Saturday, May 14, 2011

La Playa Mexican Grille -- Port Aransas, TX

This La Playa is not associated with the La Playa restaurants in Corpus Christi. It is completely different and that's a very good thing. La Playa Mexican Grille, 222 Beach St, Port Aransas, looks like a bit of a dive, but that's part of the charm. Rob and I were definitly overdressed for this place. He was wearing long pants and a belt and I had on heels. It is a casual place. All of the wait staff were in shorts and some looked as if they may have visited the beach before coming to work. Understand, I'm not complaining, it is just a very casual place.

This was our first visit to La Playa. The decor is eclectic and very suited to Port A. The wait staff  is friendly and accommodating. It's small, holding about a dozen tables and booths inside, and three or four more on the deck. From reviews we read online, through various sites, the place is very popular and it's not unusual to wait an hour and a half for a table, especially on weekend nights. We tried to make reservations and were told that they do not accept reservations, but they don't get real busy until after 6:00 p.m. They opened at 5:00 p.m. and we arrived at 4:58 p.m. -- just in case.

As you may have figured out, if you follow this blog, I like to have a glass of wine with my dinner. Unfortunately, La Playa only carries one wine label in Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet. I ordered the Chardonnay. It's not a great label and I didn't catch the name. Rob had the house Margarita, and said it was good, but pretty weak alcohol-wise. They carry several tequilas and specialize in signature margaritas.

Hopefully, you have not given up on this place yet. I know it doesn't sound real promising so far, but stick around for the food. We had read in reviews that the Crabmeat Enchiladas were great and I was looking forward to them. Our server, Cindi, went through the specials, each sounding pretty amazing, but I wanted the Crabmeat Enchiladas. Looking at the menu I could not seem to pull my eyes away from them and their description -- three corn tortillas stuffed with sauteed lump crabmeat and avocados covered with creamy roasted poblano sauce. Well, Rob ordered them, after wondering aloud about the Crawfish Enchiladas! I ordered the Crabmeat Enchiladas anyway, hoping this would not make for a boring review, BUT Rob asked if they could substitute one of the enchiladas on his plate with a Crawfish Enchilada. Cindi said since they weren't busy yet she thought they probably could, and they did.
Mixed Enchiladas!

The plates arrived and they were beautiful. The enchiladas lined up creamy white between black beans and fiesta rice. The Crabmeat Enchiladas were so delicate. As I cut into them I could see that they truly were stuffed with crabmeat and beautiful with a little avocado layer between the meat and tortilla. The creamy roasted poblano sauce was light and a very nice compliment to the crabmeat and avocado as was the white cheese that topped it all.

Rob was nice enough to share part of his Crawfish Enchilada with me. Oh. My. Goodness! The Crawfish Enchiladas are stuffed with crawfish tails, red and green bell pepper and topped with a creamy chipotle sauce. Spicy and wonderful. Next time that's what I'm getting! Not that the Crabmeat Enchiladas were a disappointment, they weren't, I just liked the Crawfish better, because I like spicy. So, for you my faithful followers, I recommend the Crabmeat Enchiladas for those of you who like light and creamy and the Crawfish Enchiladas for those who like rich and spicy. Oh, and order one of the signature margaritas!

Cindi talked us into taking some of  "the best flan in South Texas" home with us. We ate it later in the evening. I had two bites and that was enough for me. I'm not really a flan fan (try saying that three times fast) so I don't feel qualified to comment on my experience. Rob said he liked it, but wouldn't consider it the best in South Texas. He feels that title should go to the flan at La Fogata in San Antonio.

Would we eat there again? Absolutely! The food was very good and and after perusing the take-out menu that I swiped, I'm thinking The Blackened Tuna Tacos, and the Enchiladas Camarones (shrimp) need to be tried. We do recommend La Playa, but go early to avoid the crowds and stick with soda, tea or signature drinks. Oh, and bring cash. They don't accept cards, but there is an ATM just inside the door. La Playa is on the higher end of moderately priced.

Boardwalk Bistro -- San Antonio, Tx

You've seen this one on our favorites list and for good reason. Boardwalk Bistro, 4011 Broadway, San Antonio ( is a great dining experience. The cuisine is Mediterranean, and everything is delicious! The decor may be a little dated, but the low lights, candlelit, white tablecloth covered tables and lush chairs will leave you comfortable and relaxed.

We took the kids there to celebrate my daughter's graduation from UTSA. Rob, my daughter and I went with the five course wine pairing, while my son and his girlfriend opted for a more traditional route since he had to drive back to Austin afterwards. We made our reservations for 7:00 p.m. because on weekend nights there is live music beginning at 7:30 p.m. and we were looking forward to hearing some great jazz. Imagine our disappointment when we learned that there would not be jazz, but flamenco guitar. Well, we were not disappointed long. The gentlemen who played were quite talented and the music mixed well with our mood. We discovered that it encouraged us to concentrate on our conversation and was not as distracting as a vocalist might have been.

On to the food! There was so much, with five courses, that I'm going to touch on the favorites. Appetizers: Artichoke Heart and Serrano Ham -- thin slices of ham wrapped around an artichoke heart, sauteed in herbs and olive oil and served on toast points. It was a bit of a challenge to eat daintily, but who cares? Skewered Lamb Kabob -- chunks of marinated lamb sauteed with red onion served with couscous, garnished with Meditteranian salsa, tzatziki sauce and Rioja reduction. What does all that mean? According to my daughter, who was trying lamb for the first time, it means "A-ma-zing!" The Fried Calamari -- served with tomatillo lime salsa and a spicy pomadora sauce. As one who has sworn off fried calamari because of the rubbery texture, I was dubius, but I am now a calamari fan. The coating was crisp and the meat tender. Both sauces were great.
Skewered Lamb Kabob

Main course: Seafood Paella -- saffron rice, shrimp scallops, snapper, mussels, chicken, Spanish chorizo, peppers, tomato, onion and garlic. My son's girfriend could not finish this traditional Spanish dish. There was way too much. Often a dish like this would contain mostly rice, but this one was very meaty, and she said very good! My daughter and husband had the Salmon which was an extra option to the menu. It is prepared like the Mediterranean Halibut -- baked in a white wine jus, served with asparagus basmati rice and accented with citrus sauce and tomato calamata olive relish. Both agree that the fish was flaky, moist and flavorful and that the asparagus in the rice was cooked perfectly. I had the Crab Cake -- lump crab (with no fillers) topped with a mango relish and avacado emulsion with accents of citrus beurre blanc served over mesclun greens mixed with a citrus vinaigrette. Excellent! The best part, though, was a little surprise of little chunks of a fabulous firm goat cheese mixed in with the greens. A lot of flavors, but none overwhelmed the crab and all played well together.

Dessert: I always plan to try something else on the menu, but when I open my mouth "Chocolate Pecan Caramel Torte" is all I can say. A very tall slice of rich chocolate cake, but not like most chocolate cakes. Like German chocolate, it's heavier and a little dryer, but it's not like German chocolate. You just have to try it yourself. It is deliciously topped with a pecan and caramel mixture that is wonderful. Very rich! My daughter had the Tiramisu. It was light, creamy and fabulous.

This was just an overview of our meal. Everything was beautifully presented and delicious. If there is any complaint about the meal it would be that our wines did not always arrive with the dish to which they were paired. We had completely finished our first glass before the appetizers arrived. To be fair, the server was training another and she said that she didn't want those of us who were doing the wine pairings to sit without our wine while she served my son and his girlfriend their drinks. Personally, I would have been fine with water and waiting. She should have asked, but those things happen and I don't see it as a reason to not recommend Boardwalk Bistro.

Rob and I have eaten at the Boardwalk Bistro several times and have never had a bad dish. Actually, we trust them so much that we have often tried foods for the first time, or given certain foods, that we thought we didn't like (calamari), a second chance, because we know it will be prepared properly and we will get the best sampling of that food, like my daughter's first experience with lamb. (She has decided that she loves lamb!) Boardwalk Bistro is far from cheap, actually it's pretty pricey -- a splurge kind of place -- but you get what you pay for.

P F Chang's -- Corpus Christi, TX

Okay, I know, the long awaited P F Chang's at La Palmera Mall has been around long enough for everyone in town to become familiar with their cuisine and atmosphere. So why am I doing a review? Because there is something you may not know about our P F Chang's. A little secret that I'm going to share with just you, so don't spread it around, because we don't want too many to know about this.

It's the bar. Yes, I said the bar. Rob and I wandered in one night and decided that we would eat at the bar, because the last time we were in we had been seated next to a table of very loud, very cheery, very inebriated young ladies, and then there was the demanding child at another table. We had stopped in at the bar on a previous visit, for a glass of wine after Christmas shopping, and it had been so quiet and pleasant that on this trip we decided that we would just have our meal there.

We sat on the back side of the bar. It has a larger serving area and you can't see the tv's unless you're right in the middle of the bar (you know how I feel about televisions when I'm eating out). We were served by Bobby. Now this is the juicy little secret: Bobby, Miranda, and John. The three of them working together are a HOOT! They are funny, attentive and they play off of each other like a well rehearsed vaudeville act. Now, you need to know that on weekend nights, when you're most likely to find all three of them working together, you want to get there fairly early, because the place becomes a madhouse after about about 6:30 p.m. and they don't have as much time to cut up and entertain the folks at the bar.

We have since been in on a week night when John was the only one of the three working and once on a Friday, during the really busy time, when Miranda and Bobby were working. They are great together, but still a lot of fun on their own. Even with the bar and restaurant full and drink orders coming in at a fevered pitch. Bobby and Miranda stopped by to interact with us and kept an eye on our glasses to be sure that one of them would be there before a glass was empty. Very efficient! And each one has made suggestions on food and wine that were spot on.

If you're looking for a friendly place where you can stop in for a drink and/or have dinner in a pleasant atmosphere, P F Chang's bar won't disappoint. You know the food, now you know the best spot in the place to eat it.