Salty and Slow San Antonio

by janet on March 16th, 2011

Let’s be honest. I’ve been in hibernation mode. The grueling nature of the past five months has taken its toll, and hibernation is an apt metaphor because eating was not a priority, and neither was writing breezy posts filled with f-bombs about said eating. Just sleeping and being furry.

But then I felt it. The glorious warmth of the sun, which drew me out of my stupor. Quite literally the sun in sunny Texas, but also the heat and life-giving power of the best breakfast taco I have ever eaten. More on that later.

First, I should explain that I was in San Antonio for a conference. They must have been doing some sort of tax firesale, since fully three conferences that I go to are in San Antonio this year. Having done Round 1 in January, I was NOT impressed with the food-related offerings of the city. I really liked the Riverwalk, mostly because (a) it reminded me of Disneyland and  (b) the daredevil-ness of not having a single fence or railing made me feel like I was in a slightly dangerous Disneyland, which strikes me as a pretty awesome thing. But the food? No.

The second time, however, I was armed with a secret weapon: Sharisa. My secret weapon was armed with her own secret weapon, a little zygote that sent constant “EAT! EAT!” messages to its host. Their combined power was unstoppable, and Sharisa had unearthed tons of culinary gems that my own research had not.

The first night, however, we went to the hotel restaurant, Sazo’s. This was mostly out of exhaustion, desperation, laziness, and giant-groupness, not because it was on any of our lists. It was here where the “Slow and Salty” meme was born, because everyone’s dishes were almost inedibly salty, and it took us 45 minutes from the time we laid down our credit cards to when we got them back to sign. WTFBBQ (literally on the BBQ part). I won’t waste any more time on Sazo’s.

The following day we went to Boudro’s for lunch. Boudro’s was on everyone’s “I heard that place was good” list, but it was also (a) in the hotel room “Where to Eat” guide, (b) on the Riverwalk, and (c) on my fucking BOARDING pass as a “local attraction!” so I was skeptical.

We were seated at a lovely outside table in partial shade, looking out over the cute lazy river. Pictured top is my Prickly Pear Margarita -tequila, triple sec and fresh lime juice, frozen and layered with prickly cactus pear puree. A more beautiful margarita there never was. The rim was some sort of smoky salt concoction with a tamarind hit. Beauty and booze blended to make this a very intoxicating drink indeed.

Pictured just above is our tableside guacamole. Tableside guacamole is a big, big thing in San Antonio. I’m sure one restaurant started it and all the others were like “Goddamnit look whatchoo’ve done” and followed suit. This one was – you guessed it – salty. I appreciated the unique touches, though, like roasted serrano pepper and orange juice instead of lime. I also enjoyed listening to the table next to us lecturing their server on how they make their guacamole, and I thought to myself “the poor servers must get that all the fucking time.”  In that tone of voice but not with the same words, the beleaguered server said, “Yes, it’s so interesting hearing everyone’s home recipes!”

My entree was actually an app – the Texas Tapas: skewer of pork tenderloin al pastor with pineapple, grilled Hill Country jalapeno sausage, smoked duck, spicy marinated vegetables, corn pudding and barbeque sauce. The spit-cooked pork was oh so tender and my favorite part of this dish. The sausage was fine – too salty with the BBQ sauce and nothing special besides. The corn pudding was perfect when I slapped on a button-sized amount on everything. The duck slid off the bone in what could only be described as a seductive manner. I merely poked it with my fork and suddenly it was on my plate all wet with BBQ sauce. The whole dish was pretty refined for a Riverwalk joint. A+.

That night I was already back in San Francisco, since I had a thing I had to be at for work the next day. The third night I ate at the TGIF in the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport on my stopover while flying back.

The fourth day we went to lunch at the Monterey, a place that Sharisa had found. Right before we left the hotel were were talking to a very distinguished prof, and when we excused ourselves for lunch he said “Is the restaurant logo a big M?” and we chirped an amazed “Yes, actually!” but then it turned out he was being an asshole and suggesting we were going to McDonald’s, so there was a lot of confusion which all eventually concluded in anger all around.

I suggested we take a cab, but there was a giant St. Patrick’s day parade going on, so Sharisa and our other dining companions (including Betty!) forced me to go on what ended up being an almost-death march in the 85 degree heat in conferencey clothes. My kneepits were dark with sweat stains, gross! And right after I had hotel-dry-cleaned these pants!

We got to the restaurant, which is super cute, but most of the seating is outdoors with no semblance of shade, partial or otherwise. The owner, Brad or Chad I can’t remember, was very friendly. Betty had a flight in 1.5 hours so she ate quickly and jetted…or tried to, except the cab didn’t come for FORTY FIVE minutes and BradChad had to finally get on the phone with the cab company and yell “GET YOUR ASS OVER HERE!”

Sharisa and I ordered basically everything on the menu, beginning with grapefruit soda, continuing onto Double-order French fries with crystal hollandaise, then fried green tomato, Benton’s bacon, soft eggs, crystal hollandaise, and then a Po’boy with fried oysters and pork jowl, and then finally their special of the day, which was a short rib hot dog. Scary Larry got French toast with pork belly and strawberries, which sounded like a neato combination.

These french fries were. the. best. They were very clearly properly twice-fried, so crispy on the outside that we might have been biting into apples. Note that they are not sweet potato fries; they are actually that golden brown. The dipping sauce had a smoky streak in it, which was nice.

I guess “pork jowl” just means fatty bacon. Maybe I happened upon not the freshest oyster, because this guy made me a little queasy. A fishy oyster wrapped in a thick armor of batter right up against not-rendered pig fat was a bit much for me. Thank goodness the bread was crusty and toasted or else I might have fainted mid-chew. Sharisa really loved it, so maybe it was just my particular oyster or else her baby is controlling her brain like this. [For the love of god, don't watch 0:50 onwards!]

Here are the fried green tomatoes. I really loved the book and have always wanted to try them. It was hard to discern their flavor since they were covered in yolk and similarly-colored hollandaise with bacon to boot. Mostly I would describe this dish as a fun fatty texture bomb.

Here’s Scary Larry’s weird thing. I believe that was espresso syrup underneath it all. I have been burned one too many times by under-rendered pork belly, so I was worried for him. But as you can see, it was properly almost-burninated and I reallllly wanted to lean over and steal a bite, but he was sick and besides, I hate French toast.

In sum, I was pleasantly surprised to see such interesting food tucked away in a little corner of San Antonio, and while I didn’t love absolutely all of it, absolutely none of it was oversalted like the rest of the damn town, which automatically nets Monterey an A+.

I think we are growing up, because none of us got obliterated in the customary way at the conference banquet on Saturday night. This was a good thing, because I had the wherewithal to go on another death march with Sharisa Sunday morning to a breakfast taco joint called Taco Haven a bit out of the way. Ever since the little one implanted in her uterine lining, she has been most ravenous in the mornings, so breakfast tacos were high on her agenda.

As we walked toward the door, we spied through a window a worker bee making tortillas from scratch. Good sign. Also a good sign: they were recently voted “Best Breakfast” in Food Network Magazine. I ordered one Torres special – refried beans, cheese, bacon, and guacamole (above), one chorizo and egg breakfast taco, and one chorizo and potato breakfast taco.

Our kind server asked me whether I wanted flour, corn, or whole wheat tortillas. I opted for corn for the breakfast tacos, since that’s how I like them at Tacos Por Favor, and went with flour for the special. Sharisa got flour for all.

Right now I want to shove my lappie aside and run around my apartment yodeling, because that is the magnitude of emotion that I experience whenever I think about these tacos. This “bi-winning” high, though, is quickly followed by a devastating low when I think about the fact that eating them again isn’t something in my near future.

The tortillas – the TORTILLAS! I have been trying to come up with an adequate description for days. “Pillowy” is a good start. Just enough chewy to make them addictive. I want to make a full bedding set (including bedskirt) out of these tortillas so I can just roll myself into a Janet burrito and eat my way out, taking naps as needed.

Sharisa very sensibly ate her tacos in parallel, rotating between the three. I snarfed up my entire chorizo and egg one and was scolded by her. “What if that’s the best one?!” she asked. Good point. And it was. Womp-womp. I wasn’t too sad, though, because the chorizo and potato one was super, and the flour tortilla from my Torres special was, as I mentioned, soft round heroin. I scooped out half of my Torres fillings and filled it up with the chorizo and potato, and that was even more ecstasy-inducing. I realized then that a flour tortilla + chorizo & egg would be the most scrumptious thing on the planet, and that realization made me really, really sad. Because we would fly away from this glorious place without me ever reaching breakfast taco Nirvana.

As we walked back, we were both pretty despondent to leave. Sharisa tried to brighten my mood by asking what we should eat for dessert, except I said “More breakfast tacos” to deflate her attempt. This made her slow down and say, “Should we go back?” and I stopped and said “SHOULD we?” and she said “SHOULD WE?” and I said “SHOULLLD WEEE?!??” but we didn’t.

We should have. Stupid.

Boudro’s on Riverwalk
421 E Commerce St
San Antonio, TX 78205
210.224.8484

The Monterey
1127 S St Mary’s St
San Antonio, TX 78210
210.745.2581

Taco Haven
1032 S Presa St
San Antonio, TX 78210
210.533.2444


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