Years ago, when I was living in Hawaii, I got wasted in the kitchen of a movie producer with a chef who is of national prominence on the Food Network. We were inattentive with wine and burned some shrimp beyond recognition before passing out beneath a Warhol-like four-paneled painting as the waves from the Pacific lapped just a few feet away.
I’d love to name names, but you don’t do that and get invited back. I can tell you that there is a brotherhood of people who have passed out in this particular kitchen, and chef Rene Bajeaux, the newly minted head of the Brasserie Pavil on Rt. 1604, is among them. He opened the Four Seasons Restaurant on Maui to rave reviews before working in New Orleans, the Caribbean, and now San Antonio.
So I was happy to review the Brasserie in its new incarnation. The Current covered it shortly after it opened in 2009, but there’s been something of a revolving door in management, and it’s been hit or miss since the of the excitement of its novelty started to wane. San Antonio is light on brasseries. We want them to succeed; we’re too big of a town not to have a few good French hangouts.
Regrettably, even now, the food there simply doesn’t measure up to even the drunken crustacean musings of that dimly-remembered night on Maui.
It’s not because of the décor or the service. The waiters rambling around in black and white are extremely attentive, and their knowledge of the wine list is formidable. If you order a wine and get that barely perceptible pause before the smile, you might want to reconsider and ask for a recommendation. The high ceilings, wall-sized mirrors, and breast-shaped lamps make for interesting talking points. It’s a great atmosphere for a date night.
Which makes it even more disappointing that the food is lacking after such fanfare about its now being open for lunch. Their phylo appetizer came out burnt on top and raw in the middle. It’s not terribly charming to open up a delicately made pastry to find chunks of cold brie that obviously were supposed to have melted.
The duck confit shepherd’s pie was also problematic. I don’t blame Chef Bajeaux for it entirely: duck is hard to do right no matter what the conditions are, so it was a ballsy choice to even attempt. The problem with the dish wasn’t the taste; in fact, it was tender and excellently spiced. The problem was the pool of grease sitting in the dish that is only evident after the first few bites (and nearly unavoidable in duck dishes). Few things are less appetizing than a fingertip full of grasa, even if it’s presented in an attractive Le Creuset single-serving saucepan.
When I spoke with Bajeaux, he told me he was drawn to Brasserie Pavil by the diverse ingredients that are available here (he specifically mentioned the hunting environment of South Texas, which is an interesting reason to take a job — YOU CAN SHOOT STUFF!), and the great latitude he’s been given by the owner of the restaurant.
This is his restaurant to win or lose. He’s got his work cut out for him. Right now, two years of variation in the quality of food has made for poor word of mouth. San Antonians stopped filling the Brasserie some time ago; the survival of the restaurant is not assured. And some dishes, like the French onion soup, as a friend of the Current reports, are still indefensibly awful. Avoid it. The menu is a work in progress, but it can progress, and appears to be on its way to doing so.
The damage to their reputation won’t be fixed overnight; his new menu, while remarkably imaginative, doesn’t adequately reflect what I believe Bajeaux can achieve down the road. The waiters took great pains to tell me that much of the work isn’t done yet.
This much was obvious in the tasting. But the Brasserie Pavil is on the mend, and I have faith in Bajeaux’s ability to figure this out. Give it a try and you’ll see firsthand how a restaurant can claw its way back.
If I sound like a partisan, it’s because Bajeaux and I have passed out in the same kitchen. That counts for something. •
Restaurant & Bar
1818 N Loop 1604 West
A beautiful joint whose food doesn’t quite measure up.
An excellent wine and beer list, and a staff that knows its stuff.
An overly ambitious menu that doesn’t get the basics right.
Tuesday - Friday 7am–10am Bakery; 11am-10pm Lunch and Dinner; Saturday, 11am–11pm Lunch and Dinner; Sunday 10:30am–10pm Brunch and Dinner
$10.99-$18.99 for lunch entrées.
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