When I was a kid, a visit to San Antonio’s North Star Mall meant one thing, and it wasn’t shopping. Sure, there were the obligatory hours I spent trailing my mom and my aunt through its cool halls, wholly enchanted by the splashing fountains, less so by the dress department at Joske’s. But that was a mostly tolerable prelude to lunchtime, when we’d load up in the Suburban and lumber two tenths of a mile down San Pedro to Teka Molino.
It’s easy to get homesick as a Texan abroad (and by “abroad,” we often mean anywhere north of, say, Interstate 40). “Authentic Texas” gets blown into a stereotype pretty easily, and the further you go from the source, the more the representation of Texas seems to be based on, say, Woody from Toy Story.
The Texas culinary scene, you may have heard, has been cooking at a rolling boil. Every time you turn around, another of our chefs is winning a James Beard award or appearing on Top Chef or making Food & Wine’s annual list of the best new cooking talent in the country.
For a reporter, it’s the easiest thing in the world to pick out the big personalities, the ones who thrive in the spotlight. It’s much harder to notice the people who work behind the scenes, taking care of business. Which explains the fact that, until a couple of months ago, hardly anyone covering Houston restaurants knew much about Manuel Pucha. And why would they?
Bartenders find inspiration for new drinks in all kinds of places. For Elisabeth Forsythe, of San Antonio’s Barbaro restaurant, the recipe for her Peck of Pickled Peppers came out of her garden. After tasting a cranberry liqueur from Portland’s Clear Creek Distillery, Forsythe began to imagine a tangy summer cocktail that combined the liqueur with tequila and a hit of lime juice. Except the lime didn’t work. “Too Cape Cod–y,” she says.
Here in margarita land, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Texan who hasn’t heard about the Great Lime Panic of 2014, when the price of the humble fruit reached stratospheric heights due to a shortage in Mexico (which supplies a mere 98 percent of our country’s supply) and we were left dry and not the least bit high. Realizing for the first time how much we take those tart green orbs for granted, we had to ask ourselves some tough questions: What will put the zip in our guacamole and the tang in our tacos?
The daiquiri, an aristocrat among cocktails, has undergone a tumultuous transformation during its century-long reign. Allegedly dreamed up by an American working in Cuba at the time of that country’s war of independence from Spain, it consists, in its simplest and finest expression, of rum, lime juice, and sugar. That formula was elevated to a mixological art form by Constantino Vert, who experimented with different kinds of ice and liqueurs and came up with unique presentations at Havana’s La Floridita bar.
Have you ever done a steak tasting? I don’t mean just spearing a piece of meat off a friend’s plate so you can compare his sirloin strip with your ribeye. No, I mean something more like a wine tasting, where you thoughtfully plan a sampling of several steaks, from light to robust. At most steakhouses, where the highly laudable goal is consistency, a steak tasting can go only so far.
A few weekends ago, my cousin told me about a chicken her husband had recently rescued—more likely purloined—from the side of a busy road that it was, no doubt, trying to cross. This lovely hen, whom they welcomed into their family and christened Julia, lets herself in through the dog door and contentedly perches on the kitchen counter while my cousin washes dishes. She also likes to sit on her lap.