Mixtli – San Antonio, TX, and other SATX Adventures!
- Mixtli, Progressive Mexican Culinaria
- 5251 McCullough Ave, San Antonio, TX
- February 15, 2019
San Antonio is a budding city.
When you think of San Antonio, of course you think of the Riverwalk and the Alamo, but it's likely not much else comes to mind. I've been excited to discover in my 5 or 6 visits there since I moved to Texas that San Antonio actually has some great stuff to offer. This is also true with food and beverage, and the food scene is exploding in the city recently.
San Antonio is a mere 75 minutes from Austin, and is also the site of the annual Texas Music Educators' Association conference. Rachel and I made our way down to the conference early Thursday morning to attend interest sessions, watch rehearsals of the All-State groups, and hear some concerts. We stayed right on the Riverwalk, which, while touristy af, is rather pretty on the end where we stayed. Rachel and I drank countless margaritas here during our visit, including at brunch, which we enjoyed Friday morning in perfect weather on a Riverwalk patio.
My culinary experiences in SA have been mostly limited to the Riverwalk, which boasts a host of (generally) mediocre restaurants appealing to the tourist masses that flock from the frigid regions in colder months. Since I'd explored much of what that area had to offer, I was eager to do a bit of exploring of the culinary scene elsewhere in the city, and since we were visiting over Valentine's Day, which is a bit of a sting for me this year, Rachel suggested a "Valentine's Day" dinner for us. I found a reservation not on Thursday, but Friday, for a restaurant I'd read much about in my research of the city's culinary offerings, Mixtli, a tasting menu spot serving "progressive Mexican culinaria." On Valentine's night we wound up at an Italian restaurant near the convention center, but off the beaten path, and enjoyed a very tasty prix fixe dinner followed by drinks at the beautiful rooftop bar. I was most excited, however, for our Friday dinner, and we blocked out a few hours in our TMEA schedule and took a short drive out of downtown to check it out!
I was a little perplexed as we approached the location, which appeared to be in the midst of a somewhat run down neighborhood, and by the railroad tracks and warehouses, but we made a turn into a very cool, artsy circle of shops and restaurants that were housed in old rail cars. Turns out Mixtli was also housed in one of these cars, which was a cool surprise!
Mexican cuisine is gradually taking on a new direction in the States, and some chefs are shifting the dominant, often cartoonish perceptions of what it means to be a "Mexican" restaurant in the US. Diego Galicia and Rico Torres are the founding team behind Mixtli, which aims to produce "progressive" Mexican cuisine that is still firmly rooted in tradition. Galicia and Torres were recently interviewed for Food&Wine magazine, along with Val Cantu of Californios, the Michelin two-star Mexican restaurant in San Francisco (and the only Mexican restaurant in the world holding that honor), to get their take on what it means to cook "authentic" Mexican cuisine. The entire interview can be read here; highly recommend!
Mixtli offers one seating per night of twelve diners at a communal table. As their website states, "There is no better way to enjoy Mexican cuisine than in a family, community setting." Indeed, we had a blast around the cozy table, and made friends with the folks around us, enjoying wonderful conversation as we dined.
The tasting menu is described by the team as a "cloud:"
"Like clouds, our menu travels from place to place offering a tour in Mexican gastronomy... We travel to the various regions and states of Mexico in each one of our dishes. If the state has a border with the ocean, we start our trek on the coast and work inland, bringing dishes specifically from that region or state. After those 45 days, the cloud travels to other lands and we start all over."
This iteration of their menu wasn't region-specific, however, and was instead a special menu celebrating the various "festivals" that are held all over Mexico, most of which celebrate a seasonal ingredient or regional specialty. A detailed explanation of the festival that inspired each dish was given alongside the description of the dish itself.
We were served a "punch" with some rum at the beginning, which Rico joked had "more rum" than they "intended." It was tasty, though I wasn't sure what the ingredients were! After a bit of time enjoying the punch, we were presented with "Botanas," essentially the Mexican equivalent of "amuse bouche" bites. From right to left, the bites were a fried chochoyote (ball of corn dough with a divot in the center) made from their house-made masa, tomato jam, and guajillo chili. It was like a crunchy tamale, and the tang of the tomato jam was a delightful foil to the rich dough. The second was a corn-based shortbread cookie with a filling of spiced fruits, topped with leek butter. This was a cool play of sweet and savory, and the leek butter was to die for. The last was a hamachi crudo wrapped in grape leaves served with grapes and cilantro. This was my least favorite, as I found the hamachi a bit on the fishy side, and in need of a bit more "zing" to complement the delicate fish.
The staff explained as our next course was served that during radish-harvesting season in Oaxaca, locals hold a radish festival where local farmers bring their crop to local villages. They award prizes for the largest and must unusually shaped radishes, as well as radish carving competitions. The dish served to us was a lavash cracker with chive-mint butter and dried watermelon radishes. It was delicious, and I was especially taken by the unique savory flavor of the butter to add some heft to the delicate radishes and cracker.
Time for wine, finally! Mixtli is unique in that it does not offer paid wine pairings, but instead has offers wine, beer, or spirits donated by the staff. The first on deck was a 2015 Nine Hats Riesling from Columbia Valley. A drier Riesling, it had aromas of green apple and a hint of petrol "funk," and was clean and citrus-forward on the palate.
Scallop crudo was to follow, which was a play on "aguachile," a dish made with shrimp marinated in citrus, chilis, and cilantro, of course with many variations. This dish is made on Dia de la Raza, which marks the coming of explorers to Mesoamerica. I really appreciated the addition of various types of sherry in the dish, most of which come from Spain (hence, the Spanish sailors coming to Mexico!) fusing with the scallop crudo, pears, vanilla, and citrus foam. Worked beautifully with the zingy Riesling as well.
A dish inspired by the "Feria de los Hongos," also held in Oaxaca, celebrated mushrooms. Here we were served a dish of pickled mushrooms with a very interesting twist––a spherified concoction that looked like an egg yolk, but was instead full of "leche tigre," which is essentially the Peruvian name for the juices that come from a ceviche. It was served with some spicy lemon balm and nasturtium leaves as well as a seed cracker. Really cool!
Next up for beverage pairings was a sauvignon blanc from Chile, Concha y Toro's 2016 vintage. This had a more neutral, less grass/herb driven profile than I'm used to from US and New Zealand sauv blanc, and was nicely balanced with a familiar acidity.
Clams were next, inspired by "Festival de La Almeja" in La Paz, Baja California. They presented us with a gorgeous striped ravioli, which was striped due to the inclusion of dough made with squid ink, which contributed to this course's essence of the sea. The ravioli had clams and ricotta inside, and was surrounded by a clam and ham broth and topped with sugar snap peas, pea tendrils, and pea shoots. I love pea shoots and tendrils, and they added a nice crunch to the dish. My only complaint is that this is a tricky dish to do effectively with pasta, since the broth can make the cooked ravioli dough kinda soggy, which was starting to be the case here. But otherwise, it was a beautiful course.
The next festival was described as "occurring everywhere in Mexico:" Lent. In Mexico, most don't eat red meat during Lent. We were served a black cod wrapped in a collard green, with chopped collard greens below, and mole verde on the side. God, I love mole... this was an outstanding course with a lot of vegetal heft, and the mole was my favorite.
Good thing I love mole, because the next course was inspired by the mole festival in Oaxaca. The staff explained that this mole was special because it was based with carrots, and it was meant to reflect the many unique recipes for mole, a very complex sauce, that are created by different families for the festival. This carrot mole was served alongside wagyu short rib that had been braised for 24 hours and pressed into a rectangle for 24 hours. This wasn't really visually appealing, but DAMN it was tasty. Gotta say though, I still haven't had a mole, even at a restaurant like this, that can hold a candle to the moles they make at Red Iguana in Salt Lake City :).
The last savory course celebrated strawberries, from the "Festival de la Fresa" in Guanajuato in central Mexico. This was a very interesting combination of sweet and savory, and was essentially a tart with a shortbread crust, smoked trout mousse, strawberry gelée, fresh strawberries, and trout roe. Smoky and sweet, and a very interesting way to end the savory portion of the meal. We were served a dry sparkling rosé from Sancerre with the strawberry course, which was to be the last wine pairing of the night (??).
The conversation got the better of me and I neglected to photograph dessert, but they did a chocolate and honey dessert based on traditional chocolate making in Mexico, and then a white chocolate crème Anglaise with an almond cake, marmalade, and clementine granita, inspired by a dish from Nueva León.
I enjoyed Mixtli very much, and found the cuisine heartfelt and inventive. I would encourage them to implement a more extensive beverage program––I dig the idea of the "donation" program, but there was definitely not enough wine––just three tiny glasses––for the course of the meal. I don't think at a place like this that people would blink much at paying for more pairings. I'd also say that the experience could be a bit more leisurely; sometimes it seemed a bit rushed. But I recommend the restaurant without reservation. For the price and the inventiveness and quality of food, I'd consider it at the top of any "must visit" list in San Antonio.
A few extra tidbits from our trip as a bonus!
The next morning, both of us were exhausted and didn't feel like going and listening to high school students sing for 5 hours, so we decided to forego TMEA and head up to the fashionable Pearl District just north of downtown for brunch, which is comprised of old buildings that constituted an old abandoned brewery.
We wound up at a restaurant in an old bank building, Cured, which specializes in their own in-house cured meats. We started with "Champagne service," which constituted a bottle of Champagne between us and orange juice to create mimosas.
The charcuterie was out of this world. I particularly enjoyed their drier salami, pork butter, and duck ham, and we were served tomato-basil jam, blackberry jam, goat cheese, hibiscus mustard, and all manner of other tasty things to go along with it! It was big enough that neither of us needed any additional food.
Once again we made friends with the person next to us, and she recommended that we visit the bar at the Hotel Emma, just around the corner. The hotel is in one of the main buildings of the brewery, and they have really embraced it––the decor is industrial and stunning. In the bar, they even have seats that are in old beer storage tanks!
The drinks were fantastic and reasonably priced, and we had a wonderful time making friends with our waitress as well. The margarita, of all things on the menu, was our favorite thing we had, and was a fantastic $9 for a bar of this caliber.
I've got a throwback Thursday post for you coming up later in the week! Also visiting Atlanta and Athens, GA this coming weekend, and certainly have something to report!
I've also got a little bit of cooking I'm planning to do this week, so hope you'll enjoy that! Until then, have a fabulous, food-filled week, everyone!