This month’s featured restaurant in my The Weekend Gourmet Dines Out series takes us just north of San Antonio, to the small town of Bulverde (pronounced: bull-VER-dee)...a quick 20-minute drive up US 281 into the Texas Hill Country. Located in the center of this quaint town is a gourmet restaurant that many of my friends have recommended to me: Mike’s In the Village. Chef Mike Romano is from New Orleans...and the food on his menu has a definite Creole-meets-Texas vibe! He opened Mike’s In the Village four years ago, and judging from the full house when I was there last week? He’s got a lot of fans! My best description of the atmosphere at Chef Mike's restaurant is casual gourmet. The food is definitely upscale, but the atmosphere is totally laidback. Colorful art adorns the walls, and the staff is welcoming and friendly. That’s a winning combination in my book!
When I arrived for my tasting, Chef Mike and his staff greeted me with a warm smile and immediately seated me. Rather than order from the menu, I asked him to share his favorite menu items with me. Smart move...it was really fun to see what delicious surprise would come out of the kitchen next! My tasting started with an appetizer that was beautiful to look at and delicious to eat: Blackened Tuna Stacks with Red Onion, Avocado, Ponzo & Wasabi Creme.
A crispy wonton base triangle with a thin slice of avocado, purple onion, field greens, blackened tuna, and a wasabi-laced cream drizzle. I’m not normally a fan of seared tuna, but this appetizer won me over at first bite. Crispy...and a bit spicy...but the heat is nicely tempered by the avocado and cream in the wasabi sauce. I love Big Flavor, and this appetizer really delivered!
Next came two more appetizers: Tempura Battered Portobello Fries with Ancho Chile Mayo and Fried Panko Coated Shrimp Boulettes with Creole Remoulade Sauce. I enjoyed all three appetizers I sampled, but the Portobello Fries were my favorite...think fried mushrooms on steroids!
The tempura batter was light and crispy, and the dipping sauce had just enough heat to be spicy without overpowering the flavor of the mushrooms. The balance was really nice! The delicious shrimp boulettes were made by combining boudin (a Cajun rice-based sausage) with diced shrimp...then rolling it into a ball, coating it in breading, and frying. They come topped with a fantastic remoulade sauce. I could have made a meal just on these appetizers...but more food was coming from the kitchen!
I love gumbo, but hadn’t found any in San Antonio that's the real deal...until now. Chef Mike brought out a cup of his Chicken & Sausage Gumbo, which the group of ladies at the table next to me had dubbed Yumbo Gumbo...and it's the perfect description! The gumbo was thick and just spicy enough...with plenty of shredded chicken and sliced sausage. It’s as good as anything I’ve eaten in Lousiana...I’d drive here just to have a bowl of this authentic gumbo. As you can see, I had eaten half of the cup before I realized I hadn't snapped a picture of it yet.
Next, my entree arrived...Chef Mike asked me if I liked quail, and I sheepishly admitted that I had never eaten it before. That’s a pretty sad thing for a native Texan to 'fess up to, so I was excited to try his Quail Stuffed with Jalapeno and Venison Sausage Cornbread. It came out of the kitchen with a sweet-savory sauce made from the pan drippings and fig jam.
The flavor of the quail meat reminded me of chicken thigh meat...not the least bit gamey. These quails are raised locally in nearby Bandera. The flavors in this dish were really nicely balanced: sweet-savory pan sauce, juicy quail meat, and the sweet-spicy stuffing. It was served boneless, which made it very simple to eat.
By then, I was getting pretty full....but there was still one last thing that Chef Mike wanted me to try: his White Chocolate Bread Pudding with Rum Sauce. Trust me...I always have about thismuch space left for dessert, and I LOVE bread pudding! This bread pudding was excellent...and the clear cinnamon-tinged rum sauce was very nice. This dessert was the perfect ending to a meal that was fantastic from the first bite to the last.
It’s easy to see why Mike’s In the Village is so popular. I visited on a Thursday evening, and nearly every spot in the 20-table restaurant was full of happy diners. Chef Mike came out of the kitchen repeatedly to greet his guests. I felt more like I was a guest eating in someone’s home...not a customer in a restaurant. That's how welcoming the vibe is! Mike’s In the Village is open Wed-Fri from 11-2 and 5-9 and on Saturday from 5-9. They also serve a Brunch Buffet on Sundays from 11-2. They recommend making reservations for weekends.
Special thanks to Chef Mike and his wife Christi for making me feel so welcome...I can't wait to return to Mike's In the Village so I can try more of his amazing food. I'm going to need a fix for my new-found Portobello Fries addiction soon...and there are a couple of shrimp dishes on the menu that look to die for!!