IF YOU ARE GOING TO BE QUIRKY, MAKE IT RESONATE
by Andrew Chalk
Best Quality Daughter sounds like the creation of a ChatGPT morph. It sorta’ has a meaning, and is certainly memorable. But it is actually the restaurant of Jennifer Hwa Dobbertin, a second-generation Chinese-American with family roots in Taiwan and the USA. She was impressed with the Chinese food and family story in The Joy Luck Club and this took her down the path to her own restaurant’s singular name.
Best Quality Daughter was conceived with help from fellow San Antonio chef Quealy Watson. San Antonio legend Hot Joy was where Dobbertin and Watson got their blooding in the restaurant business, that crucial stage where you learn to run the business such that the concept you are endeared to does not go broke. The results show in the full tables, smooth service, aspiring standup comedian waiter Blink making punters as grumpy as me feel welcome, and a kitchen turning out the dishes as fast as they can be eaten.
It is all in a 1906 house decorated as though each room were assigned to a different designer, each of whom hated the other’s guts. The result is five rooms get five unconnected, but internally consistent, designs and the whole shitkabang works just great. The long room where I was seated was white and pink painted wood, creating a noisy, boisterous, melee of parties. A neighboring room wears Rococo flock wallpaper, fit for the shagadelic sequel to Downton Abbey.
It turns out this fun atmosphere presages the fun food to come at our media event.
The menu is fairly short, and a table of eight could come away having sampled enough to have really grokked the nouveau Chinese-American cuisine here. The lineage from Hot Joy is indelible: firm Chinese and Thai roots, embellished wherever the chefs saw fit. Blink takes me through top sellers at my request.
Mochi Cheddar Hush Puppies ($12) with Thai chili jam are five bite-sized balls pleading to be dunked in the Thai sauce only so that you can bite in and release the cheddar from its incarceration. So impactful is the creamy contrast of the cheese with the structure of the hushpuppy you are forced to pause, mid munch, in deference to the cheese infusing with the grain. Much like motorists in these parts do for an armadillo crossing the road.
Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken ($13) is mnemonically the McNuggets of the menu. More accurately, they are not reconstituted, are judicially seasoned with white pepper salt, and go superbly with the accompanying Thai basil ranch sauce.
Super Garlicky Noodles ($13) was a bowl of peanuts, sesame seeds, green onion, and cilantro that just screamed mix me. I obliged. Later, I noticed the menu offers a Fried Farm Egg on top for $2. I would say do it!
The above dishes are on the side of the menu entitled Smallish. They are not. If all I ordered was one helping of the superb Mochi Cheddar Hush Puppies, then in order to let my stomach recover I would take some home.
The Family Style side of the menu is truly that. Big helpings for large gatherings. Kurobuta Pork Belly Ssam ($40) and Orange Chicken-Fried Skirt Steak ($20) are two popular offerings but I was anatomically incapable of consuming any more!
The two desserts are both sandwiches: Mango Coconut Sherbet and Milk Oolong Ice Cream. Either one for $6 or two for $10.
Beverages are definitely in the cocktail idiom, including Boozy Bobas and custom creations with catchy names. The wine list might be called minimal, but well-chosen. The New Zealand sauvignon blanc comes from Astrolabe, one of the most committed sauvignon blanc producers. And the California pinot noir is a De Loach offering. Beers can be selected from the home town (Highwheel) or from as far away as Thailand, China, even Dallas.
Being on the edge of Pearl, Best Quality daughter is perfectly located for one part of a night out. The high temperatures scuppered my plans to walk back to downtown along the northern extension of The Riverwalk (San Antonio’s single most magnificent man-made amenity). But the leisurely Lyft ride back showed how Pearl has grown and how popular it has become. Edgy chef-driven restaurants like Best Quality Daughter are a key part of that.