Saturday night, February 25th, the #foodiemamas got together to try out San Antonio’s newest restaurant. Named “Bliss” for Chef/Owner Mark Bliss, the eatery has only been open for about two weeks. We were originally supposed to be seated at the chef’s table in the kitchen but unfortunately, it was double booked. As a result, we were placed at a long wood table in a semi-private dining room with a lovely view of the fire pit in the courtyard and were promised that Chef Bliss would come out and visit with us.
Bliss (926 S. Presa, S.A., TX), located in Southtown, my favorite San Antonio neighborhood just south of downtown, is in a renovated Magnolia filling station with modern additions built onto the front and back. One of the things I love about San Antonio is the respect for architectural history, restoration and invigorating the old by combining it with the new. Chef Bliss has done all of the above here. You can see the bones of the old filling station at the heart of the restaurant with the exposed brick and tilework. The 2012 additions are clean, stark Swedish style architecture that do not compete with the old but add to it.
Despite not having the privilege of sitting at the chef’s table, we were able to partake in the 5 course chef’s tasting menu. We had the option of adding wine pairings to the tasting menu, individually, if we liked. I opted not to get the wine pairings (I don’t drink that much wine) but most of the #foodiemamas did. Bliss sources the majority of their ingredients locally/from Texas to ensure their quality and freshness. They print all of their menus in house and they change daily and sometimes even within the same night when they run out of certain items. I don’t know about you, but with so many recalls and such going on in our food supply, I love knowing exactly where my food comes from.
We started with a charcuterie and cheese plate. We were presented with a bread board full of San Daniele prosciutto and a platter with an assortment of goodies including hot coppa, barbera porcini salumi, aged manchego, queso de valeron, olives, calabrian peppers, and marcona almonds. I learned that the most renowned and expensive Italian prosciutti come from northern Italy, one of which is Prosciutto di San Daniele PDO, from San Daniele. (From here) It was sliced paper-thin, and was creamy and rich in my mouth. Honestly, I hated that I had to share.
The rest of the meats were equally as good. The hot coppa, a dry cured pork shoulder with some cayenne peppers and cracked red peppercorns, had a nice level of heat without overpowering everything else. (From here) The Barbera porcini salumi, a salami made from pork shoulder enhanced with Barbera wine and porcini mushrooms, had an exceptionally rich and earthy flavor. (From here) Along with the meats, there were a couple of cheeses; aged manchego and queso de valdeon. Aged manchego (the cheese cut into wedges in the above photo) is a Spanish cheese from the Castilla-La Mancha region made from Manchega sheep’s milk. (From here) It is a sharp, nutty cheese that paired well with the strong Italian meats. The queso de valdeon is the blue cheese at the bottom center of the plate. It is a soft Spanish cheese made from goat’s milk with an intense flavor. (From here) The calabrian peppers were tangy but not overly hot (despite their intense red coloration) and the olives had a lovely saltiness. A nice surprise on the plate were the marcona almonds. Imported from Spain, these almonds are nothing like their Californian cousins that we’re used to. They have a sweet delicate taste that reminded me of almonds baked into an oyster cracker. Truthfully, until I did a bit of research and learned that they grow this way, I thought they were breaded & baked!
Next came one of my two favorite dishes we were served that night; a crispy fried Gulf oyster, candied bacon, sautéed spinach, brown butter hollandaise sauce, all served on a homemade buttermilk biscuit. So Southern, so messy and SO delicious! I definitely could have had a plateful of these teeny tiny little buggers, and when I say teeny tiny, I mean it. The biscuit was about the circumference of a silver dollar, if that. Yup, a mess of these would be great for some SEC football tailgating.
Our next dish was oh so Russian and oh so good, a potato blini with creme fraiche a poached quail egg and black truffle oil “caviar”. I was not at all familiar with any of the elements in this dish but was SO pleasantly surprised. The black truffle oil “caviar” is not caviar at all but pearls made from agar and oil. The “caviar” was salty and a perfect foil to the potato blini and mixed perfectly with the poached quail egg. The only thing missing was a shot of chilled vodka. Nostrovia!
My very favorite bite that Chef Bliss served us all night arrived next and I could not have asked for anything else…except for more! Before me on the plate was a beautiful seared diver sea scallop sitting on a bed of white cheddar grits and sautéed spinach along with some avocado mousse and some jalapeño cilantro lime beurre blanc. Oh holy night! I would have licked the plate if it was socially acceptable. The grits were creamy and tasted like the grits that I ate when I lived in Georgia. The acidity of the mousse and beurre blanc worked perfectly with the creaminess of the grits.
When I saw that there was duck on our tasting menu I was looking quite forward to it. Duck is probably my favorite protein and get it any time I have the opportunity. We were served grilled and roasted duck breast on a grilled onion & red chard risotto with a foie gras black cider sauce. I wasn’t as blown away as I hoped I would be (maybe it was too much anticipation?). I tend to like my duck to be on the very rare side…as I like to say, “Just this side of quacking.” This duck, my serving at least, was more on the done side. The risotto needed salt and the sauce, which was the best thing on the plate, was in short supply! I wish this plate, which had so much potential, could’ve had a do-over.
After five courses we needed a little break and our steaks needed a chance to cook so out came Chef Bliss to chat. He told us about moving out to Northern California for a couple of years to ski after opening Silo here in San Antonio, the art that they’re having designed for the restaurant, his love of wine and how he selected the wines to pair with the tasting menu, his reluctance to get online and join Twitter (he thinks he’s too old), how lovely the building is and the additions he and his wife built on, and how lucky he is that his last name is Bliss rather than Wiezinski or something when it came to naming the restaurant. He’s a really nice, good looking, fun guy that was great to meet and chat with and we were so lucky and grateful that he came out not once but twice to chat with us.
Our last course of the night (before dessert, of course) was a grilled prime Akaushi ribeye, a duckfat fried potato, asparagus with bearnaise, fleur de sel and a bordeaux veal marrow reduction sauce. Chef Bliss brought out one of the at least 3 inch thick unsliced 32oz ribeyes that he gets from Bollner’s Meat Market that come from a herd in Yoakum, TX. Long renowned in Japan for its buttery flavor, perfect marbling and fork-tenderness, Akaushi beef has only recently begun to appear in upscale American Restaurants. The rare “red” cattle that produce Akaushi beef (the same breed that produces Kobe beef) are raised exclusively in Japan, and in one U.S. herd located in Yoakum, Texas. The lineage of the Texas Akaushi beef cattle can be traced back over thirty generations, making it the only all-natural, 100% source-verified beef in America. (From here)
The ribeye was sliced thin and cooked very rare, just how I like it, just this side of mooing…the meat was fork tender and incredibly flavorful. The duckfat the potato slice was fried in gave it a rich and warm flavor…I’d like everything fried in duckfat now. The best thing on the plate? The bordeaux veal marrow reduction sauce. It was like über-sophisticated A-1 Steak Sauce. It was SO good. Another one of those instances where if it was socially acceptable, I would’ve licked my plate.
Dinner at Bliss was just that…Bliss. The #foodiemamas had a great time dining together, drinking together and enjoying a night out on the town with no husbands, no kids and no responsibilities. I can’t wait for our next get together, March 31 at Restaurant Gwendolyn for my farewell dinner.