Biga On The Banks

Delivers River Walk Dining Elegance

One of the most consistently and justifiably praised restaurants in San Antonio is led by chef Bruce Auden. Specializing in contemporary American cuisine, Auden was nominated six times for the James Beard “Best Chef Southwest” award from 2000 to 2011.

Auden first opened Restaurant Biga in 1991 in a historic Tobin Hill home. In 2000, the restaurant grew and was renamed Biga on the Banks after moving downtown to its present location inside the International Center Building. Biga’s entire back wall consists of floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the St. Mary’s Street Bridge, and the restaurant has access to the quiet portion of the San Antonio River.

“This used to be a reading room for a library. That’s why there are such large windows in our dining room,” Auden said.

Biga’s tables are spaced well and offer different elegant dining experiences. For larger groups looking for privacy, the chef’s table can accommodate eight diners at the curtained table 31. For a more intimate experience, request table 1 in the circular booth facing the river and located in the restaurant’s back corner. That table sees its fair share of proposals and wedding anniversary celebrations.

“I recommend sitting at the bar with our bar manager, Kim Romo,” Auden said. “That’s much more fun — there’s always something going on with the people sitting at the bar.”

The menu changes daily to take advantage of the best seasonal food available.

Many diners start their evening at Biga, as it is the perfect spot for a theater evening downtown. Its validated valet parking enables diners to focus their time and attention on Biga’s three- or four-course selections from their prix fixe menu — with plenty of time to enjoy the show. Their seasonal menu is available daily for prix fixe orders placed before 6:30 or after 9:30 p.m.

“We have regulars who come after 9:30 for a prix fixe dinner,” Auden added. “They stay to enjoy our cocktails and wine list afterward.”

Romo has worked for Auden nine years as Biga’s bar manager of its beverage program. For special occasions she can recommend specific bottles of wine for memorable meals and occasionally designs drinks when asked. “When we get requests for cocktails, I ask people to ‘tell me your flavor profile so I can design something special, given your preferences,’” she said.

Every year Biga hosts one of the wine-paired dinners for the annual San Antonio Cocktail Conference. For 2018, Biga paired the meal with bourbon from the Heaven Hills brand and participated for the first time in the conference’s DoSeum kickoff party.

Auden’s ever-changing menu showcases local ingredients like Texas quail and venison, seasonal vegetables and fruits from local farmers and the freshest fish selections prepared to showcase the quality seafood supplier Biga uses. Menu favorites that are always available include the chicken-fried oysters and smoked salmon nachos.

One dining option many may not know Biga offers is ordering several entrees without straining your stomach or your wallet. “On weekends we offer half-portions of all our main entrees,” Auden said. “People like trying small plates, and you can try more dishes that way.”

Desserts change daily except for one perennial favorite. The ever-popular Sticky Toffee Pudding with English custard reflects the origins of the chef, who grew up in London.

When asked what trends he found exciting in the current dining scene, the chef was enthusiastic at the growing creativity reflected in San Antonio’s many new dining options. “It’s great that there are so many more restaurants opening now than when we first moved here,” Auden said. “You can walk and visit different bars and enjoy a progressive dinner, just by walking from place to place downtown.”

When Auden arrived in 1985 to open Polo’s, a fine dining restaurant featuring new American cuisine in the Fairmount Hotel, his cuisine stood out from the more commonly offered Texas barbecue and Mexican food in San Antonio. He felt welcomed into the community and decided to stay in San Antonio, raising his four children.

“It was a good opportunity to come to San Antonio,” Auden said. “What we do here fits very well with both San Antonio residents and those who come to visit the city. Our focus is on hospitality and welcoming everyone, especially families, because we’re family-friendly.”

By Iris Gonzalez

Photography by Janet Rogers

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