Friday, February 22, 2013

The Weekend Gourmet Dines Out for February...Featuring Z'Tejas Southwestern Grill

This month's The Weekend Gourmet Dines Out featured restaurant is Z'Tejas Southwestern Grill. They started out in 1989 with one location on Austin's famous 6th Street. Since then, they have since expanded to 11 locations in four states. We were recently invited for a delicious multi-course dinner and cocktail tasting at the San Antonio La Cantera Z'Tejas location. If you're looking for a fun place to meet friends over some really innovative and
 delicious Southwest-inspired food and fun cocktails, this is the place for you! They feature two large dining areas, one inside and one outside. 

We were quickly taken to our table, where we began our dining experience with a fun cocktail and their signature sweet, moist cornbread. The Red 'Rita was a fun way to kick off our tasting experience while we waited for our appetizers to make their way from the kitchen. This tart drink featured a lingering light mint finish. It contains Milagro Reposado Tequila, pomegranate and lime juices, triple sec, grenadine and mint...and it even came with a fun candy cane garnish!

Our first appetizer selection were the Beef Tenderloin Street Tacos. They were tender and flavorful, topped with slices of buttery, ripe avocado and a drizzle of spicy chipotle crema. On the side was pico de gallo and a tangy dipping sauce. These tacos were perfect for sharing, and we loved the portion size -- not too big or two small! The flavor combination of the tender beef, perfectly ripe avocado, and spicy crema was wonderful. 

Just as we finished up the tacos, our next appetizer came to the table...along with another cocktail! The Grilled Shrimp & Guacamole Tostada Bites were right up my alley: a crispy tortilla base topped with fresh-made guacamole and spicy grilled shrimp. They were creamy, spicy, and crunchy...and the size was perfect for popping in your mouth. These were served with an Antioxidant Martini. This was my personal favorite of the cocktails we sampled that night. It was full of fresh berry flavor, with just enough sweetness. Even better, this Skinny Cocktail has less than 250 calories! It contains BACARDI Dragon Berry, fresh lemon juice, Herradura Agave Nectar, fresh blackberries and blueberries, and a topping of Wild Berry FOMZ.

Before we knew it, another fabulous appetizer was being brought to our table, this one with a Asian-Southwest fusion twist. The Cast Iron Skillet Dumplings were crispy on the outside and filled with a yummy shrimp and pork combo. They were served with a sweet ginger-soy dipping sauce that perfectly complimented the slightly spicy filling. These dumplings were crispy, but not the least bit greasy...I'm picky about my fried food, and these were perfection!

Coming to the table a few minutes later to pair with the dumplings were the Tex Mex-inspired Chile Pork Tostadas...crispy tortilla rounds topped with green chile pork, melted jack cheese, black beans and jalapeno. These were like upscale nachos, with more of their sublime guacamole in the middle. No complaints from me...I adore good guacamole, and Z'Tejas offers pristinely fresh hand-made guacamole. This plate was served with the most unique cocktail of the night, the sweet-spicy Pepper Melon Margarita. The first thing you taste is watermelon, then a residual slow-burn heat from jalapeno slices floating in the glass! This drink contains 1800 Silver Tequila, Monin Watermelon, triple sec, fresh watermelon and jalapeños. 

After the appetizer portion of the meal, it was time to sample a few entrees. First up was a light entree salad,  the Jerk Chicken Salad. Mixed greens are tossed with with a tangy-sweet sesame-ginger dressing. The salad is then topped with spicy grilled jerk chicken strips, Roma tomato, corn tortilla strips, and feta cheese. The chicken was juicy and nicely spiced, but the tortilla strips and mild feta tamed the heat  nicely. Michael commented that he would gladly eat this salad for an entree, so there you have it: a legit, dude-approved salad!

The next entree was the biggest surprise dish of the night, the Smoked Chicken Chile Relleno. A poblano pepper is stuffed with chicken, pecans, apricots, raisins, and jack cheese...then grilled. It's topped with crunchy pepitas  and served over green chile and red pepper sauce and a drizzle of crema. This isn't a dish that I would've ordered at first glance, but I absolutely loved it! That's part of the fun of these tastings -- trying menu items you might not have selected, and discovering something new and exciting in the process! Instead of being fried like a typical relleno, this poblano was grilled...letting the flavor of the mild pepper come through. The sweet-savory filling was an amazing combination of flavors, taking this dish to gourmet heights!

Our third and final entree was the elegant Chorizo-Stuffed Pork Tenderloin. Tender, juicy pork tenderloin is stuffed with a combination of spicy chorizo sausage, jack cheese, and poblano pepper. It's grilled, then sliced into rounds. It comes served with a roasted poblano sauce. This dish is a pork lover's dream come true! This plate was accompanied by a fabulous margarita on the rocks. The margarita wasn't too strong, with the perfect amount of sweetness to balance the tart lime juice.

As you might imagine, we were feeling pretty stuffed by then, but we still had a trio of house-made desserts headed our way to sample! We had the Ancho Fudge Pie, the Cast Iron Skillet Fresh Apple Cobbler, and the Sweet Potato Pie from their seasonal menu.

All of these desserts were excellent! The Ancho Fudge Pie was full of chocolate flavor, with a subtle spicy end note in the back of your throat. The Cast Iron Skillet Fresh Apple Cobbler was Michael's favorite...he's a cobbler fanatic, and this one was full of plump slices of apple. The Sweet Potato Pie was creamy, with a nice kick of cinnamon and nutmeg. It wasn't too rich or sweet, making it a perfect ending for our meal. Or was it?!?!? Not so fast...we were brought one final cocktail to cap off the evening. The Skinny Strawberry Mojito was a refreshing end to our meal! From their Skinny Menu, it was also under 250 calories. This drink contains Cruzan Strawberry Rum, Herradura Agave Nectar, lime juice, fresh strawberries, and mint. 

Three hours after we first walked in, we waddled back out of the restaurant...stuffed full of amazing food and cocktails. I love it when we can enjoy well-prepared food that's also a good value...while enjoying a casual, laidback environment! In addition to lunch and dinner menus, Z'Tejas has also offers a popular Happy Hour and a wonderful Sunday Brunch. We thoroughly enjoyed the food at Z'Tejas and look forward to going back with friends very soon to try some of our favorite menu items!

Disclosure: Z'Tejas provided us with a complimentary dinner tasting to facilitate this feature. The opinions expressed are my own, and all photographs are copyrighted by Michael K. Garcia. They may not be copied without prior consent.

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