Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Surprise, and not the good kind

5011 Broadway
(in Alamo Heights, behind Cappychino's; parking lot entry from Mary D Avenue)

I admit to feeling a certain gratitude to Cappy Lawton and his wife Sue (or Suzy; I forget which she goes by) for resuscitating La Fonda on Main a number of years ago. That place is an institution in the neighbourhood, but one which was on the verge of being dismissed. They bought it, and fixed the problems, and while it may not be the absolute best Mexican restaurant in town — a mythical title anyway, in this town — it's certainly a good one, and charming, and reliable.

The Lawtons had already had success with Cappy's, their signature restaurant on Broadway; and in many ways The paradigmatic Alamo Heights restaurant. It's always been a little on the pricey side, being geared as it is to the upscale end of the '09 zip code, but it's always been a comfortable, charming and enjoyable place for those of us who feel that eating there is an occasionally-worthwhile splurge.

Planning our weekly Friday culinary excursion, I realized we had not been to Cappy's in far too long. We rectified that last night, and I come away feeling an ambivalence about the place that I've never felt before. 

The restaurant itself is invisible from Broadway, but somehow everybody knows where it is. It hides among the live oaks behind its little sister, Cappychino's, a more informal place that is as much bar as café. Cappy's looks and feels like the common room of a medium-range Colorado ski lodge. Wide blond flooring, large glass walls set at an angle to give onto the patio area, a few tasteful if not exquisite paintings; tables with white cloths properly spaced along the walls of the narrow front dining room, a small bar area, the hint of other rooms farther back. It has a feel that is both intimate and open; it is the sort of place where you wish to be seen. 

Our waiter was with us in a flash. The entire staff was, as always, capable and industrious, but our waiter — I'm pretty sure I recall correctly when I say his name was Rene — seemed to be the best of a good bunch. Another waiter, at a nearby table, made a slight nuisance of himself by going on and on at a graceless pace — think New York — and in an unnecessarily loud voice; but once he finally reached the end of his spiel, calm was restored, and reigned until our leisurely departure.

The menu was a disappointment. There was, I thought, a serious lack of variety to it. It was heavily biased toward seafood, which constituted over half the entrées on offer, and for which I was not in the mood. The only beef dishes available were steaks, which are a fine choice sometimes, and the house-specialty "Heights Burger," with a $16 price tag that would guarantee dissatisfaction for me. The most interesting dish remaining was Mustang Chicken, which was my wife's choice, leaving me either roast chicken or gumbo; neither of which appealed. Off-menu specials included a cut of prime rib, which in the end was my choice, not because I wanted it, but because I didn't want anything else they had.

The city of Alamo Heights can't be
bothered to make restaurant health
inspections readily available on line.
We each started with mushroom bisque, a dark medium-thick soup of the day. My wife thought it excellent; I thought it a little bland, and found the texture off-putting. The outstanding bread Cappy's offers went a long way toward making this course much more enjoyable for me.

On the plus side, that Mustang chicken dish my wife ordered was marvelous. Coated with horseradish and served with a red pepper coulis, it was absolutely delectable, one of the greater taste sensations of recent memory. Unfortunately I only got a single taste, since it wasn't my dish. It was served on a bed of garlic mashed potatoes, with a vegetable medley.

My own plate of prime rib was another disappointment. I had ordered it medium rare. When it came, I hardly noticed that it was served medium — such distinctions are often slight, and beyond the ken of both cooks and customers; I probably would have forgotten to mention it at all had the check, when it came, not shown that somewhere between my lips and the cook's ear, "medium rare" had become "medium" — because it had what I can only describe as an odd density. It was a thick cut, thicker than I was expecting, but had none of the marbling I was accustomed to seeing in prime rib; nor did it have the soft rind of fat that should give it so much flavour. It was tender but not at all juicy, and had sort of a pressed look, as though cooked under some heavy weight. At bottom, I find myself entertaining the suspicion that the meat I was served was not from prime-grade beef; how else to explain the peculiar texture of the meat? It had an undistinguished taste, palatable but not more, even with the aggressive application of a very nice horseradish sauce.

The prime rib was served with delicious mofongo mashed potatoes and the same vegetable mix of green beans, mushrooms and yellow beets* as was served with my wife's dinner. The beans were perfectly crispy, while the  beets were unbelievably tender, making the entire medley a textural thrill one can only expect in the best restaurants.
Cappy's on Urbanspoon
I had gone into Cappy's knowing that its prices were not of the shy, retiring variety. Had the food been of the quality I had expected from eight or ten previous visits, I would not have been too unhappy. But because it did not live up to expectations, I came away feeling very unhappy about a check that surpassed $80. This dissatisfaction was made sharper, too, by the recollection of a more artful and satisfying meal for about half the cost the week before.

As I say, this is the first time I've been less than completely satisfied with Cappy's. After all these years, it would be too curmudgeonly, even for me, to simply dismiss the place as no longer any good. But next time I go, I will unavoidably approach it with somewhat lowered expectations, and the sense that it will have to work to regain the respect it has lost in my esteem.

* Beets are second on my list of Five Foods I Will Not Eat. These were interesting enough to make me give some thought to revising my list, but on reflection, I still hate beets.

1 comment:

  1. The SchertzmeisterNovember 27, 2011

    You said exactly what I thought about Cappys after my last visit there. What has happened to this place? It used to be SO GOOD!!!


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