San Antonio – Hotel Valencia & Dorrego’s Restaurant
They say you can’t go home again, but I try. Each time we arrive in San Antonio—a jewel in the crown that is Texas—on a quick sojourn for no reason at all, or when we come here for a very special reason, I always notice something different. Something new. Something changed. Something gone.
Traveling toward Hotel Valencia on the River, located in the heart of downtown, Michael exits I35 North in an effort to avoid traffic and takes a surface street toward our destination. His plan is immediately foiled as he runs into major construction on almost every thoroughfare he tries. Proceeding down the road at a snail’s pace, checking each crossing for clear access into town, we are finally able to turn left; serendipity dropping us on the corner of Broadway where my father managed an automotive shop when I was young.
With a new coat of paint, the only thing recognizable is the shape of the edifice and the parking lot that is part of the business. I remember the building, and the steep stairs leading up to my father’s tiny glass office where he could sit and survey the work being done. But the parking lot—the parking lot was indeed something special. During Fiesta Week they would bring in a flatbed trailer, fill it with chairs, which were filled with people having the best view of the Fiesta parades we faithfully watched each year—the Battle of Flowers and the Fiesta Flambeau. I always felt very special sitting up so high, above the fray.
Driving through town, we continue to be thwarted at almost every turn. Diverted. Redirected. Rerouted. What is San Antonio doing? I have never seen so much construction. So much digging. So much building. Perhaps they are trying to get everything done during low season when the tourists stay home. Some are still here and cross our path, dressed in T-shirts, sleeveless blouses, and sandals. I look down at the heavy knit sweater I am wearing and think of others I packed in my suitcase. I thought a cold front was supposed to blow in. Perhaps there will be time for me to shop. I long for the old Wolfe & Marx and the elegant Joskes across from the Alamo. But they are both gone. Absorbed. Closed.
Standing on the sidewalk in front of the hotel, while Michael negotiates with the valet parking attendant and the bellhop who is unloading our car, I survey my surroundings. The Texas Theater has never looked so good, and somehow, we’ve missed it all these years; these many times of returning. But finally I notice it, standing shiny and gleaming before me, all scrubbed and clean. Not really a theater anymore, only the façade—which fronts a huge office complex—is left.
Grand when it was built in 1926, decades later when my teenage years rolled around—being on the edge of what was then considered an unsafe part of downtown—it was a place young girls were told to stay away from. That was long ago and a world away. Now, ready to check into a hotel immediately across the street from the old theater, I stare at the transformation wrought in the 1980’s. How did I miss seeing it all of these years?
Walking into the Hotel Valencia on the River, we are told check-in is on the second floor. For me, on this day at this time, we couldn’t have landed in a better place. I have been reading Dan Brown’s, Origins, and it has made me quite homesick (maybe vacation-sick?) for Barcelona and other parts of the Iberian Peninsula. Now Spain surrounds me. Bubbling fountains. Whitewashed walls. Moorish. Minimalist. Stark. Elegant.
Checked into Room 305—on the same floor as the ample courtyard and the fitness center—I can’t wait to get unpacked. Settled. Living out of a suitcase, even for only three nights, is something I cannot abide. The room is extremely spacious, decorated in a white on white on black palette. White bedding, white walls, accented with black plantation shutters, black flooring, all of it enhanced with a delicate burnt sienna stencil design that climbs and clings up, down and around the whitewashed wall in front of me.
There is a large cushy brown leather lounge chair, an elegant oversized floor mirror, and a thick shelf, serving as a walled credenza that spans the length of the room—a desk for our computer and catchall for the remainder of our accouterments. The closet contains two robes and a thoughtfully placed umbrella for those rare rainy days. The bath has ample storage for all of my toiletries and is accented with brushed chrome and — art! I think I can live here. I check out the mini bar menu and then stash my purse in the safe, ready for our December adventure.
Too early to think about dinner, we opt for a visit to the Dorrego bar located in the hotel lobby, hoping for accompanying munchies. Michael orders a drink for himself while I take my complimentary sangria out to the patio adjacent to the river and choose an umbrellaed table for four—for the two of us. We are handed menus and I read Michael all of the options. When I get to the “Charc” and Cheese Plate he tells me, “Stop. That’s what I want.”
I hand him what remains of my Sangria and order a Blackberry Bramble. Our meat and cheese platter arrives along with my drink and I hardly know where to begin or when to stop. The Argentinian chorizo tastes like Barcelona. Chunks of Manchego and thinly sliced jamon conjure memories of tapas in Spain. The English cheddar is soft and smooth and sharp, reminding me of snacks in Yorkshire. Coming from the Texas Brazos Valley, the brie—creamy and buttery and mild—is a wonderful surprise. In between savory bites I look for a restaurant for dinner. Based on glowing reviews I settle on the one at our elbow, Dorrego’s.
After several hours of naps and books and Nooks we take the elevator ride down from the third floor to the second floor. The restaurant is virtually empty with the exception of a table for six. It seems everyone here has chosen to dine alfresco. That truly is my thing. I’m not sure why I choose to sit inside.
Seated at a table of my choosing, I am greeted by the figurine of a small friendly brown and white cow, standing guard over sleek chrome rectangles that are salt and pepper shakers. I look around and notice that each table has its own figurine. At the vacant table next to ours a dashing, tense, tightly wound el torro seems ready to charge. Michael quickly switches our friendly little cow for the black bull with the large hooked horns saying, “He looks more like Spain.”
Being in a hotel reminiscent of Spain and dining in an Argentinian themed restaurant I decide on a glass of Malbec to go with the first course of Matambre, an Argentine pork roll. Worried that it will be too much, I am assured I will be happy with the portion size. There are six tiny tender bites that are spiked with tangy, herbaceous chimi churi. The Malbec is happy with my choice, and so am I.
Two words on the entrée portion of the menu call my name. One is smoked, the other is burrata. The menu also has two other magic words—short ribs—with promises to be encased in rosemary ravioli on a bed of tomato concasse. Based on appearance when the dish is set before me, I could be sitting in a booth at Mi Tierra getting ready to tuck into huevos rancheros made with four tiny quail eggs.
The peeled seeded tomatoes are rough chopped chunky bits of red ripe goodness. The ravioli is dense thick squares of pasta filled with shredded beef. I don’t taste the smoke or the rosemary—apparently a delicate hand was used in the preparation, which is I think, as it should be. Our late afternoon cocktail snack and my Matambre appetizer leave me too full to finish dinner, so dessert isn’t even an option.
Looking at the time, we decide to leave the restaurant and begin our trek to Walgreen’s for items I forgot to pack. Walking quickly down a deserted Houston Street—where are all the people?— we barely squeak through the doors and pay for our purchases before we hear an announcement that the store will be closing soon.
We take the slow way home, along the river, marveling at the almost sultry night, the number of people that fill the Go Rio tour boats, and the multitudes dining outdoors at 9 p.m. I think we are back in Europe.
I think this isn’t a bad place to be.
I also think this is a pretty good life we live.
I accidentally stumbled on this hotel when I was checking websites for places to stay on the San Antonio River during our three-night mini vacation Christmas present to each other this year; wanting something different than the big, well know hotels that usually draw us through their doors. Along with its European Spanish-Moorish feel, the understated elegance of its design, the friendliness of the staff, and its charming appeal, and its location on the river, there are numerous other reasons to stay at this hotel, all of them listed on their website.
The following information is taken from their website:
Best Rate Guarantee—Our Promise to You!
In the event that you find online a lower published* individual guest room rate prior to or within 24 hours of booking your room, we will confirm the lower price and discount it by 20%. For multiple night stays, rate per night applies to guarantee.
If you find a lower rate for our San Antonio boutique hotel call 855.596.3387 and speak to the reservations supervisor.
*Published rate is defined as a rate available to the general public without any qualification or ID required such as (but not limited to) government rates, negotiated corporate accounts or group & wedding negotiated rates. The rate must be found online. Does not include long-term stay rates, or package rates that include other components. Dates requested and date, time and location where rate was shown is required.
Dorrego’s restaurant overlooks the San Antonio River Walk and is the only Argentinean–inspired restaurant in the city. The chef has created a menu based on the culinary heritage of Argentina. It showcases fresh, local ingredients steaks, seafood, fowl and more.