One of my favorite recent experiences (complimentary, courtesy of the Westin La Cantera) received from our staycation at the Westin La Cantera (more posts to come!!!) was the two intimate hours spent in the kitchen of Francesca’s at Sunset with executive chef John Armstrong and chef de cuisine Ernie Estrada. This restaurant is opened daily from 6pm to 10pm and offers “South Texas cuisine with a Southwestern flair”. The chefs pride themselves on their menu items almost all containing “Farm to Table” ingredients provided by local Central and South Texas farmers and ranchers.
This fabulously romantic restaurant has so much heart behind it in the kitchen. You would not believe how welcomed and gracious Chef Armstrong and Chef Estrada were to our small group. We bombarded them with every question we could come up with and they answered them all in strides and smiles, welcoming us to ask more by emailing them anytime (like other frequent patrons already do!) Everything we ate that afternoon tasted as good as it looked and will definitely remain a top 10 memory in my mind. The chefs offer frequent opportunities to meet with them on a more personal level at the restaurant and we all felt truly welcomed into their world.
*Brunch menu found here (served Sundays from 10:30am-2pm)!
How Francesca’s got her name?
This restaurant has an equally passionate story behind its namesake. There’s a Wild West legend that involves a young man named Ferenor who was preparing to enter into priesthood by taking his final vows when he met and fell in love with a beautiful girl named Francesca’s, who returned his love. Dismissed by the leaders in the church, they ran away together, unfortunately straying from the path and becoming lost. Leaving Francesca to find help from a light in the short distance, Ferenor never found the light or help that eventually diminished. In his hast to return to Francesca, Ferenor lost consciousness when he struck his head on a rock after stumbling in the darkness. Regaining consciousness the next morning, he found the village searching for himself and Francesca. Setting out in search of Francesca again, neither Ferenor nor Francesca was ever found again.
Luckily our love affair with Francesca’s kitchen was more lucky and we started with Peach cider with grill roasted peaches, pecan oil, and a micro arugula salad:
Chef Armstrong patiently explained how to prepare everything:
Including the rub he quickly made:
With the paprika he brought from his home kitchen since they didn’t have any at the restaurant that day:
To how to sear the peaches:
He also explained that micro arugala was just arugula that was harvested when it was in it’s infant stages of growth:
Plating the beautiful salad with a sample of locally made peach cidar.
And happily marched to one of Francesca’s long-time favorite staple menu items: Francesca’s Guajillo Chile Rubbed Filet of Beef
We did a sniff taste in the kitchen to figure out the ingredients below (that included chipotle chiles, corriander, carmelized onions, cipotle, burgundy, and roasted tomato):
The locally grown and butchered filet mignons:
Rubbed down with a few different spices:
And enhanced after being grilled with a veal reduction (that was homemade and reduced for over 18 hours!!!)
Topped with a fabulous southwestern queso fresco and micro cilanotro.
Perfection on a platter.
Brioche French Toast stuffed with blueberries and bananas with pecan maple syrup:
Homemade brioche bread (which I enthusiastically believe makes for the BEST French toast ever!!)
The chef sliced bananas and combined with fresh blueberries in a bowl, mashing them together:
Which would be stuffed into the bread later:
We got to use tasting spoons to sample the batter that included a tasty standard recipe kicked up a notch with heavy cream, egg, sugar, Tahitian vanilla bean, and rum:
The maple syrup also included pecans and bananas:
The bread was sliced thickly so that the chef could slice in half and then stuff the seasonal fruit in:
Pressed down and sealed in once stuffed:
And then submerged in the batter for several minutes:
Cooked on a hot skillet:
And toasted to perfection:
Drizzle and server…voila!!