AP NEWS

Review: Bistr09 adds French starpower to Alamo Heights

March 6, 2019

Note: This is a Just a Taste review, which the Express-News does soon after a restaurant or bar opens to give our first impressions.

In a San Antonio market hungry for more French food options, Bistr09 opened Monday with two of the city’s best Continental cooking emissaries, the husband-and-wife team of chefs Damien Watel and Lisa Astorga-Watel.

The space, a well-lit cove in a weathered Broadway office compound, represents a homecoming of sorts for Francophiles. For 23 years, it housed the French bistro L’Etoile, a run that ended in 2009. Bistr09 employs half the space for an upscale lounge and bar with tall yellow chairs and the other half for more genteel, white-tablecloth dining, overseen by a crew dressed in smart black and white.

Monday’s opening night played out like old home week for Bistr09’s well-dressed Alamo Heights clientele, many of whom clearly knew each other already as they hung out at the bar and migrated to tables as the night lingered on.

Watel and Astorga-Watel worked the room, needing few introductions to people who know their current work at Bite restaurant in Southtown and their previous projects Chez Vatel Bistro, La Frite, Ciao Vino and others.

The bar was posting solid business already, with an abbreviated, French-leaning wine list and a bar staff winging its way, menuless, through cocktails like icy vodka martinis and a boozy Basil Hayden Kentucky Bourbon old-fashioned in a heavy rocks glass with one fat, happy ice cube.

On the menu: Bistr09’s menu is a comforting primer in French standards, with garlic and butter bomb escargots ($12), a steak tartare braced by horseradish and capers ($16) and a dinner of steak frites anchored by a cone of hot amber french fries towering over hanger steak seared mahogany-gold outside with a dark red shimmering core ($28).

The escargots and steak frites made up two-thirds of a $38 prix fixe that included a textbook crème brûlée with a thin toasted sugar shell over thick cream — a solid value in a restaurant where three courses easily sail past $50.

Nobody orders foie gras because it’s a great deal. They order foie gras for the gratification of an iron fist in a velvet glove, and Bistr09 obliged with a generous slice in creamy repose on a board with fig preserves and grilled bread ($24).

Duck’s a familiar bistro fixture, and a confit leg quarter ($28) brought a refined blue-collar experience with tender meat beneath a parchment of skin with traces of rendered fat. But there was nothing blue collar about an elegant risotto with a split lobster tail and claw meat with fat pearls of rice in a rich mirepoix broth studded with cherry tomatoes with a sidecar of roasted vegetables ($24).

Astorga-Watel’s daughter Andrea Astorga gave the night a proper exclamation point with a modernist construction of blueberry cheesecake with luminous, cherry-size globes of cream-filled chocolate holding up thin sheets of dark chocolate over a base of compressed graham crackers, cheesecake and blueberry gelee ($12). The gold leaf on top was pure showmanship for a dessert already as elegant as a jewelry box.

The night’s sole sensory distraction arose from house lights that came up and dimmed down in random intervals as if they were working out their proper levels. And while that might be a fitting metaphor for the opening night of a restaurant run by lesser chefs, the early read on this new French star suggests a more steady, consistent light.

Mike Sutter is a food and drink reporter and restaurant critic in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. Read him on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | msutter@express-news.net | Twitter: @fedmanwalking