San Antonio – Inroduction By: Suz Pisano
Just when it was starting to heat up a little bit in the Burgh, Nightwire went South. I wouldn’t necessarily say “deep South” but definitely deep in the heart of Texas – San Antonio, Texas to be exact!
On the drive from the airport, I fell in love with the architecture and the ambiance of this beautiful Texas City. Nightwire was invited for a culinary adventure featuring some of the finest restaurants and some of the fastest rising stars of the San Antonio scene. As we pulled into Hotel Havana, a lovely boutique hotel along the famous Riverwalk, I couldn’t wait to peruse the itinerary and see what was in store for our adventure. First, let me tell you a little bit about the hotel.
Hotel Havana was originally built in 1914 by a successful local grocer as a residence hotel for his buyers. The name was inspired by the lush riverfront surroundings reminiscent of the Caribbean island city. The Mediterranean Revival design of the building reflects this influence and the Spanish Colonial architecture of surrounding San Antonio. Hotel Havana’s pan-Latin influence pays tribute to the diverse cultural elements of its Cuban namesake, as well as its proximity to Mexico and the roots of its home in San Antonio. The property offers 27 unique rooms ranging from studios to King and Queen Suites to a split- level Penthouse. Hotel Havana is highly recommended. http://www.havanasanantonio.com/
Welcome cocktails were served at Ocho, the restaurant and lounge space serving drinks and food downstairs in the hotel’s lower level and upstairs on the riverfront. Ocho also provides room service for hotel guests. The property was reopened in 2010 by hotelier Liz Lambert and Bunkhouse Group and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. This gorgeous setting was the perfect backdrop for appetizers and fancy cocktails. I did have a phenomenal breakfast there one morning where I lingered over coffee just to enjoy the beauty of the space.
San Antonio hosts an annual food festival – Culinaria, which features events, restaurants, cocktails, celebrity chefs, and lots and lots of great food! Nightwire was excited to be a part of this gastronomic celebration. Chef Jason Dady of Bin 555 hosted our first dinner. The Winemaker’s Dinner was situated in a room off of the main dining room where long tables greeted us and we were told that food would be served family style. Chef Jason said that he hoped that by the end of his “Umai Mi” themed dinner we wouldn’t be able to see the table because of so many plates. Umami is one of the five basic tastes (combined with sweet, sour, bitter and salty). It refers to the taste of glutamates and nucleotides that naturally occur in foods such as fish, cured meats, and products that are fermented and age (soy sauce, cheese, fish sauce). A Japanese Professor from the words umai meaning delicious and mi meaning taste first discovered this phenomenon in 1985. Fire Roasted Edamame, Shrimp Rolls, Hot Sticky Pork Ribs, Lemongrass Roasted Chicken, Spicy Cumin Lamb, and Brisket were some of the plates that graced our table. Winemaker Dinners were hosted at various locations throughout San Antonio, prices varied by location. Check out Culinaria details on their website- www.culinariasa.com Also be sure and check out Chef Jason’s restaurant at www.bin555.com It’s a must visit if you find yourself in San Antonio!
Following dinner, our group was invited by local restaurateurs and celebrity Chef Johnny Hernandez to meet him at this home/event space to prepare a barbacoa for brunch the following day. I learned a lot about cooking lamb wrapped in banana leaves covered with giant agave leaves & lowered into an 8-foot pit. The set-up was mind boggling with technology & artisanal flair. After watching the preparation, we went inside Casa Hernan to relax with a tequila tasting. I couldn’t help but feel bad for those in the group that opted to return to the hotel and miss this private time with Chef Hernandez. We tasted two of his private barrel selections created for his restaurants. I like tequila, have learned a lot about it and was blown away by the experience. Chef Hernandez travels to different Mexican villages seeking out the finest artisans for furniture, glassware, plates and an abundance of original artwork. I could hardly wait for brunch the next day and to get to see everything in the daylight. I mentioned that Casa Hernan is also his living space, which sits atop the beautiful event space where brunch was to be served the next day. Weddings, parties and occasional pop-up brunches are held here. Read more about Chef Johnny at www.chefjohnnyhernandez.com
Barabcoa Brunch at Casa Hernan was certainly a highlight of the trip. The photos can’t possibly convey the warmth of the environment and the authenticity of the dishes served. The lamb barbacoa was served with a broth and was absolutely the focal point of the experience. I met a tequila purveyor who suggested that the Anejo be sipped along side coffee. The Mexican coffee served was delicately spiced with a little cinnamon and I quickly found that he was absolutely right! Casa Hernan and Chef Johnny Hernandez made me love San Antonio even more. I have to go back to try his other restaurants!