The Sandbar, San Antonio, TX

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Recently, I travelled to San Antonio, Texas on business. It was a last minute trip with 3 other team members.  We were pushing to meet a deadline, so we put in eleven, twelve, and thirteen hour days.  As we finally determined we would make the deadline, we headed out to a nice restaurant on the famous River Walk.  It was January, so even in Texas; it was too cool to walk along the river.  Besides it was already after 9 pm. 


When we arrived at the restaurant, we were met by a very pretty and very polite hostess who was about 8 months, 3 weeks, and 2 days pregnant.  I am the father of four children, but she immediately made me nervous.  She also informed us that even on Thursday night we needed reservations and the last seating was at 8:00.  However, they had a sister restaurant around the corner that was open until 11:00.


I did peek in the window.  The food presentations were fabulous.  I can only imagine the aromas and the flavors.  The place settings were textbook white linen service with a full array of flatware.  The crystal glassware sparkled.  And we were going around the corner.


The Sandbar was definitely geared to a more casual crowd.  The white tile, stainless steel, and glass fixtures immediately reminded me of the oyster bars you might find in St. Petersburg or New Orleans.  It is located across the street from a bar-b-que joint and next to the Greyhound bus station.  The menu was neatly scrawled on the blackboard hung over the bar.  Offerings included several sushi items.  One of the team only liked his food cooked.  Seven or eight tables constituted the available seating.  The two customers in the place did not take up much room.  Now it was nearly 9:30.  Not a good time to begin a new search for a place to eat.   


The wait staff greeted us warmly as we, less than enthusiastically, walked through the door.  The fresh, raw seafood had already been moved off of the beds of crushed ice in the long seafood bar.  After a short murmuring to second guess our choice, we seated ourselves to continue the adventure.  Our waiter presented the menu sheet, complete with their wine list.  They had a surprisingly good selection of wines by the glass. 


When our waiter overheard our discussion to select a bottle rather than wines by the glass, he offer the full wine list of his sister restaurant.  I eagerly browsed the list looking for a good sparkling wine or crisp white to match up with the prospect of seafood.  As I inquired about a wine or two that I had no familiarity with, he offered up a recommendation.  I proposed to the group that we accept his suggestion, as he should know his wines. 


He brought us a 2006 Selene Sauvignon Blanc Hyde Vineyard.  I confess I did not recognize the Selene label, but I have had Hyde Vineyard sourced fruit before.  The nose on the wine was a crisp nectarine and lemon followed by luscious tropical fruits.  The tingling tartness supported the evolution of the honeydew and lemongrass with just a hint of lime.  This was a wonderful example of a California, musque clone sauvignon blanc.  My doubts about this restaurant continued to disappear even faster than this terrific wine. 


We ordered the sashimi diver scallop special and the seared ahi with freshly grated wasabi for three of us to share as appetizers.  Our one sushi reluctant member ordered the crab cakes.  Our waiter noticed we had finished off the Selene and wanted to know if we required another.  I ask my group if they were interested in a Gewürztraminer to go with some of the anticipated spiciness of our orders.  To a person, they had never had a   Gewürztraminer.  I decided we needed to pick a little better level of wine if this was to be their first experience, so I asked for the 2000 Trimbach Ribeaupierre.  The Sandbar definitely has a great wine list.


The salt cured diver scallop arrived, thinly sliced, arrayed across a rectangle white place, garnished with a single stalk of chive and chef’s own recipe red pepper sauce.  The seared ahi presentation was also elegant and graced with fresh wasabi aromatics I had never experienced before.  If you have the opportunity to try freshly grated wasabi, do take advantage of it because fresh wasabi is so much more flavorful than the reconstituted green powder we usually find in the U.S.  And be warned, fresh wasabi is also much more pungent.  A whole lot more pungent.


We decided upon the fresh seafood platter to share at the table.    The waiter opened the Gewurztraminer and offered the initial tasting to me.  The explosive bouquet of tropical fruits and aromatic spiciness foretold the concentrated layers of fruit to follow.  While this excellent wine was already several years old, it could easily continue to improve over the next few years.  My co-workers were amazed at the intensity and depth of flavor.


Our server appeared with the seafood platter and apologized for some substitutions made because of quality and freshness.  We had three kinds of oysters on the half shell, prawns, lobster, and lump blue crab. The chef had three different sauces, including a variation on a traditional Louie shrimp sauce, a ginger sauce, and roasted red pepper sauce.  The presentation of the seafood atop a mound of crushed ice provided a visual delight.  The oysters were succulent.  Each of the three oyster varieties displayed their own unique flavors.  The prawns were great with each of the sauces.  I developed a particular fondness for the ginger sauce paired with the Gewurztraminer.   Our sushi adverse co-worker even tried the oysters and enjoyed them.  Really fresh seafood can convert event the most squeamish.  Two glasses of wine doesn’t hurt either.


We ordered a second bottle of the Trimbach Ribeaupierre because we enjoyed the first bottle so much.  Our waiter also informed us this was the last bottle of the 2000 vintage in their cellar.  In the ensuing discussion, we learned that he had not tasted this particular bottling.  We insisted he pour a small glass of the wine to experience. 


I can enthusiastically recommend the Sandbar.  The food is spectacular.  The wait staff is polite, knowledgeable, and professional.  The wine list is stock with some exquisite finds.  But the view of the bus station can be a drawback, until the food arrives.  Who wants to look out the window then?


Please let me know if you find any of the 2000 Trimbach Ribeaupierre available.  I would love to add a few bottles to my cellar.


MikeR is a Consultant, Level-1 Sommelier, Independent Journalist and blog contributor to

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