San Antonio’s culinary star is on the rise, evidenced by the national press and most recently the designation as a UNESCO creative city of gastronomy. Chefs Mark Bliss and Bruce Auden are cornerstones in the ever-growing SA food scene.
In 1991, when chef Auden opened the original Biga, he recruited Mark Bliss as chef de cuisine. Auden and Bliss received national recognition for their work at Biga; chef Bliss built on that momentum to open Silo in 1997. If you have been around SA long enough, you know that in 1997 independent fine dining choices were slim to none. So the next time you book a seat on open table for SA’s newest spot, you might take a minute and thank Bliss and Auden for bringing their absolute best to SA for decades. And when you hear that either one of those chefs is doing a new thing, get in line fast because it is going to be good.
Bliss Restaurant opened in 2012 and since its opening has received national acclaim and multiple awards. Even with SA’s growing food scene, when it comes to fine dining, Bliss is consistently in my top three restaurants. Add to that a beautiful back porch, impeccable service and a menu that is locally sourced and seasonally updated, and honestly, I don’t know why you aren’t making a reservation right now…especially for Valentine’s Day dinner.
The menu is updated seasonally and posted on line weekly. When you first sit down, order the charcuterie board and a glass of prosecco. The charcuterie chef can handle your selections — yes, they have a charcuterie chef — so you don’t want to miss that! Have a bite and a little bubbly, then review the menu. Take your time and order your entire meal at once. The servers at Bliss are the best in SA and will pace your selections correctly and allow you to enjoy the evening. As for wine pairing, ask your server for recommendations. Their wine list is well thought out, and the staff is appropriately trained to recommend a pairing.
The two appetizers that have gained the most notoriety are the oyster sliders and the sashimi tostadas. You need to order both. Start with crispy fried Gulf oysters, candied bacon, buttermilk chive biscuits, spinach, brown butter hollandaise and chives. Then order Japanese hamachi sashimi tostadas with roasted jalapeño avocado pico de gallo, ponzu, ginger slaw and aji amarillo yuzu vinaigrette. There are at least 10 of those ingredients that I would be thrilled to have alone, but Bliss brings them together into some of SA’s tastiest bites.
For your entree, the seared prime beef tenderloin is excellent, but I am going to encourage you to step outside the box a little. You can get a steak anywhere, maybe not as good as this one, but when you have the opportunity to taste food prepared by a legit chef, step outside of your comfort zone and trust the cook staff’s ability to combine ingredients and build flavors that will take your meal to another level. For instance, consider the Duck/Foie Gras with grilled Szechuan peppercorn and five spice-crusted duck breast, seared grade “A” foie gras, duck confit butternut squash puree, Brussels sprouts, bacon, lacinato kale, pomegranate and pumpkin seeds and blackberry gastrique. Full disclosure: My wife ordered this, and after I tasted her selection, I insisted we were going to be sharing our meals. The five spice is the perfect seasoning for the duck to stand out against the richness of seared foie gras.
The sea scallops are prepared masterfully, (a rare thing in this city I love), as seared sea scallops served with pepperjack-white cheddar Anson Mills grits, sautéed spinach, avocado mousse and cilantro lime jalapeño beurre blanc. The scallop/grits combo was a first for me, but it’s one of the items I crave when I think of Bliss. Restaurant Bliss’s mission is to express excellence in the most inclusive, genuine and hospitable way. They have accomplished this and much more in every aspect of the dining experience.
Valentine’s Day is coming fast, and after reading this review, you should be ashamed to settle for anything less than Bliss this coming February 14! Do yourself a favor and make a reservation, especially on a national holiday. If the weather is right, sit on the patio and request a seat by the fire pit, or if you want to sit by the fire, call in advance and ask about the Chef’s Table. The Chef’s Table experience is designed for groups of at least six guests, and reservations must be made in advance. They offer a tasting menu at $100/person, and Bliss needs to know if there are any dietary restrictions.
Finally, Bliss is available for a variety of private dining venues for groups from five to 50. Enjoy your evening, and tell them San Antonio Woman sent you.
By Scott Austin
Photography by Janet Rogers