Step Back in Time for Forward Flavors at Restaurant Gwendolyn
Tucked away on a quiet perch above a bend in San Antonio’s River Walk, Restaurant Gwendolyn makes you feel as if you’re sitting somewhere in Europe, far away from the mundane. But what truly transports you at Gwendolyn is the clean, honest approach to food.
And they do it by employing cooking methods that date back to 1850. That means you won’t find blenders, mixers, deep fryers or anything else with a motor in the kitchen. It also means the food truly is locally sourced: nothing on your plate comes from more than 150 miles of the restaurant. You won’t find the freshest seafood just flown in from the East Coast because that’s not what they do at Gwendolyn’s.
What you can expect to find is food that is creatively executed, with rich flavor and nuances that are planned to highlight the bounty they work with. And small treats truly shine, like a sangria sorbet as a palate cleanser, or the overflowing flavor of the tiniest amuse bouche that sets the tone for your meal. What they don’t produce in-house, like the fantastic cheeses from River Whey Creamery that perfectly complement the housemade options on the charcuterie board, are also carefully selected and presented to elevate your dining experience.
That experience is elevated by the restaurant’s staff. Engaging and knowledgeable, every member of the team adds to your experience. They know each dish, the ingredients, the cooking methods and the perfect wine to pair with it. They add to the experience with just the right level of engagement, never overstaying their welcome yet handling your every need.
One of those needs is wine pairings. I admit: I tend to be wine boring, and ridiculously stubborn. I stick to what I know I like, whether or not it complements my meal. Yet, I stepped out on a limb at Restaurant Gwendolyn, exploring its coursed wine pairings. And I almost cried at how fabulous and unexpected the flavors were.
Those unexpected flavors flow into each dish as well. If you think no electricity means caveman-like eating, just stop. Each menu is thoughtfully created with what is available at the time. Gwendolyn’s team of culinary experts creates a new and unique each week that is inspired by what is locally available. Each course has special meaning to the creator that is reflective of their ideas, emotions, memories and innovative culinary expertise.
There’s nothing out of season here, everything used at its fullest, natural flavor. And they do use everything: nothing goes to waste. That means a charcuterie board with fantastic sausages, cured meats and pâtés that use every part of an animal. Soups with the most delicate flower buds floating on top to provide an added touch of flavor. And the tiniest leaves sprinkled over a dish to add a nuance to every bite.
You have to trust Chef Michael Sohocki’s vision of a kitchen much like that of his grandmother’s, the namesake of the restaurant. That dedication to a truly seasonal menu and the idea that nothing that requires a plug be used in the kitchen, isn’t easy to execute. And yet every dish coming out of the kitchen offers honest, fresh flavor that never fails to delight. And the presentation is a sight to behold.
While I could write an ode to the peach cobbler enjoyed at the peak of peach season, once that season is over, the cobbler won’t be available. The Israeli fig salad that will haunt my dreams may not be back if the figs aren’t available within a short drive of San Antonio. The chilled smoked tomato soup with basil flowers – the best bowl of tomato soup I’ve had in my life – disappears when the tomatoes are gone for the season.
The Petite Salé, a dish that truly shines and is as close to traditional as possible, because of course Gwendolyn prides itself on its authentic approach. That means a dish with a base of lentils simmered in a broth of onions, garlic, and pancetta, then topped with salted pork as per the tradition. But at Gwendolyn, that’s three different pork preparations: porchetta di testa, guanciale and cotechino. The melding of Italian preparations in a classical French dish epitomizes the restaurant’s worldly approach to flavor.
While each course of the meal makes a case as to why Gwendolyn should be your new best restaurant friend, the end note of the meal seals the deal on its level of detail: adult gummies, a set of four mignardises to leave your taste buds smiling even more. These little treats change constantly, but with flavors like Red Wine Pate de Fruit, Apricot and Rose Water Pressado, Molé Pave and Pink Peppercorn, and Corriander Nougatine, how can you not go home with a smile?
Cover: Another fantastic pairing of flavors from Restaurant Gwendolyn, Waffles and Liver. Courtesy photo
Dawn Robinette is an award-winning writer and communications expert based in San Antonio who enjoys finding new discoveries, revisiting old favorites and telling stories. Selected as a local expert by the San Antonio River Walk Association, she regularly writes for San Antonio Woman and Rio Magazine. You can read more of her work at Alamo City Moms.