Sunday, January 29, 2012


Olmos Park Bistro
4331 McCullough Avenue
(near the Circle, in Olmos Park)

The very thought of spending sixty bucks for lunch for two people would generally be enough to make me cough and choke and say mean things about the chef and lay a curse upon his descendants unto the seventh generation. So how good does the food at Olmos Park Bistro have to be to make me think that today's $63 lunch was money well spent? Yes, that good: and for the occasional splurge, for that all-too-rare wallow in immoderate luxury, this was a good value.

First, though, a disclaimer: my friend Rick and I only went to lunch here in the first place because a good friend of ours has taken a job there. The bias that relationship implies precludes me from assigning a rating to the service; at the same time, I think it'd be unfair to him to not mention the great job he and his colleague do in making customers feel welcome, and in ensuring that they have a dining experience commensurate with the milieu. With us, he replaced the "charmingly French tableside manner" one reliable reviewer noted with a down-home howzyomomminem New Orleans flair that, I suspect, even the stuffiest denizens of Olmos Park and Alamo Heights will find more appealing; although I know he is sufficiently experienced in his trade to adopt the sober, stuffy attitude of Big City Waiter when the situation calls for it. In other words, if you go, ask to sit in Peter's section, and you won't be sorry. But you didn't hear that from me.

I was reluctant to try this place, in part because of the prices, and in part because it is still fairly new. I generally like to wait to see if a place is going to survive, and to let it work out any bugs in the complicated process of feeding large numbers of demanding patrons. Some of the reviews I've read of it were a factor too; though the unseemly haste many of those reviewers showed in getting their thoughts out before the paint was dry on the restaurant's walls inclined me to think that any dissatisfaction they experienced was as likely due to the newness of the venture as to any real problems in the house. While some of the people involved in the bistro have tried their hand as restaurateurs before, I suspect this is the head chef's first attempt at giving breath to his own vision of what a fine restaurant should be. Being skeptical of most such ventures is my nature, but after today's visit I'm hoping he finds great success. Another consideration was that I thought the dinner menu, which I viewed on line a week or two ago, was too dependent on seafood. I don't have the same view of the lunch menu.

If the City of Olmos Park does health
inspections, they keep the results secret.
They should be ashamed.
We were seated in the Solar, a room on the south side of the building that serves as a bar. There are café tables on the sidewalk and the glass walls slide open to allow patrons to enjoy fine weather, but today it was too chilly, despite the bright sun, for that. The main dining rooms, which I only glanced at, seem largely unchanged from when Valentino's briefly occupied this building, and they provide a much less casual space for jewelry to rattle in. The Solar is a comfortable space, simply but nicely decorated, and if there hadn't been a television over the entrance to distract me with CNN's constantly breaking news, I probably would have bumped up that rating by another chili pepper. As it is, though, many of my memories of my first lunch at OPB will have to do with the Australian Prime Minister, Newt Gingrich, and Mitt Romney. None of those persons will add any cachet to the recollection.* 

We started with escargots bourguignon and Parisian onion soup. The chef here uses what I consider a fairly traditional recipe, a sinful combination of butter and garlic and parsley, and thankfully the presentation dispenses with the passé bourgeois affectation of shells and tongs. The dish comes to you in a plat à escargots, which will cause you frustration and regret when you find that the hard French bread available is too inflexible to sop up all the delicious residue hiding in the plate's indentations. But if you give in to temptation and lick the plate, you probably aren't ready to dine in public yet. 

It may only be because this was my most recent indulgence of the sort that I think these were the best escargots bourguignons that I've ever had, but I cannot recall an occasion when I've had better. And I've chowed down on more snails in more places, including some distinguished Parisian restaurants and my own dining room, than most people, and over a lot of years.** At ten bucks, I consider this appetizer a good deal: I have a fair idea of what goes into making snails not only edible but delectable, and while I doubt that the kitchen at Olmos Park Bistro does all the preparation themselves (it takes days, after all, and involves special wooden boxes and garden hoses and other things you don't normally find in a sensible kitchen), the cooking alone can take hours and require careful attention. 

At seven bucks a crock, the onion soup is almost underpriced, even by my miserly standards. My friend Rick is strangely devoted to this "simple" culinary treat, so I get to try it any time it's on the menu. Having now tried the soup at Olmos Park Bistro, I will give it the highest possible compliment by saying that I would order it myself. Yes, I know, I sound like a snob (quelle surprise), but this is, I'm pretty sure, the first time I've found French onion soup anywhere in San Antonio that is as good as I think it's supposed to be: as good as in any kitchen in la belle France. Like the escargots, it's easy to slap the ingredients together according to some formula and toss a hunk of bread on top; most restaurants in town do it that way. It's much more difficult — tediously so — to do it with the care and attention that it properly demands. Somebody in the kitchen is assigned that onerous task, and is performing it well. I hope they get let off their chain once in a while, as a reward.

I chose eggs Benedict as an entrée, I suppose just because it was so unexpected to see it on a lunch menu. (It was actually my second choice, but the ground lamb sandwich with Morrocan spice was unavailable.) It was served with new potatoes and green beans on the side, and the presentation was impeccable. The eggs, ordered poached medium, were done just so. The Hollandaise sauce was applied deftly, neither too much nor too little, and best of all it had a very subtle kick to it, accomplished by the addition of some piquant ingredient; possibly a dash of Tabasco, but I'm just guessing. In any case, it was remarkable for its subtlety. It steals upon you slowly, remains firmly in the middle distance, and lingers like a ghost behind the altar of a cathedral.

The beans had been lightly steamed, and retained all the satisfying crunchiness they could offer. The roasted potatoes had a perfectly toothy texture, smooth without being soft, and the seasoning mix on them had a slight piquancy to it, similar to that of the Hollandaise sauce; but, to my taste, the seasoning mix was too heavy on the salt, though I admit a bias against salt that, it would seem, somewhat exceeds the norm.

My friend Rick chose the organic chicken breast salad, and naturally he couldn't help but compare it with the spinach salad he'd had at a restaurant in the Quarry Market the other day. But there was no comparison. This salad was fresh, trimmed spinach, lightly coated in a surprising vinaigrette dressing with Dijon mustard sauce and maple syrup; dollops of tangy goat cheese and deliciously carmelized onions were mixed in with the greens, and a large chicken breast, pounded medium-thin and coated with a light mixture of bread crumbs mixed with hazlenuts, overlay all. I got only a taste of it, though I kept hinting for more, but Rick was too intent on his food to respond. 

I understand that.
Olmos Park Bistro on Urbanspoon

* Though I have nothing against the Australian Prime Minister, don't get this Republican started on Mr Gingrich or Mr Romney.

** And yet I'm still only 49!


  1. Peter no longer works at Olmos Park Bistro.

    1. Yes, he's moved back to New Orleans and is working now in a tapas place there. I plan to visit the ol' home town in the fall & will check up on him then.

  2. This place is now out of business. The chef took a stab at French food in the old Shiraz location on the Olmos Circle, but that failed too. Meanwhile, a couple of other restaurants have been tried in this location.


Add your own two cents here.