It continues

Day two: Rise and shine, early enough to go for a tea, but not a run. I had the red velvet, which is a combination of red tea, cream, and white chocolate. Crazy-good, but Chris had bubble tea, so I drank much of his, and then some of Erik’s. They’re more tolerant of me than they should be.

We walked downtown, which is approximately far as f*&k.; Actually, only about 3 or 4 miles, but it was warm outside. We stopped for a bagel, first at Twin Sisters bakery, but they completely ignored us while we stood inside drooling on the chilled display case, so we walked next door to Einstein Bros and got a quick bite. I had a cinnamon apple bagel with caramel apple cream cheese. It was as good as the Einstein Bros anywhere else in the US.

Across the street from the bagel shop was a mecca of flavor. First we hit the Spice House, which is a little boutique that looks for all the world like Ye Olde Apothecary inside. There were clear glass jugs of every spice imaginable, and a group of cheerful gay guys who would scoop your spices into baggies or jars for you to take home. I made a list, including truffle salt, vulcan fire salt, seville orange rind, meyer lemon rind, pink peppercorns, freeze-dried sweet corn, savory maple sugar rub, Chicago deep dish pizza seasoning, grains of paradise (WTF? I don’t know), Ozark fried chicken rub, za’atar, English prime rib rub, and a hearty vial of pure ground Spanish saffron. I couldn’t believe my good luck, both that they had so many great, fresh spices for me, Kristie, to take to my own personal home and eat, as well as Chris being so atypically enthusiastic about spice shopping, saying “get it, get it, get it” about all the spices on which I was wavering. I love that he gets excited about exotic spices. Having dated plenty who don’t “get” that side of me, I really appreciate being married to someone who does.

But what to do while they fulfilled my wish list? Ah, yes. Next door. The artisan olive oil and balsamic vinegar shop! Old Town Oil was very cool. The walls were lined with flavored balsamics in big drums, and the center of the room was an island of flavored olive oils. Little paper shot glasses were spaced periodically throughout the room so you could mix and taste.

Yes, that’s a robot on Chris’s shirt. My husband really likes robots. I support that.

Roasted garlic olive oil with traditional 18 year traditional balsamic? Excellent. Blood orange olive oil with meyer lemon balsamic? Woot! Shot of straight aged balsamic? What, what in my butt! SO good. And all you had to do was point, and they’d take a pretty glass bottle and fill it with your choice, sealing it with a cork and wax while you wait. I bought a 375 ml bottle of the 18 year for under $20, which was offensively inexpensive for the quality of this vinegar. It’s sweet and tangy and DEEP, better than the best balsamic I’ve ever had, which cost $120 for the same quantity (I didn’t buy it, obviously. Willie can’t yet lay golden eggs). Honestly, much like black, I won’t be going back…wait a second…

I picked my spices up, and off we went to Topolobampo. Topo is a brainchild of restauranteur and undisputed Top Chef Master Rick Bayless. Aside from being a gentle, yoga-doing hippie who is polite to everyone all the time, he’s also a world-renowned Mexican chef. He’s a white boy, totally, but spent enough time in Mexico that he’s mastered the cuisine. We’ve spent some time with his cookbook at home, and it’s by far the most user-friendly, authentic cookbook I’ve used. Having watched Top Chef Masters with bated breath, Chris and I were pretty excited to try his food firsthand. The restaurant was right downtown, and had a modest interior, decorated with little wire Day of the Dead statues. The food was very, very good. I got the (and I’m pulling this directly from the website)

“Pollito con Elote: pan-seared Gunthrop heritage-breed rock hen and a celebration of Three Sister’s Garden corn: sweet corn tamales, braised wild greens (quelites) with seared corn esquites, creamy jalapeno-corn sauce.”

The tamales were good, but lacked the filling I am accustomed to, so I was surprised by them. The sauce was creamy and sweet, but didn’t have the kick I expected. Again, tasty, but different. The hen, though, was fall-off-the-bone tender, and the skin caramelized to a sweet/salty/fatty crust. I could have eaten three or four hens, by myself.

Erik got the

“Falda Asada “Brava”: spicy serrano-marinated grass fed flank steak (from Bill Kurtis’s Tall Grass) with spicy salsa huevona (hand-crushed, grill-roasted tomatoes, jalapenos). Grilled knob onions and sweet corn tamales (topped with homemade sour cream and fresh cheese).”

I love grass-fed beef. And I love tiny onions. And I loved the weensy little hand-tossed corn tortillas that came with his dish. And I loved his homemade sour cream, even though I hate sour cream. So his dish was eyed covetously after I tasted it. He very nearly lost a limb in the struggle for additional bites.

Chris, dear Chris, got the famed dish that I believe won Bayless the Masters competition.

“Cochinita Pibil’:overnight-braised Maple Creek Farm suckling pig “pibil” with crispy pig’s foot, sour orange jellies, habanero-pickled onions, sunchoke pudding.”

Eh. Meh. Geh. These little logs of pork, textured like confit, flavored within an inch of their lives…to die for. Literally. Like, I would off someone in order to eat this again. Even the sauce that came with it (in a quaint little sake-looking jug) was rife with depth of flavor and umami (hate to use the word, but it is the only way to describe it). This dish was an epic win.

But not as big as Chris’s win on the way out. He’d been eyeing the kitchen expectantly, hoping to see Chef Bayless. I tried to explain that he likely wasn’t there, as he has many different pots in the fire, and cookbooks and a life. Chris looked disappointed. But on the way out, in the restaurant next door (which opens this week, I think) we saw… BAYLESS! And he was BOSSING PEOPLE! And we were VERY EXCITED! Chris wrote him a little love note and stuck it to the window. Chris has a very special man-crush on Rick Bayless, probably because of his cowboy beans (not a euphemism).

On the way home, we stopped at a grocery store called Fox and Obel, right across the street from Oprah’s apartment building.
It was ritzy, full of expensive and gourmet prepared foods, free-range meats with the actual farm source listed on the signs (I wish, I wish, I wish I could find this in Texas). Erik bought a chocolate tart with a caramel crust, and didn’t share any. Po’ me.

We went to Lou Malnatti’s for dinner, to get some famous Chicago deep-dish, only to find it wasn’t the sauce-on-top variety that Chris loves.

Sorry for the grainy picture, it was dark.

Great pizza, just not what we were hoping for. They serve pizza in the waiting room while you’re getting seated for more pizza. The only other place I’ve seen this is Krispy Kreme. It’s such a good idea, but by the time we sat down, after a couple of Leinenkugel Summer Shandies, I was full and a little buzzed.

We dressed ourselves and headed off to Kinkade’s, where Chris came to the sad realization that his bar isn’t the same as it was 6 years ago, or whenever he was in med school. Very sad, but functional, as I managed to get pretty sauced out on Tuaca and car bombs. Went home, passed out. New day tomorrow!

10 thoughts on “It continues”

  1. Ho-leeeee crap. Your dining sounds delicious and everything (I want that suckling pig dish SO bad), but what really got me was the shopping. I want to shoot gourmet vinegars!!

  2. You write so well that I feel as though I was along for the adventure!
    Huck brought a few of those exciting spices and salts home for us to try- he says to use the truffle salt on twice baked potatoes. How 'bout on my morning eggs?
    We will be cheering the Broncos with you and Chris tomorrow, since he and Huck are the Smartest Men Alive and got slingbox up and running. Love you. Momma

  3. You're putting truffle salt on your eggs? I didn't know you were getting all culinarily adventurous on me. I should have brought you with us (although there were seafood pieces that I think you would have rebelled against eating). I have a whole truffle on order for Thanksgiving, which is a different species than the one in the truffle salt. Give the salt a shot, see if you love the earthy flavor, and then plan on a different kind when you visit. I hope you like it, and I also confited some duck legs about a month and a half ago to cure for Thanksgiving, so they'll be perfectly aged by the time you get here. Can't wait!!

    Oh, and try the Vulcan fire salt on huckcorn. It's tasty. As is the truffle salt.

  4. Mmm, I love fancy Mexican food, it's probably my favorite. I think I'd like Topo. Next time you guys come up you have to try Hudson's, it's awesome for smoked, fall apart tender game meat.

    I've used grains of paradise before, they're not that dissimilar from peppercorns. I've also been to some pizza place that served pizza while we waited but I can't for the life of me remember where it was and it's driving me crazy. Maybe it was in Chicago… I can't remember.

    There's a couple markets here that list the farms that all their produce and animal products come from. I think Sprouts does that. I'm not sure if there is one in San Antonio though.

    So, did Erik like Alinea? It was his wedding present, right?

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