There are a lot of places way beyond my price range. Cafe Paladar is one of them. Nevertheless, I decided to go anyway after reading a short article about places in San Antonio that serve tapas. What interested me about this place is that you can order tapas for $3 each (well within range of my slim wallet). In addition, the food combinations sounded interesting. So, my wife and I decided to give it a try.
The restaurant offers American Latin fare and draws on flavors from the Carribean, Spain, the Spanish Americas, and the Southwest US. This is a high-end restaurant that caters to people looking for a unique dining experience. The decor is chic/modern and the food is innovative. The chef’s philosophy is encapsulated in his “Manifesto” which is whimsical, and says a lot about his approach to food.
Be aware that some portions of the menu are seasonal (which says a lot about the chef and his focus on fresh, local foods), so I may review some items that may not be on the menu when you visit. Nevertheless, I would expect consistency across the board from chef Brian West.
My wife and I began with a gazpacho, which is a cold, blended soup normally made with a base of tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, and onions. This recipe adds watermelon to its base, giving it a subtle sweetness without overpowering the other ingredients. The chef’s presentation was as unique as the recipe. The soup came served in a bowl made of ice, placed on top of a linen napkin to absorb the ice as it melted. The ice kept the soup frigid throughout, yet did not seem to become watered down over time. Gazpacho is pretty foreign to most Americans. I mean, soup is supposed to be hot, right? I hope my readers can get over that and try it if you see it on the menu again.
Since my budget is extremely limited (thus putting a pinch on my tastes), we decided to order a variety of tapas instead of an entrée. Regardless of my budget, though, I probably would have done the same anyway. At restaurants that offer good appetizers, we normally order several in order to get a wider variety of tastes and not get bored with just one thing. Its normally cheaper and funner this way. We ordered four tapas that came placed on a large platter for my wife and I to share.
The Spicy Cuban Beef Tinga is a dollop of shredded beef served on top of a plantain chip. The chip is not so thin that it would crumble, but not so thick as a tostón either (tostones are twice fried, flattened plantains, normally served with a garlic-butter sauce). The beef is stewed in what tastes like a smoky chile arbol or pasilla sauce.
The Pyllo Wrapped Lobster Cigar is short, thumb-sized tapa made with Phyllo and stuffed with lobster and chorizo. This is not the hard, Spanish style of chorizo. Rather, it is a soft sausage used mainly to add flavor. This chorizo, however, seemed to be flavored with pimentón, which is made from smoked chiles and has a paprika-like flavor. Whenever I use Phyllo I make an absolute mess. These “cigars” were rolled as tightly as a Cuban and lightly fried. Mmm, tasty.
The Cabo Wabo Dressed Prawn is a large shrimp marinated in tequila and grilled. This was the only disappointment in that I really did not get any tequila flavor. You can get similar shrimp almost anywhere, so spend your money on something more interesting.
The Brie with Real Honeycomb was the standout of the offerings. I don’t really care for Brie (probably because I can’t afford the good stuff). This Brie lacked the bitterness normally associated with it and was complemented by the honeycomb to add sweetness and excellent texture. The Brie is soft and creamy, and the honeycomb provided a slight bit of structure before melting in your mouth. It is topped of with a blueberry sauce which adds a subtle tartness to balance the flavor.
Lastly, be sure to try the Sangria. Chef West pairs a red wine that is not dry with a variety of fruit juices, brandy, and what seems to be a splash of soda to produce one of the best sangrias I’ve ever had (and I lived in Spain for several years). No fruit in this one, just a refreshingly fruity, sparkling wine.
And, by the way, don’t forget to make a reservation. I was lucky enough to find a seat at the bar to eat dinner when I went.
To quote a phrase from the Manifesto, “We believe Spanish is the new French.” San Antonio is blessed to have a chef daring enough and innovative enough to make Latin food into a tasty work of art.