rea change the menu seasonally. Our winter menu leaned wonderfully French with many selections featuring truffles, foie gras, morels, pheasant and venison. In classic French country fashion, the chefs take advantage of a small garden in the back of the property for the occasional garnish of herbs or beautiful little carrots.
Service at the restaurant is smooth and discreet. General manager Michael McClellan, formerly of ‘Supper’ at the Hotel Emma heads a team of very professional, yet friendly staff. Wait staff, sommeliers and even food runners have a uniformly welcoming feel for diners.
The only real difficulty truly is limiting choices from some many possibilities. If a course choice was not difficult enough, Signature’s wine cellar managed by Sommelier Adam Spencer was awarded a ‘Best of Award of Excellence’ by Wine Spectator Magazine for 2018. The twenty-two hundred bottle cellar features over 365 labels most ranging from forty dollars to about three hundred dollars with some very special bottles like the coveted Domaine de la Romanée-Conti at closer to four thousand. The cellar features a broad selection of wines from around the world but has a particular strength in Burgundy, Champagne, the Rhône valley, and California.
Happily, the restaurant also features some fifty labels by the glass. With judicious use of a Coravin wine preservation system, some prestige options like Henriot and Billecart-Salmon Champagnes, Premier Cru Sauternes and some very fine Bordeaux selections are impressively available.
Our first taste for the evening was an amuse bouche consisting of a fried potato chip topped with diced prawn and garnished with tobiko (flying fish roe). It was delicious, beautifully fresh, with just a hint of brine. It was only made better by the cold Henriot Champagne we chose to start the meal.
For our appetizer course, we chose four very different items. The charcuterie board came first. Various selections of house-cured meats; delicate pork lomo, spicy soppressata, and an incredible duck prosciutto were served with pickles, olives, traditional grainy mustard, and a small sliced baguette.
The appetizer portion of lobster risotto that followed was flavorful and exceptionally well prepared as was the Crispy Texas Prawns wrapped in brick dough and served with a very memorable orange, garlic glaze.
Without a doubt, the star of the evening was the brilliant Foie Gras Terrine; a generous slab of buttery foie gras served with a phenomenal diced pear confit, a small dome of shaved black truffle, and warm brioche. Every bite made you close your eyes. The terrine was paired perfectly with a glass of 2007 Chateau Suduiraut Sauternes which had just enough acidity to balance the honeyed botrytis notes of the wine.
Our mains were again varied – I chose a traditional Tenderloin Rossini which was served with a rich, Perigueux sauce flavored with black truffles and accompanied by a side of velvety potato mousseline. The addition of fresh, seared foie gras was perhaps gilding the lily, but it made the tender steak that much more flavorful. Our Sommelier Sabrina’s suggestion of a 2011 Les Tourelles de Longueville was polished and perfect.
Although my dinner companions’ large Ribeye was served with a good green peppercorn/cognac demi-glace, my Perigueux sauce was a hit with that as well.
The third entrée was something that I hope to have before the menu changes again. The dish was composed of roasted pheasant served with sautéed morels and a light sherry cream sauce, to the side was a small chicken and pheasant ballotine and in the center, a small horn of rolled pappardelle. It was beautiful, and the small bite I was able to negotiate was fantastic.
As filling and complete as this meal was, we were each treated to a small scoop of strawberry balsamic sorbet as a palate cleanser.
Luckily, and as is my preference, desserts were of a manageable size. My favorite was the small tartlet composed of vanilla/raspberry flavored mascarpone and delicate layers of sablé Breton, lovely little French butter cookies with a nutty brown-butter taste.
As a final offering and mercifully in absolute miniature was a beautiful assortment of mignardise; a tiny Earl Gray macaron, a sugar rolled cube of Raspberry Gelée, a marble-sized chocolate truffle, a tiny lemon and single-blueberry napoleon, and lastly, a mote of red velvet cake shaped like a tiny brioche topped with whipped cream.
Most fine restaurants ultimately supply great food; the very best ones supply great memories.
By Richard Arebalo