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Water-logged in and unimpressed by San Antonio chow

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Restaurants & Bars 6

Water-logged in and unimpressed by San Antonio chow

samandgabe | Jun 22, 2004 01:53 PM

After eagerly anticipating some major chowhounding in San Antonio in-between sessions at a conference there, I have to say that I left town without tasting any extraordinary morsels. My pal Kerry and I did research that usually proves fruitful--scouring the last year of Chowhound posts and bringing a fairly recent Saveur article on San Antonio Tex-Mex--to no avail. On our flight to Texas we eagerly plotted out our dining strategy, admittedly limited by lack of a car and by short lunch breaks during our meetings...and, as we would soon learn, by nearly incessant rain for 3 and a half days(!).

Meal #1: We'd enjoyed a short jaunt around the attractive King William District to build our appetite for El Mirador (which received several nice posts on Chowhound) just blocks away. Well, we'd made the poor assumption that the neon 'open' sign signified that the place was, er, open, which isn’t the case for Monday evenings. Faced with mounting hunger and heavier and heavier rain, we soon ended up dashing into La Margarita over at Market Square. According to Saveur and the restaurant itself if memory serves, it's the home of great sizzling fajitas; and although it hadn't been our intended destination, we figured it would be a decent start to our trip. We grew intrigued by the Michelada, as I’d read about it not that long ago and it sounded like a somewhat entertaining drink. After placing an order for two, our waiter returned with two colossal beer glasses filled with ice and lime juice. He topped that off with Clamato, the better portion of a Tecate can, then sort of motioned to the Tabasco bottle. We both splashed on some Tabasco and took a sip…and it tasted a lot like...tomato juice, a little lime, and canned beer. Kerry said “I think this could grow on me,” but soon after I don’t think that was the case for either of us. The rest of the meal provided similar feelings, I’m afraid. We split an order of beef and chicken fajitas (entirely mediocre from the beans, to the rice, to the meats, to the guacamole) and on top of that it wasn’t sizzling as it came out on a large ceramic plate. The plate, coupled with the intense air conditioning produced tepid food in no time. The coctel was slightly better as it had small shrimp and 2 oysters in it, but it was dominated by catsup. The version I make it at home, and the one served at some of my favorite Mexican restaurants, has instead of a balance between the catsup and hot sauce. By this point we saw no chance that dessert would be better, so we returned to the rain and figured we’d have more luck tomorrow.

Meal #2: Schilo’s Deli. On Tuesday we had a very brief lunch break and so we again dashed through the rain to Schilo’s, which several chowhounds had recommended, albeit without offering any raves. I think comments suggested that it had more character than other Riverwalk area joints, and this did seem to be the case, but the food wasn’t anything to get excited about. We had a few sandwiches, Reubens and a Polish Sausage sandwich, a deviled egg, and a few beers. But we figured it’d be good to not eat Tex-Mex for one meal before heading out that evening to…

Meal #3: El Mirador. We endured another long walk through a downpour to get there and figured the meal would be the payoff. Kerry and I had read several posts referring to the sopa de lima, chiles rellenos, and salsa as being particularly good, so we figured those would all be good dishes to try. We also ordered a chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese (sort of relleno style) on the waiter’s recommendation. The soup was tasty—a nice broth with several spices apparent in it, and it was a generous serving. The chile relleno came encrusted in a shell of crumbled tortilla chips and stuffed with lots of cheese and small shrimp. A couple pieces of quesadilla came with the chile as well as some pinto beans. It was basically gooey flavorless cheese and barely shrimpy-shrimp. All told, it was average as was the chicken dish (the chicken had been cooked a little too long and generally lacked much flavor). I think it’s safe to say that we’ve had way better Tex-Mex meals in greater DC (where both good Tex-Mex and true Mexican restaurants are really lacking). In fairness, the salsa was pretty tasty as it had a nice smokiness. As a side note, when we sat down we received a tiny bowl of chips (for three of us) and the salsa. We downed the little bowl and asked for more chips. This batch, frankly, seemed to have sat around too long, so when our waiter came we told him so politely and asked for some new chips. He furrowed his brow and then grabbed a chip himself from our bowl! We watched as he chewed and he pronounced that the chips were fine. A somewhat entertaining stare down ensued between the waiter and our dining companion as we waited to see how our situation would be resolved. He quite reluctantly returned to the kitchen and brought back some (theoretically) new chips. Our waiter did lighten up as the evening went on. We mentioned that we came there based on recommendations from the Chowhound web site and he said that we were the fourth group to tell him so in the past month or so. I’d have to say that I wouldn’t recommend this spot for anyone seeking invigorating, lovingly prepared fare.

At this point, given the incessant rain and lack of even any singe outstanding dish we sort of packed it in. One last note foodwise—we wanted something light to eat our last evening there and popped into a sushi spot in downtown (something like Zushi Sushi?). Maybe we should have noted the lack of asian staff at the place, but when we found out that they used imitation crab meat (!) we took that as a final strike and headed off for some green vegetables on the Riverwalk.

In fairness, I assume that the true chowhounding in San Antonio, as in many other cities, isn’t done downtown anymore but instead in the ‘burbs. But we figured that there would be at least a few noteworthy spots—and that we were increasing our chances of finding such by researching beforehand! I hope that next time I’m in the city, I have more positive things to say.

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