Graduation ceremony was on Friday, and ended up being a lot of fun. I got to spend time with my good friends, listen to a pretty awesome speech by Brandon, and then hear an alumnus speak about how there are jobs in the San Antonio job market for chefs (hotjobs.com has not heard this information, and has failed to list any jobs whatsoever). The speaker, Doug Horn of the neopolitan pizzeria “Dough,” was someone I had not heard of, but it turned out being pretty valuable information in the end. I will explain this later. First, allow me to present the menu of items we got to eat, while I put away the better part of a bottle of white wine:
This was white tuna sashimi marinated in ginger-lime sauce that had a very similar consistency to Thai curry sauce. This ended up being a lovely surprise. I hadn’t been there during voting, on account of the honeymoon, so I was appalled when I got back to find we had chosen “white fish in ginger-lime marinade.” I do not eat white fish. I do not care how much you enjoy it, I think it’s gross. But I DO eat tuna sashimi, as you know. It’s the only thing I eat that swims well. So when the menu card announced it was tuna, I was beside myself with joy. I was also beside myself with a couple of glasses of wine at that point. It was crazy good, and I refrained from eating the untouched portion on the table from the girl to my left, because I don’t know her last name, and even I have limits.
Next came an unremarkable bibb salad. The dressing was hardly a whisper in the wad of lettuce, failing to assert itself and be like “hey guys! It’s totally cool that you’re eating this salad. Let me reward you with a kick of vinegar! *shazam* *pow*!” The pecans were solid, although I know for stone cold facts that I can get them for $11.99/lb at Central Market.
The main course was short ribs, risotto, and roasted root vegetables. This was pretty good. The short ribs were delicious, because short ribs just ARE. My beef (HA) with them is that they are just SO fatty. The jus in the braiser is always besmirched with billions of little fat globules, floating around visibly and taunting my bathing suit areas. Don’t get me wrong, I like fat. I use fat every day. But I don’t like the coated mouthfeel of overly fatty jus, nor do I like the dirty feeling of guilt that comes after I eat blobs of it (I just can’t get CLEAAAAN!). The risotto had been sitting for a few, and had congealed a touch too much, but was flavored well and looked like it had once been very creamy. Nobody knew WTF those little white sticks were in the front of the dish. They tasted like parsnips, but had the texture of bamboo shoots. Turns out it was parsnip core. I had to actually wander across the room and ask one of our chefs to find out. Who cuts off the good part of the parsnip and just serves the fibrous innards? Ah well, it was interesting.
Finally came dessert, which we forgot to take a picture of, but it was pretty unique. It was a creme brulee that was INSIDE a chocolate shell. Caramelized in there and all. How does one cook a custard in a chocolate shell? Obviously one doesn’t, but how do they make it appear so? There was a caramel sauce of sorts and a bruleed slice of banana lingering on the side. That chocolate, though…that was an enigma. Maybe it was cooked in silicone, frozen, unmolded, dipped in tempered chocolate? Maybe there is a Hogwarts of culinary pursuits, and I just didn’t get the invitation because my parents are muggles. Actually, now that I think of it, there is. It’s called El Bulli.
Anyway, it was all delicious, and I walked away feeling sated and delighted that I no longer had to show up each morning at 6:45 am.
We followed it up by visiting “Dough.” Not, like, immediately or anything. I’m only a glutton to a point. It was later in the evening. It ended up being an incredible find. It’s an unassuming pizza parlor in a strip mall, with a friendly staff and some simple outdoor seating, as well as tables scattered throughout the inside. All tables are in full view of the Italian stone oven, which is cool to watch. This is a restaurant that has Verace Pizza Napoletana certification, meaning it’s one of only 28 restaurants in the country that has been certified by the Italian board to be an authentic Neopolitan pizzeria. And man, was the food good. We ordered sausage and peppers to start, as well as a plate of stracciata, which is melted mozzarella curd, torn and served with fried pancetta and zucchini ribbons. My usual feeling on zucchini is that it is a bastard vegetable, but it was deliciously prepared, and went amazingly well with the crisp saltiness of the pancetta and the creamy decadence of the mozzarella curd.
At this point I did something brilliant, without even realizing it would be so. I asked our waiter to tell the chef I had enjoyed his speech earlier. I was being polite, and wanted to let him know that it had resulted in new patrons. He came running over, though, to discuss the dishes we had, and then got really excited and left. When he came back, he came bearing a gift so rich, so majestic, that I could have easily mistook him for the fourth wiseman. Burrata Caprese. OMFG. Like a little angel bosom, all creamy and white and perfect. Now, I’ve made burrata. It’s essentially mozzarella that has been hand-pulled into a little purse, and then stuffed with a mixture of creamy cheeses. Then it’s formed into a ball, just like regular mozzarella, and served warm and minutes-old (like mozzarella SHOULD be, whenever possible). But this, ah, this wondrous orb…it was a whole different beasty. First of all, it was softball-sized. HUGE. Then it was stuffed with a luxurious, velvety, incredibly flavorful filling of leftover, warm mozzarella scraps from the pulling process, as well as ice cream scoops full of mascarpone (Italian triple creme cheese). It was dotted with black truffle pieces, and served with fresh, local heirloom tomatoes and balsamic. We spread it on hot, buttered ciabatta toast that had been fired in the stone oven.
I don’t think Chris and I have ever made noises like that in public. At Alinea, we were too afraid, too self-conscious. At home, it’s sometimes difficult to sit down, silence things and EXPERIENCE our food, but at this place we felt right at home, oohing and aahing and immersing ourselves in the nectar of the Gods. We were even more delighted to find that there is something called a “mozzarella bar,” wherein you belly up to the counter where they prepare the food, and they had you wads of fresh mozzarella and mini-burratas on sticks while you drink Italian wine and watch them hand-toss pizza dough. All by the warmth and glow of the giant-ass stone oven. I imagine we’ll be there weekly.
We had a pizza. It was great. Very authentic. But I can only process a limited amount of incredible stimuli at once, and I was already feeling pretty shell-shocked by the burrata. I’ll go back for the pizza, but I might leave Chris for the cheese.