Friday, February 17, 2017

Nearly a Religious Experience

Rossini's Italian Bistro
2195 Northwest Military Drive
(in Castle Hills, where all the big streets cross)

We felt like trying someplace new this week, so I spent some time looking at what other Zomato users had to say about various places, including this one, and decided to go for it. Even though it's Outside The Loop, and I wasn't packing a suitcase. I figured I could justify the trip by stopping off at the pet shop on the way. (I don't much trust restaurant reviews from people who only ever write one; I figure those people are motivated by some personal agenda, either boosterism or vendetta. I still read 'em, but more for entertainment than information.) 

Found this small place on the corner of one of the three main intersections of Castle Hills -- in that section where all the major roads cross, and I can never keep straight which one is which. This one's across from the bank and kitty-corner from the drug store. It was easy enough to find, though, because it's at the very end of a leafy and elegant strip center. Yes, I know, that's an oxymoron, but we move on.

We were early, having calculated that, in this affluent part of town on a Friday night, with no reservation, we'd have to wait a long time if we went at a more fashionable hour. As it turned out, we were the first people there. But even when we left, at 7:30, the dining room wasn't even half-full. Considering how good this place is, and how small, I guess it counts as being a surprisingly well-guarded secret. And while I hope the place does well, so that it'll stay around forever, if it turns into the Fashion of the Month and gets too crowded, it'll ruin it for me. But it's been here for a year and a half already, and the local-boy owner/chef with long bi-coastal experience sure as Hell knows what he's doing.

If Castle Hills publishes its
restaurant inspections, it's
news to me
The space is nice enough; decorated mostly from the "Eye-talian Restaurant" page of some corporate consulting decorator's catalog. Nothing special, just nice in a very ordinary way. It was clean, well-maintained and quiet; including when a party of four came in and recognized some people they knew, and everybody else in the place (meaning, at that point, just us) could have heard all about what everybody had said about everything. Even then, the acoustics were good enough to allow us to ignore the alien conversation. There are a few tables outside, but it would seem to me that the noise of traffic in the area would keep them from being fully enjoyed. 

Prices here are on the high side; much higher, in fact, that what I would have believed had I relied on the information on this Zomato listing ($25 per couple, my ass; but kudos to Zomato for their quick update following my email); but I had looked at the menu on line and already knew that was wrong, so I wasn't unpleasantly surprised when we arrived. We ended up spending about $165 total, including a couple of glasses of wine, and tax and tip. That's about 3 times what we'll normally spend on a Friday night out. But it was not an unreasonable amount for what we got (and this is only the 2nd time I've said anything like that about a three-figure bill). I will also say this about the prices: the amounts for wine by the glass here are, unlike some would-be-upscale places, very reasonable; mostly $7 to $10. I don't drink wine very often, but I often find prices on a wine list a good guide to value overall.

So to sum up so far, the decor: not great, but not bad. And the prices: reasonable, tending to better than that. Beyond that, this was absolutely exquisite. 

It being near Valentine's day, the kitchen was offering a special prix-fixe menu, four courses for $55 a person. (Everything on the menu is available à la carte as well.) My wife chose tomato basil soup, which was, y'know, tomato basil soup ... served piping hot and topped with a marvelous thin parmesan wafer to lift it beyond ordinary. My choice was gnocchi with lamb. The lamb meat had been sautéed to perfection --- I really didn't know lamb could be so tender --- with mushrooms and a little red pepper, then spooned into a dish with the gnocchi. The gnocchi, which was home-made, I'm sure, was marvelously dense and perfectly simmered before being flash-fried for a few seconds to give it just the slightest crusty texture. It was a revelation. It was fabulous. It was the perfect touch to bring the whole course triumphantly together. I miss it already. 

Next came the salad course. We had both chosen the beet* salad, on the waiter's recommendation. Not a large salad, but delicious: diced beets on creamy ricotta, a few greens for colour and some nuts for texture, altogether a magic formula for a truly satisfying experience. Anyone who goes to Rossini's after reading this review should genuinely regret that this little beet salad isn't on the regular menu. Needs to be.

Our choices for entrées were a beef tenderloin for my wife, a fish dish for me. The quantity of my fish was substantial enough to keep me from complaining (and those who know me know how hard it is to keep me from complaining), while the size of my wife's cut of meat was something of a surprise. Not outrageous by any means, but there on her plate it looked prodigious: thick; mouthwatering; tender. It proved to be all those things, perfectly cooked to medium-rare, served with some mushrooms and asparagus in a Marsala sauce, the meat just melted in the mouth like ... well, like that lamb I'd just had. So, so good.

I had never ordered branzino before, but when it came and I'd tasted it, I recognised it as what we called spigola or spicolo when I was a kid, oh, sooo many years back, when New Orleans was still a big city. It's kind of like a sea bass, only smaller. Anyway, it was nicely grilled and served with minimal sauce and seasoning -- no more than was needed -- over some brussel sprouts and potato wedges. All in all, an excellent dish perfectly executed. I lingered over it with as much deliberation as I could muster, enjoying every morsel and mopping the plate with some of the slightly dry cubes of bread that had been served at the start of the meal. (The fact that I've forgotten about the bread until this moment should tell you volumes about the quality of the rest of the meal.)

The entire evening was capped majestically by dessert: cannoli. Cannoli are, without a doubt, the best possible dessert when properly prepared. They are also, without a doubt, the most difficult to prepare properly. In the last, oh, 30 years, I've had exactly one good cannolo in San Antonio, at a now-defunct restaurant near Olmos Circle. And plenty of so-so cannoli. And too many lousy cannoli.  The cannolo I had at Rossini was the best I've ever had; better even than the cannolo I measure all other cannoli against, one that I had in New York City in 1972 at a place on Mulberry Street that's gone now. Yes, it was good enough to remember, until now. Now, I can forget about that one.

The cannoli shells Rossini uses are mass-produced, but properly stored to maintain crispy freshness until served. That alone seems beyond the capability of other restaurateurs. The filling is a rich, sweet (but not too sweet) preparation of ricotta cheese, good-quality chocolate chips, and deft seasoning, carefully stuffed into the shell and sprinkled with just the right amount of confectioner's sugar. It's served on a small pedestal of the same ricotta filling, which helps make it easier to eat, but it does raise the awkward question of whether one should lick the plate, or use one's finger to get the last little bit. That, my friends, is a question I can't answer. You will have to determine the proper course for yourself; but do let me know what you decide.

Rossini Italian Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

* I have only recently removed beets from my List of Five Foods I Will Not Eat Under Any Circumstances; the list, these days is down to only two items: viscera and black-eyed peas, whether you care or not.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Index Update

My index of "Other San Antonio Restaurant Reviews (not Mexican, not Asian)" has been updated, finally. But now it's disappeared from the Contents list on the right of this blog. Until I figure out why and fix it, you can access it here.

(Actually, I know why; Google changed page formats on Blogger. I just have to figure out how to fix it.)

Monday, January 9, 2017

An Update

Josephine Street
400 East Josephine Street
(at 281)

When I reviewed this place five years ago, I said it was basically good enough food, with reasonable prices, excellent ambience, and very good service. Not so much anymore: while the effervescence of dining room -- complete with old-fashioned bar, juke box in the corner, and a real tree near the front -- makes for an enjoyable atmosphere at any meal; and while the prices are competitive for the sort of down-home Texas style cookin' you get, the food varied from disappointing to just barely okay. Nothing haute about the cuisine here, and that'd be just fine. Ordinarily.

But this last time, a few days ago, the service was pretty miserable. It took a long time to get menus, and then to get our orders placed. Then it took a long, long time to get the food. On the way to the table with our two plates, the waitress spilled watery sauce from my green chili chicken all over the floor and the table, and seemed unconcerned that both plates had, at some point, lain upon someone's chicken fried steak. They left cream gravy all over the table when she had to take them back to the kitchen because they'd gotten things completely wrong. And then a long time to get them back. By then, the food had cooled beyond the point of acceptability, but we were both hungry enough to eat it without further complaint (except, of course, to each other).

Green chili chicken is not a dish I'll ever order again. The tomatillo sauce is uninteresting. And I'll never get the fries again, either; they were limp and chewy, probably even when they were hot. My friend's Tony's chicken was a pounded and grilled chicken breast inundated with cheddar cheese and a few chives. Like I said, just okay. The Toll House Pie (a splurge for my friend's birthday) would have been pretty good if it weren't for the oddly jarring flavour imparted by the toasted walnuts.

FOOD: 2 chili peppers (out of 5)
SERVICE: 1 chili pepper
AMBIENCE: 3 1/2 chili peppers
VALUE: 2 1/2 chili peppers
Josephine Street Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Friday, August 5, 2016

Oh, By the Way...

I hardly ever post restaurant reviews here anymore. Thank technology. Meanwhile, any recent thoughts on an eatin' place will be on You can enjoy my wry, acerbic arrogance at