Award-winning Chef Expands with Landrace in San Antonio
by Andrew Chalk
When Steve McHugh opened Cured in San Antonio’s Pearl District in 2012 it added significant gravitas to the city’s aspirations to be a culinary destination, and Pearl’s claim to be the area to live, and play, to do it. McHugh was at the sniffing edge of nose to tail eating and won national recognition with Cured. Nobody keeps an exact meter on these things, but probably more major awards than any other San Antonio restaurant.
Now, after a singular focus on Cured, McHugh has expanded his creative orbit to include a second location, Landrace. The focus is on grilling here, rather than the whole animal treatment at Cured. Landrace anchors fine dining at the Thompson Hotel, and opened in 2021. I got to visit at a media event in 2022 and, with COVID restrictions finally fully lifted, the restaurant is like the racehorse that has had its tethers released and can now show its paces. It is pretty clear that the unwritten backstory was that Thompson Hotels set its sight on the best hotels in San Antonio and sought out McHugh because they wanted a marquee chef.
The location is upscale, the food ingredients likewise. Service is trained to professional standards, and all the imprimateurs of a fine dining restaurant (sans tablecloths) are in place. The decor exudes a modern, urban, rather Scandinavian, style. Our table was along the back wall where the floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the Riverwalk. It is a location I recommend
Our meal hit the high notes right from the start. Turtle Soup with Sherry Gastrique ($16) was a multi-flavored bowl of turtle meat subtly sweetened with Andalucia’s unique fortified wine and spiked with unruptured juice sacs of oranges that popped in the mouth, making for a sort of dynamic flavor that adjusted mid mouthful. Even the molasses-brown color of the soup conveyed a sophistication that most soups, even delicious ones, often do not. I am not sticking my neck out when I say that this was the best turtle soup I have had.
The Moll stayed on message with the restaurant’s luxury appetizer of Wagyu Beef Tartare ($20) topped with a quail egg toad-in-the-hole with smoked crème fraîche impersonating the egg white, and American caviar placed obelisk fashion in a dollop on top. The plating had a resemblance to yard furniture but the umami earthiness of the wagyu and the briny freshness of the caviar were undeniable.
The deepest selection of main courses is in steak, where Akaushi breed and Wagyu generally dominate the choices. This may be the single best selection of fine steak available in town. From a Wagyu Beef Burger at $26 to a 33oz TX Akaushi Prime Porterhouse at $222 there is something for every discerning steak palate. And don’t forget the add-ons and sides. Add-ons are foie gras, brûléed bleu cheese, or gulf crab fingers. A casual glance around the room suggested steak is the category that most patrons opt for.
From Sides do try the Grilled Cabbage with kimchi apples and aioli ($13). The apples are fermented in vinegar, bringing tartness to the experience. Jalapeño Cheddar Grits ($8) were less successful, seeming to lack jalapeño and cheddar.
Our mains steered round the steaks as we had both eaten steak recently. The Moll went with the Berkshire Pork Chop with chipotle-lime compound butter ($48). A logistically huge thing that dominated its plate, I wondered if it could serve as a seawall in the event of another San Antonio River flood. Cooked medium, it actually had lots of smokey flavor and yearned to be paired with either of our sides. The flavored butter melted and took the role of a sauce as chipotle flavors oozed out.
Thwarted by ‘the global supply chain’ at getting the Bison short rib shown in the online menu, or the beef short rib shown on the restaurant menu, I pivoted all the way to the only pasta dish: Habanero Garganelli, shrimp étoufée, and double-smoked bacon ($24). I hit the nail on the head. The substantial al dente eel-shaped pasta was spiked with the heat of habanero (al dante's inferno?). The shrimp lurked in the sauce with their chunky flesh ready to be devoured, and the bacon provided that salty, burnt-meat flavor that bacon is expected to do. A triumph in so many dimensions.
As the only wine drinker at the table the Romanée-Conti Burgundy at $6470 ruled itself out by virtue of not being available by-the-glass, so I settled for the Diora 2019 Pinot Noir La Petite Grace from Monterey ($18/glass) with my pasta and Charles Krug 2019 Chardonnay from Carneros ($14/glass). Both were good, the Krug especially so. The wine list here isn’t huge, but has some interesting selections and covers most bases. McPherson Cellars from Texas makes an appearance.
Cocktail lovers should scour that list as the hotel bar is located adjacent to the restaurant and it is clear that cocktails are a specialty the hotel wants to be known for.
After a daunting two courses we had lost any capacity to consume dessert. Suffice is to say, it will be in the sights on a future visit.
Landrace is a landmark in San Antonio restaurants. Go now, before McHugh wins a James Beard award, or something, and the place becomes impossible to reserve.
It is, in reality, a compliment to say that McHugh makes a smaller stretch with Landrace than he did with Cured, because it is the massive size of that step with Cured that makes the step with Landrace more manageable. Cured was where the land was cleared and the foundations built.
What Landrace can become is a core member of the ring of national-quality restaurants that are emerging in San Antonio with the city's assumption to the same culinary status as Dallas, Houston, and Austin. Given the opening during the recent pandemic, treat the current time as season one.