It’s not surprising that enterprising Blanco Aldaco, who cut her restaurant teeth in a converted cottage in gritty St. Paul Square, should join Los Barrios, Scott Cohen, and Damien Watel in their Northside restaurant adventures. She’s long been known as a downtown girl, keeping the sometimes feeble flame of Sunset Station alive with her dynamic and eponymous restaurant, but she seems right at home on her hilltop in Stone Oak. This may be in part because she lives five minutes away from her stylish new digs, but something suggests she also enjoys a challenge.
“There’s been some resistance to the difference in pricing between lunch and dinner,” she confided after dinner one night — a difference downtowners tended to understand.
San Antonians in general, at least those with a few years and enchiladas under their belts, tend to resist high prices for Mexican food, but in this case, outer-looplanders should rejoice: the steak al comal is listed at $20.95 on the downtown website, but it’s a mere $19.95 on Stone Oak. What’s to complain about?
Well, one minor thing. The menu description of the al comal says that the grilled ribeye is “served on a sizzling comal, topped with sautéed mushrooms, poblano strips, caramelized onions in their juices, enhanced with lime and cilantro.” Sounds good and sets up certain expectations. Unfortunately, they’re not met. The steak itself, thin as is the Mexican custom, was extremely flavorful, cooked to just the right medium-rare degree, and as tender as one could want. There’s some sizzling going on — but it’s that seductive-sounding topping underneath the steak, not on top, that’s doing all the talking. The onions may be browned by contact with comal, but they’re not caramelized, and especially not “in their juices.” I’d be happy to pay the extra dollar if that would get me the topping, with more rajas and mushrooms at least briefly cooked together with already caramelized onions, actually served on top where the combined juices (and the lime) could influence the steak in a more meaningful manner.
The flavors didn’t quite come together in another dish, either, the classic caldo Tlalpeño. All the right parts are present — the chicken breast, the garbanzos, the tomato and sliced avocado, and they’re individually good parts to be sure; they just seemed to need a little more time to comingle.
“I’m not having more of this,” sniffed Dining Companion, but don’t listen to her. Despite my observation, I finished her part and mine.
There could be no more perfectly blended, integrated, and appealing plate than the tacos al pastor, however. I’d call the pork cubed, not shaved, but its earthy flavor was irresistible, the salsa de la señora both deep and bright (and quite different from the equally appealing and toasty table salsa), and the too-cute corn tortillas just the right foil.
If you have some cilantro and onion left over, add it to the cocktail de camaron, too. The tall martini glass the coctel is served in is brimming with shrimp cooked in wine, and it’s impressive. But the mix, smacking of ketchup, is too sweet for me, so I added all the lime I could from various wedges lying about, and then shoveled in the onion and cilantro that wouldn’t fit on the taquitos. Bingo: much better.
There was a little hitch between antojitos and platos principales I need to mention. With an abundance of efficiency but a deficit of discretion, our caldo and entrées were served before we had finished even half of the appetizers. Sorry, but I sent them back. If you’ve indicated you’re in a hurry, this may be fine, but otherwise, guys, lay back a little. Once this was made clear, everything else proceeded perfectly.
We ordered the pollo half-and-half because it’s one of Blanca’s signatures, the crema al chipotle and crema al cilantro each topping a split chicken breast being rightly and duly celebrated. Not for being especially Mexican, however. I admit to liking each sauce when I’m in the mood for something that hints at south of the border without bludgeoning me over the head.
Moderately Mexican — but wildly inventive — is Blanca’s avocado margarita. Dining Companion observed that the true margarita flavor came through and agreed that the creamy avocado influenced the drink mostly in luxurious mouth feel.
About that lunch menu, by the way: You can drop plenty of pesos on a $16.95 carne-asada combo, but there are also plates in the $5.95 range. As I contemplated the view of Stone Oak valley from the sheltered patio, I found myself wishing that my brace of Wednesday-special gorditas, one stuffed with chicken, the other with ground beef, had just a little more soul, the better to convert the heathen hordes hiding within the valley’s folds. The gorditas themselves were politely fine and fat-free, but the generous chicken filling especially needed some oomph. At the price, I didn’t really feel cheated. Just a little sad.
There’s nothing triste about the tres leches cake, a now-ubiquitous dessert that was introduced to San Antonio by Blanca and her mother what now seems like decades ago. And, traditionalist that I am, I have always preferred the original vanilla version to the chocolate or pecan. And especially to the newer, Kahlua–soaked, models. We split the Kahlua Mocha variant and found the cake as moist and substantial as ever but the liqueur too sweet and intrusive. Or at least I did. You know about D.C’s contrarian streak by now. Come to think of it though, she lives north of Loop 1604, so perhaps she’s the perfect target for Aldaco’s Stone Oak. Feel free to reread the above with this in mind.
Aldaco‘s Mexican Cuisine Stone Oak
20079 Stone Oak Parkway
Blanca Aldaco has taken her Sunset Station sizzle north to convert the loopland masses with crema al cilantro, avocado margaritas and tres leches cake. May they succumb quickly.
Tacos al pastor, the signature avocado margarita, and pastel tres leches
11am-9pm Sun-Wed, 11am-10pm Thu-Sat
Dinner entrées: $9.25-$22.95