This article was for the preview of Lüke that I was able to go to before they opened their doors. Click here for a review of the restaurant after they opened their doors.
I had an exciting evening tonight as I got to go to my first ever preview of a restaurant! As mentioned before, I started this blog in May of ’09 just so I could let all my friends know what I was eating. This was so they could tell me where they wanted to eat when they came to town. I have been excited to actually see people read it; recently Cat from Crave Communications came across the blog and asked if I would like to preview a new restaurant on the River, Lüke, by famed New Orleans chef John Besh. So full disclosure, I was asked to be at this event and did not have to spend any of my money to eat tonight.
The low key event was a chance to sample some of their dishes (shrimp and grits, quail, different sausages) and also meet Chef Steve McHugh (the main man of Lüke San Antonio), GM Victor Cervantes (a veteran of the River Walk scene), and different members of the staff. During the preview, we would get a tour of the restaurant, complete with hard hats since the site is still under construction.
I have to admit, I was pretty excited but also a little apprehensive for a couple of reasons. For one, I was a little nervous because I was sure to be around people who are much more in tune to food than I am. I mean, I know what I like, but I also know that when it gets down to it I am an average Joe. There are many people more knowledgeable than I and they are far more effective at describing how the food tastes in words. This in itself was a little intimidating for me!
Second, this was the first time that I have ever been asked to preview a restaurant and allowed to try different dishes (and drink beer) for free. While this is completely awesome, I would lie if I didn’t tell you that I was nervous of what I would have to write if the food was a little subpar.
Upon arriving to the preview, I was immediately greeted by Cat and Paula of Crave Communications. Both were personable and immediately introduced me to managers Bennie and Stephen. I enjoyed getting to visit with Stephen who has a focus on the drinks that will be served at Lüke River Walk. He told me that one of their signature drinks is the French “75” which is made of cognac, fresh lemon juice, and champagne (like real champagne, not sparkling wine called champagne). Stephen also let me know that they will be serving Sazerac, a classic NOLA cocktail (allegedly the first cocktail invented in America) where the glass is rinsed with absinthe and then filled with rye whiskey, bitters, and sugar. I didn’t get to try any of these but am looking forward to them.
I was fortunate to get to sit with Lauren of the Oh My Puddin’ Blog and Karen of the EatSA Blog (along with Karen’s husband). These two ladies were incredibly friendly and easy to talk with; their passion for food was impressive and I just enjoyed sitting back and listening to them talk. If you are looking for some excellent recipes and better written reviews, I would definitely advise you to check them out. My first fears were calmed (and I don’t think I made a complete idiot of myself in the process!).
I got to visit with the chef and found him to be quite personable and affable. He was originally from Wisconsin but had been in NOLA for more than a decade. In spite of there being fancy beers offered, we chatted a little bit about Leinenkugel and Pabst Blue Ribbon (Chef told me that starting out in NOLA there was this one Mexican restaurant that would have $1 PBR; he said to this day that beer will bring back good memories of starting things up; this is my type of guy). Chef McHugh had been in San Antonio since last April and has enjoyed the city and said that the people were incredibly friendly. He said that several of the prominent chefs in town befriended him and even showed him some of the places to purchase ingredients. McHugh was blown away when one of the local chefs invited him out to the Hill Country to celebrate the Fourth of July.
My second fear was soon allayed as I began eating the food. While the bockwurst and the bratwurst were good, I didn’t find them to be out of this world. What really delivered and is a must try (especially if you like sausage) is the wildshwienwurst, or the wild boar sausage. From the moment that I got my invite, I was super pumped about this dish. A friend of mine has a ranch down near Campbellton, TX and his ranch hand had caught some wild boars; I was really curious what those bad boys would taste like. The sausage wasn’t dry (something that I would have expected since I am sure those hogs have less fat than the ones we typically eat) and while it was mild, there was a slight gamey taste that really made the sausage. Paired up with either the homemade mustard or watermelon rind pickles (I hadn’t had those since I was little) you were in for a treat! They also had some homemade pickles made from radishes that were really tasty.
I then tried some fried quail; now I love quail in the first place, but this was prepared exceptionally well. Like the wild boar, there was not too much of a gamey taste and the meat was very tender. The breading was also good and while I don’t know how they prepared it, I believe I heard someone say that honey was involved.
Finally, something that I would have never suspected (but really stole the show) was the shrimp and grits. I know, it sounds nuts, but it was AMAZING. The grits could have stood alone, but the shrimp just made it that much better. The shrimp was sourced from the gulf and had all the right Creole spices (I guess this is the NOLA influence on the French/German old world fare); I didn’t see this on the menu that they gave us, but I hope it makes the cut.
Dessert was bread pudding, and while I am not really a big fan of bread pudding, I really enjoyed it. The top was caramelized just right and the pudding had a sugary sweetness that I am not quite capable of describing in proper terms. Needless to say, I liked it.
I then got to go on the tour with Victor Cervantes of the property which is at 125 E Houston Street, just east of the new Embassy Suites. There will be an entrance from the hotel, from Houston Street, and from the River. Strangely enough, there is NO seating on the River; this strikes me as incredibly odd. Why have a property on the River if you aren’t going to allow people to sit by the River? I imagine this will last less than a year before the open up seating down there.
As you enter the restaurant from Houston Street, you will be greeted by a cold bar filled with oysters and shrimp that you can order and eat at the 40 foot wet bar. I like the idea that people will be able to just drop in after work and get a drink and oysters on the half shell and just relax. In addition to the bar area, the street level will have seating both inside and on the patio. Paying homage to Lüke in NOLA, there will be a system of fans that is powered by one belt that wraps in a serpentine fashion around the ground floor.
The kitchen is located on the second floor behind glass so that you can eat and watch where all the magic happens. Cervantes said that these are the most popular seats in the house for all the restaurants in NOLA. If you are looking to be a server at Lüke, you better be both athletic and graceful; all the food will be carried down stairs from the second to the ground floor. Finally, there is an open air patio on the top floor that can be reserved for events or special occasions. Overall, the expected capacity is 270 people and they will be operating from 11A-11P, 365.
Cervantes said that he is already looking to partner up with the symphony and other events at the Majestic. In fact, for the upcoming season there will be several after parties where patrons can mix and mingle, drink wine and champagne, and listen while the conductor talks about the performance. I expect that this will be just the first of many interesting events held at Lüke River Walk.
Cervantes also got a chance to visit with us about the food, saying that Lüke is part of the Go Texan initiative and most of the food is brought in from farms less than 50 miles away. He said that John Besh is very interested in helping local growers, saying that in his NOLA restaurant Besh has two families who source all the oysters; in addition, he only orders gulf shrimp (eschewing the frozen shrimp from African, Indian, and Mexican farms). Being the grandson of a farmer, this is something that I think is incredibly admirable.
Finally, I was able to get a sneak peak of the menu. First off, let’s talk about the drinks. The signature drinks run you no more than $9.25 and wine starts at $7 per glass (the beer menu is not finalized yet). Assuming they are heavy handed, this is a steal on the River considering what you pay at some of the dumpier restaurants down there (especially if it is a drink that you have never had before). A daily lunch special is offered at $15/plate which includes soup, a dinner special runs $23 that includes soup and bread pudding, and most dinner entrees are in the neighborhood of $20. Valet parking is expected to run $7 which is for the duration of the night.
Yes, I know that I was asked to go to this so that I would blog about it, however, I am just so jacked up right now from the preview. I couldn’t wait to get on the phone with my friends while I was driving home to tell them about it, I couldn’t wait to write this article on Sunday when I typically publish posts, and I can’t wait for Lüke River Walk to open up. San Antonio is getting a restaurant from a famous chef (who spends money on locally grown food) on a part of the River that is relatively undeveloped that is consequently going to spur even more growth for our city. This is just a win all the way around.
While this is a blog for the Average Joe, everyone needs to spend more than $5 on some tacos every once and a while. I really don’t think that these prices are outrageous for several factors: (1) you are eating on the River, (2) you are eating at a restaurant of a renowned chef, (3) you are getting some high quality ingredients, and (4) you’ll be dining at what is sure to be one of the hottest spots in SA.
The only thing that is still a little up to chance is how the food will taste and how friendly the staff will be upon opening. If it is anything like it was tonight, Lüke will be a resounding success.
I might be able to go to the restaurant for a more formalized preview once the restaurant is completely built out. I will update photos so you can see how the inside has changed and talk more of the menu then. Furthermore, I plan on returning to Lüke as an undercover Average Joe and spend my own money to see if the service and food are just as good. Given how long it takes me, I better start growing a beard now.