We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

San Antonio Riverwalk and Tortilla Soup

My Traveling Tales by Michelle

"Texas is neither southern nor western. Texas is Texas."
~Senator William Blakley
   This just in from San Antonio... Tortilla Soup is alive and well and seemingly everywhere. We could perhaps change its name to Ubiquitous. And that is okay with me because I enjoy any good bowl of spicy soup that is finished with a smattering of fresh garnishes. As proof of my adoration, I can confirm that I was in town for a full two days and both days I ordered Tortilla Soup for lunch. I almost ordered it for dinner one night but the room was just too hot and humid.
   With Tortilla Soup featured on the menus of just about every dining establishment I entered, I began to wonder if San Antonio is its motherland; her children leaving home thirty to forty years ago to lay down roots across the southwest and down into Mexico City, dividing and multiplying as they traveled. Like cousins, there are similarities in the gene pool but rarely do two Tortilla Soups look alike even if the base ingredients are universal: tomatoes, chiles, garlic, onion, chicken broth and tortillas.

   Arriving late in the afternoon at the San Antonio airport, I was intent on checking-in to the hotel and heading directly to the Riverwalk, the second most visited attraction in Texas, which is only steps away from the most visited attraction, the Alamo. A network of bridges and staircases connect the urban grid to the 2-1/2 miles of curvaceous walking paths located one level below the bustling city. Surprisingly, the paths on either side of the river, are left unencumbered of guard rails or fences. I had to remind myself, when stepping backwards to capture a scene with my digital camera, not to step back too far and fall directly into the water. And believe me, by the looks of the murky water, one would emerge from the river wet, but certainly not clean.

   After a room shuffle at the hotel and happily winding-up with a corner suite on the 10th floor overlooking the river, I was ready to head to the Riverwalk with my teammate, Gary. But, alas, when I looked out the window, the monsoon had arrived with an onslaught of wind and rain. The concierge promised that the storm would not last very long and invited us to abide the weather by enjoying the complimentary happy hour. That's how I deal with Mother Nature when she's angry - head to the nearest bar until she is done having her say!
   The rain subsided within an hour and off we went, walking by the restored Aztec Theatre, and marveling at its brightly lit neon green and pink sign juxtaposed against the periwinkle tinted sky of twilight. We crossed the street, descended a flight of stairs, and stepped onto the decorative aggregate concrete path, lights from multi-colored incandescent bulbs reflected in the shallow pools of rainwater. As we walked, more people began to appear, and hostesses seated guests at outdoor dining tables while wait staff buffed chairs dry with towels. Water taxis and tour boats glided by leaving only small wakes with their passing.

      As the sky continued to fade into the night, and the lights of the restaurants and retail establishments became more intense, the river reflected the ever changing luminescent landscape of shimmering lights vibrating in the churning water. We walked further into the seemingly impressionistic painting, dodging bystanders and slower-moving tourists until we finally decided to eat dinner at a sidewalk cafe.
   A quick inquiry of a water taxi captain yielded a recommendation to dine at Boudro's. The place was slammed, but as luck will have it - as Linda likes to say, "everything works out for me" - we snagged a table for two on the outdoor patio. Gary quite gallantly offered me the view to the river and the multitudes of people passing by.

   San Antonio is on the outlying edge of the subtropical climate zone. The air was heavy, but pleasant. A fine layer of moisture rested comfortably on my skin. My dress was slightly damp. I definitely was not in arid Tucson anymore! I could have just as well been in Florida or Hawaii if it was not for the distinctive sounds of live mariachi music floating towards us from a distance. We ate shrimp and crab enchiladas coated in a dark guajillo chile sauce with a side of black beans and a dollop of sour cream. All was right with the world.
   Rising early to greet the day, Gary and I headed out for a morning walk intent to see the Alamo. The story of the siege looms large, but the actual building is surprisingly small. High rise buildings loom in the distance. The plaque on the door reads, "Be silent, friend, here heroes died to blaze a trail for other men." A cowboy hatted guard leaned against a railing under the cover of a tree. A leaf blower roared to life from around the corner breaking the somber spell.

  We crossed the street, passing by the Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum. I snarled at it for good measure, channeling my inner Jim Bowie. Really, it just seemed so out of place among the glory of the historic buildings. Once again, we descended a flight of stairs to the Riverwalk taking in the relative calm after the bustle of the previous night. A few joggers passed us by. Coffee carrying people walked like they meant it, each apparently in route to an important destination.

   On our way back to the hotel, we caught sight of a majestic church and detoured to take a closer look. We discovered San Fernando Cathedral where the Alamo heroes are entombed in a small chapel. The doors were open. We payed our respects in front of the single marble casket. The inevitable conclusion, after a brief discussion, is that the heroes were cremated - together during the siege and forevermore.

   In the afternoon, the rest of our team assembled. After a successful opening night of exhibiting and demonstrating our IT infrastructure appliance, we collectively head to the Riverwalk passing the ginormous, red, abstract sculpture "The Torch of Friendship" that is an area landmark. Measuring 65 feet, the curly cue top anchored by two long legs can be seen for miles.
   Everyone agreed on Mexican food. We made a beeline for Casa Rio, established in 1946 and was the first restaurant on the Riverwalk. It was a Wednesday night and the place was packed with the young and the old, tourists, lovebirds, exhibitors, and locals. It was late, and I wasn't up for a big plate of fried enchiladas or tacos, so I opted for the acceptable, but uninspired Pollo Asado plate: boneless chicken breast in red sauce with pinto beans, salad and pico de gallo. The price was right though.

   On the last night, we headed to a churrascaria, a Brazilian steakhouse chain called Fogo de Chão. They offer fifteen cuts of meat - yep, that's right 15 - cooked on rotisserie forks. Everyone starts off his or her meal with a trip to the gourmet salad and sides bar that includes over 30 items. Think of it as the largest antipasto tray in the world. Once you are ready for the meat fest to begin, you simply flip a card placed by each guests water glass. It looks like a beer coaster. One side is green and the reverse is red. It works like a traffic light. As long as the card is flipped to green, roaming "gaucho chefs" slice and serve the meats table-side. When you need a little break, flip the card to red.

   After a long day in the booth (my feet incessantly throbbing while I talked to business advisors from across the country) I opted to start the evening with a traditional Brazilian cocktail, the caipirinha. The fresh lime based drink is definitely in the same vein of a margarita, but in lieu of tequila the liquor is cachaça, pronounced "ka-sha-sa" and is made from fermented sugarcane. I liked it a lot, but if I make it at home, I will mix it a tad dryer as it was a little on the sweet side for my taste.
   The hybrid buffet dinner is a fun shared experience. If you have a group that doesn't really know each other, this type of meal will definitely get the party started. There were many questions surrounding what was being consumed at the table, giving everyone a chance to talk (not that anyone in our group is particularly shy.) We finished the evening by sharing two desserts: a Papaya Cream, essentially a milkshake served in a glass, a blend of papaya pulp and vanilla ice cream, eaten with spoons, and a molten chocolate lava cake with a drizzle of vanilla sauce. The entire meal is what I jokingly refer to as "fummy" a contraction of fun and yummy, which is my lame counter to Rachel Ray's mantra "Yumm-O" that I loathe so much... I digress. 

      When I want to bring the feeling of San Antonio home again, I'll be stirring up a pot of Tortilla Soup. My daughter says it is a soup that actually fills her up. I also know, from the coldest year that I ever spent, twelve months on the Russian River, I had many soul warming lunches of Tortilla Soup, being careful not to choke (while alone) on a tortilla chip a la "Liz Lemon". Ahhhh, I digress once more.
    At Houston's Restaurant in Phoenix, Tuesday night is Tortilla Soup night and Sunday is Mexico City Chicken and Rice. At home, I've often combined the two concepts, putting a scoop of cooked rice in the center of a large, shallow soup bowl and ladling the prepared broth, with the addition of corn, into the bowl. Everyone adds their own garnishes. What is the ideal beverage to enjoy with the soup? Margaritas, of course! Push play on a CD by the "Tex-Mex rock" and roll band, The Texas Tornados and you will instantly have a party that is infused with the Lone Star State (or is it state of mind?)

Tortilla Soup
   I can usually find all the ingredients in my pantry to make this soup in a jiffy. If Bon Appetit magazine asked me what three things I always have in my refrigerator, my reply would be chicken, Tillamook cheddar cheese and sour cream. And tortilla chips, and salsa, and garlic, and...

In a blender:
1 28-ounce can Muir Glen® Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 6-ounce can tomato paste

In a soup pot:

1 14.5-ounce can Muir Glen® Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes with Green Chiles
1 32-ounce container chicken broth
3 to 4 cups leftover cooked chicken, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 large pinch cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp Spanish smoked paprika
sea salt (about 1/2 tsp) and black pepper freshly ground, to taste

Flavor enhancers:
1 to 2 Tbsps sugar, if needed to round out the flavors
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
2 lemons or 4 limes, freshly squeezed (about 1/2 cup)

fresh cilantro leaves, stems discarded
sliced scallions, white and green rings
sour cream
corn chips
shredded cheese: Cheddar, Monterey Jack or a combination
diced avocado

1. Empty a 28-ounce can of tomatoes into a blender. Add the garlic and tomato puree. Blend until smooth. Pour into a soup pot. Add the roasted tomatoes with green chiles and chicken broth. Stir. Add chicken. Bring to a boil over medium heat until; turn temperature to low and simmer until ready to serve. Add sugar, if needed. You can also add leftover cooked rice and frozen corn for a Mexico City Tortilla Soup.
2. Right before serving, stir in parsley and the lemon juice.
3. Serve the soup in bowls leaving room for your guests to garnish as they please with sour cream, corn chips, shredded cheese, sliced scallions (white and green), diced avocado and leaves of cilantro.

"A closed mouth gathers no foot." ~Texas wisdom


  1. Then bring on the foot, because a closed mouth can neither eat good food!

  2. Love the post Michelle. Makes me wish I was in Texas, and that is a flat out miracle if there ever was one! Especially love the pics with the water! Looking forward to seeing you on the 16th - although it turns out that is the stair climb and I will be at the High Desert Market giving out samples of the bread, but hey - we can work that into a blog. We'll do sugar skulls in the afternoon!


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