About a year ago some friends and I were at the Pearl Brewery redevelopment near downtown San Antonio.  Once the home of the old brewery, the large site has been transformed into a picturesque district with flower beds, fountains, boutiques, a branch of the Culinary Institute of America. In the main historic brewery building itself now stands the chic Hotel Emma. We wandered into the casual bistro at the hotel expecting a good but average hotel meal. As the salads and appetizers started to arrive I noticed a pattern. The food was unusually pretty – there were edible flowers petals and other small garnishes. Bite by bite the unique flavors and creative combinations started to paint a picture that this place was something really special. I sought out the chef after the meal and complimented him on the unexpected treat. After years of food destination travel, finding a small bistro in San Antonio that would hold up in New York, San Francisco or even Paris was amazing.

A year later ‘Supper’ is still that wonderful surprise. Like most successful restaurants these days their ingredients are locally-sourced and of high quality. Chef John Brand and his team transform beautifully these ingredients with what I can only describe as a sense of fun.

I arrived early on a chilly and damp morning and was happy to get a sunny and warm table at the back of the restaurant overlooking a small creek that runs through property. Some new items had been added to the lunch menu, but quickly the Duck terrine and the Golden beet salad were top of the list.

Having disliked beets as a kid, I am a fairly new but ardent convert. The roasted golden beets were served on a puree of red cabbage and red onion sautéed with red wine and red wine vinegar. It was reminiscent of a German red cabbage – the vinegar and wine (only) leaving a hint of spice. The beets were beautifully nutty and sweet, and to this, chef had grated hard-boiled egg and cilantro micro greens, the latter providing a bright little spark to selective bites. In between the beets were chips of Indian pappadum (chick pea tostada). Each bite had its own combination of sweet, savory, pepper, herb and a tiny exotic note from a dusting of sumac. The salad paired well with an Elizabeth Chambers Pinot Gris (Willamette Oregon).

Tempting too much food, I had to try the Duck Confit Terrine. It was picture perfect. A beautiful square filled with pieces of duck and dotted with brilliant specks of apricots and green pistachios. It was served with a bright green tarragon mustard and a small salad. No Frenchman on the planet would be disappointed with this. Sergio, my waiter brought along a small basket of toasted rounds of French bread smiling and saying, “some people like this”. A small meal in itself, the duck had the perfect meaty flavor and texture and all the little additions added to the pleasure. Jammy sweetness from the apricots, a little tartness from the cranberries, bright herb from the mustard and the little hint of melted butter on the toast. It was amazing.

We paired the terrine with a glass of the Bertrand Ambroise Burgundy (2014). The wine was light with mild tannins and tasting of cherry; it was a perfect accompaniment.

At this point Chef Jaime (Executive Sous Chef) came out with the new appetizer.  Remember ‘fun’. He wanted to get my take on the Crispy Cauliflower and Brussel Sprouts with Chile Peanuts and Carmel popcorn!

Most places, I would have thought of the unusual combination as a gimmick, but a definite take away is that at Supper, Chef Brand would not just put out something different if it wasn’t really good.

True to that, the cauliflower and Brussels sprouts were tender and smoky and the peanuts and mild caramel corn worked! It was all bound with a light Asian style chili sauce with a little heat and bit of sweetness. I kept it as an additional side with the main course.

Lunch proper was the Breast of Chicken with Chorizo, Spinach and Braised Chick Peas.  Chorizo has been an ‘it’ ingredient for a few years now and many times it will simply overpower a dish. Suppers version turned out to be in-house ‘green chorizo’. Mixed with the soft chickpeas, it was like a flavorful green chili stew.

The chicken breast itself was brined and roasted to a beautiful color – it was moist and perfect. Little dots of pink pepper corn again made for a very pretty plate. Sergio suggested a Russian River Chardonnay and it was spot on.

Of the three desserts on the menu I remembered the butterscotch and coconut tapioca from my last visit. These were soft dollops of butterscotch creméux and fudge around coconut-flavored tapioca pudding. The dish is then topped with juniper, black sesame seeds and (very mild) pickled black berries. Each component was wonderful on its own and allowed for endless combinations. Butterscotch and tapioca pudding are two childhood flavors – appreciating the work of a creative pastry chef is a benefit of being an adult.

In for a pound, I tried the Spiced Churro with fennel, pistachio semifreddo and chocolate glazed pistachios. These were again playful combinations that were overall winners.

Lastly, Pastry Chef Stephanie brought out a beautiful new dessert: thin layers of dark chocolate cake alternating with peanut butter mousse topped with an almond cream and finished with a mixed berry compote. It was restrained in sweetness, delicious, and just a stunning presentation.

I had an opportunity to talk with several of Chef Brand’s staff; Executive Sous Chef Jaime Gonzalez (a second Chef Jaime) and waiter Sergio and was surprised to hear that they had been with chef Brand for many years at different venues. This actually made perfect sense. The level of creativity and attention to detail come from strong loyalty. Chef Brands vision is appreciated and obviously protected by his staff.

At the end of my meal came a little silver tray topped with a perfect espresso; lemon peel, two kinds of sugar cubes and a tiny glass of sparkling water. Beautiful in every detail like the meal that preceded it.

Richard Arebalo
Features Editor OTL Golf

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