Bin 555’s menu leaves our critic stuffed, but happy
The giant sucking sound we’ve all been hearing lately has nothing to do with free trade — it’s the rush of San Antonio restaurants to Loop 1604 and beyond. Paesano’s, Azuca, Silo, Los Barrios, L’Etoile ... it’s a wonder there’s any food left inside 410. To Jason Dady’s credit, his newest operation, Bin 555, landed on Bitters, modestly north of his flagship The Lodge at Castle Hills. And, happily, Bin 555 doesn’t simply replicate the earlier format, but offers both Dady and his patrons the opportunity to explore new dishes in an entirely different setting.
|At Bin 555, critic Ron Bechtol loved everything sampled from the restaurant’s wood oven, including the Prince Edward Island mussels with lemon and parsley (below), but fell hard for the pizzas. Above, a pizza with red fingerling potatoes, roast chicken, and rosemary.|
Dady’s new space has none of that look-at-me loopland attitude: The restaurant is modestly tucked away behind the shops in Artisan’s Alley, and its domestically sized spaces are downright cozy — except for the noise factor. Word to the noise averse: Sit outside on the extremely pleasant patio when San Antonio’s often-punishing heat permits. And relax: Bin 555’s menu of “rustic Tuscan” executed with “French techniques” is not one of those florid documents filled with arcane terms requiring a culinary background or at least subscriptions to a flock of flossy food mags. Its four sections — “freddo,” “cotto,” “wood oven,” and “grande piastra” — are short and sweet, with the first three meant to be mixed and matched meze-style. OK, it may be helpful to note that freddo means “cold,” or at least “not hot,” cotto implies “cooked,” and grande piastra suggests a “large plate” (though not necessarily a dinner plate; wouldn’t “piatto” have been more direct?). Also, “meze” is a Greek term for appetizers. That’s it. Now you’re set to enjoy the duck rilletes with cornichons.
Well, maybe “rillete” isn’t exactly a household word either, but it should be. Dady’s dish is a variation of the classic preparation of pork that is pulled and preserved in its own fat. As presented, there’s way too much fat on top, which is not only unattractive, but unnecessary. It’s also served too cold, for that matter. But persevere: Beneath the fat lies delicious duck with an unctuous texture and fabulous, earthy flavor. (Once it warms up, that is.) Dady’s country-style paté with toasted pistachios is another winner from the cold collection. The dish has that great coarse texture that “country” implies. However, I was not impressed with a trio of bruschette sampled recently — they were way too freddo and utterly uninteresting, but otherwise the cold section has consistently delivered.
I look to the cotto category for more challenging tastes, and not in the arcane and esoteric sense. A case in point is the simple-sounding yet spectacular grilled asparagus topped with a fried organic egg and shaved parmesan. This is the essence of rustic Tuscan: Good ingredients prepared with care. The grilled Texas bobwhite quail with pancetta, baby arugula, and sherry vinaigrette is only marginally more complicated, but each taste contributes to the delightful whole. The seared diver sea scallop goes mano-a-mano with its chorizo accompaniment, the spicy sausage supporting rather than KO-ing the massive and silky-textured mollusk. The heavy aroma of the andouille in a mini paella of roasted chicken scented with saffron announces itself before you take a bite of the dish. It’s spicier than this sausage often is and tends to dominate, but the end result is still satisfying, and the accompanying flavor-soaked al-dente rice is more than just a placeholder on the plate. I’d love to say that the veal meatballs imaginatively infused with vanilla bean and cinnamon worked as well, but they didn’t. The vanilla overwhelmed the meat, and a sauce of brown sugar and peach didn’t do anything to redeem its excess.
If the cotto menu generally delivers, the wood oven offerings have never disappointed. The wood does wonders for mussels with lemon, parsley, and Spanish olive oil, and the robust, roasted shrimp with garlic and red chile flakes put far fancier renditions to shame. But, I must admit, I’m hooked on the pizzas — all of them. The four-cheese version is sheer heaven, and the same crisp and delicate crust that supports it also serves as a fabulous foundation for any of the daily specials. We tried one with shaved fennel and teardrop tomatoes, which seemed totally Tuscan in its play of fresh flavors, and was lusty enough to stand up to a bottle of Darioush Caravan Napa Valley ’02 Cabernet, bursting with spicy plum and pepper flavors.
Bin 555 Restaurant & Wine Bar
555 W. Bitters Rd.
11am-2am Fri & Sat
Price range: $3-24
The Caravan came from Bin 555’s 55 wines for $55 list, and though I rarely spend that much on wine at dinner, there are bargains to be had if you’re of a mind to live large. The 2001 Torres Mas La Plana from Spain is an utterly elegant rendition of Cabernet, an old-versus-new-world approach to the grape, and it retails for around $50 in wine shops. It may have been a tad too full for our fish of the day, a snapper so perfectly cooked that it could have been served sans sauce of any kind. Fortunately, its guajillo chile sauce was restrained, with spring scallions that supported the fish famously, and a side of fregola that was fantastic in its al-dente nuttiness. (Fregola, by the way, is an ancient form of semolina-based pasta. I had to look this one up, too.) But if the wine was standoffish with the fish, it made rapacious love to the pan-seared pork in an applewood-smoked-bacon sauce from the big plates part of the menu. I enjoyed the manchego-chorizo gratin, grainy mustard, and bacon but — in an excess of caution — the pork was overcooked by my standards. But still, I loved it for the combination of full-bore flavors. (Did I mention there was lots of bacon?)
There was a dessert in there somewhere — something with loads of chocolate, berry coulis, maybe even Nutella, but I’m too full to think about it. The fortunate and unfortunate thing about Dady’s menu is that there are so many enticing small plates that you want to try them all. Do as I say, then, not as I do ...