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Food & Drink

There's reason to choose dinner at the bar at Cibolo Moon

Photo: Rick Cortez, License: N/A

Rick Cortez

Pork shank with caramelized sweet potatoes and apple butter from Cibolo Moon.

The new JW Marriott squats atop a Hill Country ridge like a rambling redoubt sheltering a subdivision fiefdom. Attempts to beige its bulk into the background have been largely unsuccessful. But once inside, the setting is less oppressive than it might easily have been: there is water, both still and restive; art adorns many walls; and bars abound. I suggest you head straight for the one at Cibolo Moon — it offers 85 tequilas.

My first experience of Cibolo Moon, in fact, was at a dinner designed to promote a new tequila, Whispering Eye, produced by a couple of local entrepreneurs, Scott Lewis and Neal Scarborough. The kitchen had been tasked with matching courses to WET's blanco and reposado (an añejo will be released later), and the bar was responsible for creating cocktails. Much was made of the resort's kitchen gardens, its use of local purveyors, its local-option independence from chain menu tyranny. Excellent foie gras with fig bacon jam was paired to a reposado and chai cider drink; spring-in-a-bowl split pea soup was matched to an herb-inflected blanco spritzed with soda; blanco infused by the bar with strawberry and jalapeño was the base of a margarita accompanying a handsomely plated surf and turf of scallop and filet with a mushroom ragout … yes, impressive.

The daily menu, though it spares us the preciousness of listing the provenance of every ingredient in a dish (purveyors are listed in small print at the bottom), is far less interesting. Yes, there is a marginally compelling bison meatloaf and a "fresh sustainable fish" with "local seasonal vegetables," but these gestures are all but neutralized by the preponderance of plates such as chicken fried steak, BBQ brisket, and chicken enchilada stack — all good in their place, but hard to imagine here as anything but a waste of a talented kitchen's time. Which is why I suggest sitting at the bar. Here creativity is allowed to flourish in a list of nine inventive tequila cocktails, many based on the various, seasonal infusions created by the bartenders — each certified by Mexico's Consejo Regulador del Tequila; here there are those 85 tequilas, many of them found nowhere else in town.

"I'm out of two of them," apologized Derek. Damn. From the remaining 83 he suggested three reposados, my favorite sipping category. Samples of Republic (bitey), Carmessí (creamy), and Chinaco (beautifully balanced between herbal and oak influence) followed. Later, samples of Baluarte, Dulce Vida, and T1 (all locally owned) were also offered, along with a taste of a margarita Derek had mixed with an infusion featuring blueberry, blackberry, raspberry, and lemon. Food now seemed necessary (the entire restaurant menu is available at the bar), and an appetizer of tequila shrimp with red chile agave and BBQ onions, though sweet, were adequately spicy and not a bad companion to the snifter of Chinaco.

Emboldened, I ordered the pork shank with caramelized sweet potatoes and apple butter from the Specialties list. And another snifter, this time of the excellent T1. If apple butter actually figured in the equation, its influence was slight, but the shank was fall-from-the-bone tender, generously portioned and nicely complemented by sweet potatoes both caramelized and shaved. The six-dollar side of local seasonal vegetables didn't add much, but the pork deserves grudging admiration regardless.

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