By Kitty Crider
Splitting open the golden guajillo-buttermilk biscuit,
I am faced with a multitude of decisions as my husband, Chester, and I check out Las Canarias’ legendary Sunday brunch at Omni La Mansión del Rio in San Antonio. Delicious-looking temptations—pan-seared redfish, truffled potatoes au gratin, cinnamon-raisin French toast, fresh-from-the-market vegetables—are everywhere, inside the Spanish-style dining room, out on the plant-lush courtyard, even on the granite-topped bar.
Placing Plate One on my white-skirted table, elegant with silver and yellow roses, I relish the tradition that has kept this Sunday buffet going for more than 30 years. Many hotels have traded the weekly buffets of decades past for simpler á la carte brunches.
“We have not changed,” says Rusty Wallace, La Mansión’s general manager. “We are completely booked just about every weekend.”
It’s easy to see why.
“Fresh oysters for breakfast!” raves Leslyn McManus of San Angelo, celebrating her first wedding anniversary with her husband, Beaver, on the River Walk. “Bottomless mimosas!” exclaims Melissa Jones of San Diego, pointing to the Mumm champagne and mimosas that come with the $39 all-you-can-eat meal. (The children’s price is $20, sans alcohol.)
I meet these friendly folks at the bananas Foster station, one of four “action tables” that sous chef Lewis Guarasci spotlights at the weekly brunch. Chefs carve slices of beef, open fresh oysters, toss custom salads, and make bananas Foster to order. While guests must stand in line for the buffet, doing so creates a party-like setting: Strangers interact, recommend don’t-miss dishes, even swap “flambé” photos on smartphones before returning to their tables. Diner Cindy Calderon of San Antonio, casing the dessert buffet, tells me, “My boss gives me a gift certificate here every Christmas and I look forward to using it.”
I love sampling the dozens of dishes—sampling with an emphasis on small bites, not clean plates. I like stretching my legs during a meal, meeting new people, watching chefs in action, and listening to musicians such as flamenco guitarist El Curro (William Champion), who has played at Las Canarias for decades.
Many large hotel restaurants in Texas serve lavish buffet brunches on the major holidays—Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and Mother’s Day—but only a few do so on a weekly basis. Besides Las Canarias in San Antonio, I can vouch for worthy Sunday spreads at hotels in Austin and Houston.
At the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Austin, I gaze upon the beautiful shores of Lady Bird Lake while enjoying such delicacies as beet-and-blue cheese salad, eggs Benedict, snapper on poblano-cilantro grits, cheese blintzes, Boursin mashed potatoes, and smoked prime rib. You won’t find white tablecloths in this orange-hued TRIO dining room; instead, it features a chic, contemporary style with asymmetrical china and displays of some 70 champagne-brunch items—$48 per adult, $20 per child. (Dallas diners can enjoy a similar Sunday brunch at the Four Seasons Resort and Club in Las Colinas.)
A smartly styled, open rack on a granite-topped credenza holds a dozen individual desserts. The artful array ranges from mint macaroons to orange velvet cake, pistachio panna cotta to a flowing chocolate fountain with fresh strawberry dippers. A “menu board” made of chocolate identifies the items. And it can be melted down for another day, says pastry chef Javier Franco. “We are not killing trees,” he quips.
In Houston, Chester and I follow winding Riverway to the Omni Hotel and step into a lobby filled with hundreds of people celebrating a Sunday-morning wedding. Promptly seated at the casual Café on the Green, we have a choice of the breakfast buffet or that buffet plus the full brunch buffet, including mimosas and champagne ($40 per adult, $20 ages six through 12, free age five and younger). Our table offers great people-watching—the bride circulating among the guests outside on the deck and a chef making plump, custom omelets inside.
tempted by the omelet station and breakfast foods, we head to an adjacent room
and spy a spectacular prime rib roast at the carving station. My husband passes
up the vast array of colorful salads, vegetables, and sushi, and
With our plates amply loaded, we return to our table. The prime rib is crusty and juicy, ever so flavorful, but I am also tucking into wonderful seafood and really good quail with cranberries and rosemary. Taste and pace, I keep reminding myself.
“Save room for
a crepe,” insists executive chef Jacques Lolliot, spreading the thin
Now I’ve returned home to repent with cottage cheese and oatmeal.
From the February 2011 issue.