By: John Mariani | From: Forbes

The expansion of San Antonio over the past few years has been remarkable for what seems a central vision of how to connect the neighborhoods and utilize its waterways on which to build a future. The inner city’s River Walk has, after the Alamo, been the city’s principal tourist attraction since the 1950s, though the restaurants along and near its banks tend to be touristy Tex-Mex bars or chains like Rainforest Café and Bubba Gump Shrimp.

But, for more than thirty years now, Biga on St. Mary’s Street has been San Antonio’s premier fine dining restaurant under chef-owner London-born Bruce Auden, who was one of the pioneers of New Texas Cuisine back on the 1980s. Originally opened in 1991, Biga relocated in 2000 to larger quarters done in southwestern colors of sand, terracotta, avocado, stone and sun- bright orange, its tables of marble, its metal rod chairs a throwback ‘50s design and its ceiling lights in straw baskets. With executive chef Martin Stembera, Auden continues to use local ingredients with a rigorous technique that makes his sauces and marinades key to sensuous dishes like habanero jerk scallops ($22); seared Hudson Valley foie gras set on brioche French toast with tangy-sweet apple-pear-berry chutney, duck cider jus ($30).

Just right for colder weather was a hearty roasted butternut squash soup heated with poblanos and sweetened with pumpkin seed raisin relish ($12). Adding a slice of Brie to a salad is nothing new, but I haven’t enjoyed it in a long time, here enhanced with apples, toasted, walnuts, grape tomatoes, shaved red onions, and a spicy vanilla bean balsamic vinaigrette ($13). American red snapper was impeccably cooked and served with a buttery coconut curry spiced with serrano peppers, tomatoes, corn, broccoli and, to gild the lily even further, pearled cous cous and scallion oil ($45). Spiced South Texas antelope and quail, came with a goat’s cheese tart, Brussels sprouts leaves, chestnuts, cranberry orange chutney, juniper sauce ($54). Perhaps my favorite dish—as much for the deep, essential flavor of the meat and juiciness—was a Berkshire pork chop with roasted sweet potatoes, char red broccolini, cranberry chutney, Egyptian dukkah of spiced almonds and a lashing of vermouth jus.

Auden just skirts doing too much to a dish by making sure every ingredient complements every other, so there is nothing to overpower the principal flavors. It’s a tightrope he manages to walk well. Given his championing of Texas and southwest products, however, it’s odd that he brings in lamb all the way from Australia. One dessert he can never remove: the Biga Sampler of sticky toffee pudding, chocolate mint pots de crème and gingerbread cheesecake ($16).  The wine list at Biga is good, but it would be nice to see an array of the better Texas bottlings.


On my visit I stayed at Hotel Valencia (150 East Houston Street), which is very centrally located to everything downtown and of a unique design throughout, with graceful wrought iron staircases and shadowy hallways. Many rooms overlook a splendid courtyard that has the cast of a posh hacienda. The hotel’s restaurant includes the Naranja Tequila and Mezcal Bar, with extensive offerings of those Mexican spirits, while its dining room, Dorregos, set with folkloric chinaware, has an international menu whose Argentinian specialties are the most popular.


Nineteen Hyaku (1900 Broadway; 210-429-0771) is the city’s newest big deal restaurant, with an expansive menu of Japanese dishes and the kind of vibe you find in those big Asian places in Las Vegas and New York, where the food is secondary to the scene. Not so at Nineteen Hyaku, where the focus is very much on omakase-style meals that show the seriousness of the owners, Carpenter Carpenter Hospitalty and commitment of executive chef Ruben Pantaleon. It’s a stunning space, the light from hanging paper gloves giving it a glow throughout a vast dining room that is not as loud as I’d expected (though the swanky bar is). There is an extensive array of nigiri sushi ($5-$18) and makimono rolls ($10-$22), along with chilled hiyashita like the one of agave akami with red tuna, ginger, agave soy, lime zest and fish roe ($17). But I found the hot apps and main dishes the most savory, like the duck confit temaki cone-like hand rolls ($10) and miso-glazed eggplant ($17) with shishito peppers; the chewy buckwheat soba noodles ($19) in a salty kaketsuyu consommé with luscious smoked pork. Excellent fried rice with duck confit, vegetables and egg ($18); and wagyu hot stone-cooked beef with black garlic kizami ponzu ($45). Turn over the menu and you’ll find a long list of signature cocktails, a wine list that needs improvement, a fine column of sakes including “luxury” brands like Ginga Shizuku “Divine Droplets” ($192). The owners of Nineteen Hyaku obviously knew that San Antonians had a sophistication level to make the restaurant much more than a curiosity or sake place. The food is every bit as important and far more delectable.

Much is expected over the next few years in developments that will line the San Pedro Creek Culture Park, on the western edge of downtown, a remarkable achievement by which the city took a creek many locals did not even know existed and turned it into a manifestation of the indigenous people who first settled here.

Beautifully paved and landscaped as a paseo (walkway), the river now winds through a 3,905-square-foot ecosystem-based landscape whose 1,800 feet of walls are done with twelve large murals by local artists and whose construction is focused on modern water control. Tall office and condo buildings are appearing in the neighborhood, which will change the city skyline, but fear not: By law, no building’s shadow is allowed to fall onto the Alamo. It wouldn’t hurt, though, to tear down the huge sign reading “ROBERT E. LEE HOTEL.”