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Fine Dining


Murph

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When a Southerner (or Texan) says the term "Fine Dining" we DO NOT mean some snooty over priced place that serves "deconstructed duck mole in a garlic anise sauce with vapors of french truffles, accompanied by a 1984 Chateau de Merde" with half a carrot, and costs too d@mn much.  We mean the kind of eating where you leave the place feeling both full and satisfied completely by your meal.  Some of the fine dining establishments in San Antonio:

Tandoor Palace- OMG, food fit for minor deities.

Tommy's- Tex Mex, good, sometimes a bit greasy, but always tasty and in good amounts.

El Ranchito in Schertz, TX- Tex Mex and very good.  

Catalano's Pizzaria in Cibolo- New York Style Pizza, Stromboli's and Lasagna, worth the trip and the meal.  Say hello to Carl.  

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My top spots are The Esquire Tavern, Maverick Texas Brasserie, and SoHill Cafe (Italian place owned by a Frenchman, who also owns Julia's Bistro next door). Damn good food and cocktails, especially The Esquire. For Mexican, all of my new hires get taken to Rosario's for lunch.

The best Tommy's location was the one that used to be across from the justice center, but sadly it closed. Same with that great burger place on the same block. :( 

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I think I'm largely in the same boat with you as far as 'fine dining'.  From friends who have frequented some of these snooty places I hear they can actually be quite good... but it's simply not practical for me to go to them due to the cost.  Instead my definition is simply - do I want to go back?

The sad thing is after thinking about this for a few days after seeing your post the list I come up with is awfully small.  It's not for a lack of trying.  Things were going swell for me in those years before COVID/inflation and I actually made a point to get out and support the local economy.  I also made a point to try and find those hole-in-the-wall establishments and gems that might be overlooked.  So many were just... forgettable.

Paradise Valley Burger Company - This is the only one that was hands down 'WOW'.  Before COVID my bro and I met up monthly to hang out and we always picked a new burger joint to try.  This was the only one in doing this for over a year where we were both saying "I can't wait to go back".

Breakfast Kitchen Bar - At first glance this one would seem borderline snooty given where it's at (Scottsdale Quarter - an upscale shopping/dining center near where I live).  A friend suggested it years ago because we were both experimenting with keto and this place was one of the few with a keto menu (and a fairly massive one, too).  I remember when they brought us our food I joked to my friend "umm... how expensive was this place again?" because the presentation screamed that snooty vibe (thankfully in appearance and not from lack of food).  Then I tasted it and... mind was blown.  That meal with my friend was the first (and only) time I've taken pics of my food to send to friends.  🤣  The great thing is, too, it wasn't that expensive (plates were $15-20 and all you needed was one... I know, I've gone back and tried to get two at once).  This place deserves an asterisk, though.  They have a regular brunch menu with traditional food.  I tried that menu once when I was treating myself a few months back.  Was awful... because for all the stereotypical snooty reasons - they were trying to hard to be fancy and unique and just ruined what should have been simple foods.  Still, their keto/paleo/GF menu is amazing.

The sad thing is this list would have been a little longer but COVID really killed the experience at many restaurants.  One I would have mentioned before COVID is ZInburger.  They had the best wagyu burger you could find before COVID.  Apparently they got rid of it during the pandemic along with like a third of their menu and the place is just... meh... now (they still have the best shakes in town).

I'm also desperately trying to find a good BBQ place out here.  I've tried half a dozen and all were... meh.  Some friends even dragged me an hour to the SE Valley to try one of these supposed gems (they were either ma-and-pa or maybe a smaller chain from TX) and... yeah... wasn't impressed. 

 

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Wife and go to Rising Sun, Indiana several  times a year for a long weekend get away. Our "fine dining" establishment is the "Main St. Diner." It looks like it sounds. The wife, being a semi-connoisseur of cheesecake, will have this diner's version of it for breakfast as it is that good. 

Personally, I like the sausage they have, obtained from a Milan, Indiana* small - time  butcher. It is not greasy at all and has an overall, "earthy" spiciness to it, ie, it doesn't sit in my stomach for hours on end. Excellent with the owner's biscuits and endless, medium-strong coffee 💗

A large part of this is due to the 200 + year old small hotel we stay in and an excellent used book store nearby. 

* Milan, Indiana is an Indiana basketball minor-legend. The movie "Hoosiers" is based on it. 

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There are two Indian restaurants that I frequent regularly with friends. Both serve "typical" UK Indian food. Raj Garden in Welwyn Garden City has been the go to there for more than 20 years. The food is competent, and we go out of habit.

Chilli in St Alban's is the other go to. Slightly smarter, slightly higher priced, good service and also competent.

For Fine Dining, I'd pick Veer Dhara for Indian, again in St Alban's. Premium quality, with a range of fish curries that are not standard fare, but which are excellent. For more European style, Lussmans in St Alban's and Harpenden provides good quality fish main courses - a destination for a date or an anniversary.

However, when out with friends we normally settle for a burger and fries provided from the kitchen of the pub we've got comfortable in. They're all good, hearty fare and you get a better choice of liquid to wash it down with.

What I want is a good sushi place, but nothing local has stood out.

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My current breakfast go to is Lucky's on 16th, they do the best biscuits and gravy I've had in a restaurant.  I haven't really found a place for lunch or dinner since the move back to Iowa we've been eating at home more so the sample size is small.  If I had to pick one today, a place called Tornadoes Pub and Grub has the best burgers I've had here and for pizza a place called Hospoda makes a very good one.  I've only sampled one (Taj Mahal) of the 3 Indian places in town but it was not too bad, it even had dosa on the lunch buffet which isn't common.   

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Biscuits and gravy are my kryptonite... unfortunately only dined in one place that did it justice.  Was literally a hole-in-the-wall diner in Durango, CO that sat maybe 20 folks tops and was tucked away in a nondescript strip mall.  The plate was massive with the gravy pouring off the edge.

Closest place I've seen down here to do biscuits and gravy justice is a restaurant called Butters.  Their dish is... ok... but I can definitely give them props for being the only breakfast place I've ever eaten at that does scrambled eggs right.  99.9% of the places I've eaten that serve scrambled eggs have always messed it up (always overcooked).  I recall a video from Gordon Ramsay years ago saying that the simplest way to tell if a cook was worth it was have him make you scrambled eggs.  Sadly I guess almost every cook that's served me breakfast wouldn't pass Ramsay's test.  😆

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Most people I know would consider properly cooked scrambled eggs to be seriously undercooked.  Their loss.  Good biscuits and gravy is surprisingly difficult to find, most places do ok with the biscuit part, but they really stumble on the gravy. The most common problem is that it ends up being a bland library paste like blob with a few sausage flecks and a speck or two of black pepper.

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If I could just find a place that served SOS as good as made in the old 2-36th Infantry mess hall, I would be in heaven.  Not hamburger but the real chipped beef, OMFG! SFC Rodriguez could put some food out!  When that guy dies, St. Peter is going to bring him straight to heaven to fix breakfast for all the angels!  I have never in my whole life eaten in a mess hall as good.  

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9 hours ago, Harold Jones said:

Most people I know would consider properly cooked scrambled eggs to be seriously undercooked.  Their loss.  Good biscuits and gravy is surprisingly difficult to find, most places do ok with the biscuit part, but they really stumble on the gravy. The most common problem is that it ends up being a bland library paste like blob with a few sausage flecks and a speck or two of black pepper.

NO KIDDING!  Good biscuits and sausage gravy are so poorly made in so many places.  Now you find a place serving good corned beef hash....save me a seat.

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14 minutes ago, Murph said:

NO KIDDING!  Good biscuits and sausage gravy are so poorly made in so many places.  Now you find a place serving good corned beef hash....save me a seat.

I gave up even trying to find good corned beef hash, I only order it if I'm sure it's going to come out of a can.  Sadly the only thing worse than canned corn beef hash in my experience is the stuff that restaurants come up with on their own.  

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There are three places in this area that make good corned beef hash: The Magnolia Pancake House in San Antonio, Avery's Kitchen and the Buttermilk Cafe in New Braunfels.  All three places have very acceptable corned beef hash.  

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On 12/16/2022 at 4:28 AM, Rick said:

Just my opinion, but I believe what constitutes good biscuits and gravy can rate right up there with what constitutes good chili.

I don't think so. Good biscuits and gravy is simple. Biscuits preferably light and fluffy and flavorful gravy with discernable bits of sausage in it.

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9 hours ago, Harold Jones said:

I don't think so. Good biscuits and gravy is simple. Biscuits preferably light and fluffy and flavorful gravy with discernable bits of sausage in it.

 

9 hours ago, Murph said:

Agreed, there is a perfect gravy/sausage ratio which so many places get completely wrong.  

While B&G is not my favorite breakfast; there are differences such as brown or white gravy which is thick, then or in between according to one's wishes. There is also the many, small sausage bits vs the fewer, but larger sausage pieces. Then there is the subject of the amount of black pepper.

Now regarding the biscuits; I can tastefully agree with light and fluffy, but to much so means they "wilt" under the force of the gravy, especially the thicker ones. A slightly dry biscuit will absorb some of the gravy allowing the aromas, tastes, and textures to be fully appreciated. This should, of course, be followed by a sip or gulp of hot, strong, black coffee.

bon appetit, ya'll :)

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I see where you are coming from, but those differences are of degree not kind. The arguments about chili on the other hand are nearly religious. The chili my aunt Betty makes (tasty as it is on a winter day)would not be recognized as such by most Texans and the less said about Cincinatti chili the better.

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11 minutes ago, Harold Jones said:

I see where you are coming from, but those differences are of degree not kind. The arguments about chili on the other hand are nearly religious. The chili my aunt Betty makes (tasty as it is on a winter day)would not be recognized as such by most Texans and the less said about Cincinatti chili the better.

Chili; Sir, is that noble bowl of Red, that is the food of the gods.

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Back when I was childless and had disposable income I used to eat at fancy restaurants a lot. My takeaway was that the super high end restaurants (French Laundry etc) are actually kinda worth it - definite once in a lifetime experiences - but the restaurants one tier down are more likely to be expense-account bullshit. 

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On 12/5/2022 at 11:58 AM, Murph said:

When a Southerner (or Texan) says the term "Fine Dining" we DO NOT mean some snooty over priced place that serves "deconstructed duck mole in a garlic anise sauce with vapors of french truffles, accompanied by a 1984 Chateau de Merde" with half a carrot, and costs too d@mn much.  We mean the kind of eating where you leave the place feeling both full and satisfied completely by your meal.  Some of the fine dining establishments in San Antonio:

Tandoor Palace- OMG, food fit for minor deities.

Tommy's- Tex Mex, good, sometimes a bit greasy, but always tasty and in good amounts.

El Ranchito in Schertz, TX- Tex Mex and very good.  

Catalano's Pizzaria in Cibolo- New York Style Pizza, Stromboli's and Lasagna, worth the trip and the meal.  Say hello to Carl.  

I go to Dallas a lot for work, and I gotta say that the region has all kinds of amazing “ethnic” food. I’ve had legit great Chinese, Indian, etc there, often in unassuming places in strip malls. 

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13 minutes ago, Angrybk said:

Back when I was childless and had disposable income I used to eat at fancy restaurants a lot. My takeaway was that the super high end restaurants (French Laundry etc) are actually kinda worth it - definite once in a lifetime experiences - but the restaurants one tier down are more likely to be expense-account bullshit. 

And I agree 1000%.  Pretentious crap, attempting to imitate the real things.  

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