You could have knocked me over with a pomme frite: A museum-quality replica of a French brasserie has sprung up on a posh corner of San Antonio’s Loop 1604. All the proper visuals are in place: a soaring space, dark woodwork, tile floors, brass railings, and waiters bustling about in long white aprons. All the requisite dishes are in place too: escargots, pâté, coq au vin, bouillabaisse, hanger steak, and—mais oui—pommes frites tucked into crisp paper cones. A movie set could not be more convincing. You have to hand it to Scott Cohen, formerly of Las Canarias and Pesca and the creative mind behind this new operation. He deduced that San Antonio would be inordinately taken with the concept, and judging by the crowd when we visited Brasserie Pavil, now two months old, he was right.
Your first choice, upon entering, is where you will sit. Will it be a slat-backed wooden booth in the front room, a cushier banquette in the area to the right, perhaps a quiet table in the back or outside—the variety is daunting. So’s the menu, with a dozen main courses (including a changing daily special), five steaks, seven chilled seafood selections—and that’s just the big stuff. Our slightly dazzled party started with the escargots, a sextet of fine jumbo snails drenched in lemon-garlic butter and capped in puff pastry. Perhaps inevitably, the topping went a touch soggy. Even so, we liked this starter more than the fried whole wild prawns, which were nice enough but not terribly interesting.
The best bargain of the evening proved to be our beef eater’s excellent strip steak au poivre, a perfectly cooked twelve-ounce beauty dredged in coarse black pepper and gilded with a spunky cognac-and-green-peppercorn sauce. The duck devotee in the party raved over the confit, a moist leg and thigh sided by a pristine little salad of frisée boosted with bits of Anjou pear and bacon lardons in a rather shrill mustard-shallot vinaigrette. But the dish we could not stop eating was the crumb-topped vegetable cassoulet. Oh, my. How Cohen got that much flavor into a casserole of white beans, carrots, beets, button mushrooms, tomatoes, parsnips, and haricots verts, I’ll never know, but it was fabulous.
After the quite generous main courses, our threesome discreetly loosened our belts and stared at one another. Do we need dessert? Well, no, but then curiosity won out, as it always does. The gâteau was basically a slightly dry chocolate sponge cake layered with apricot jam and decorated with pretty milk-chocolate curls. More to everyone’s liking were the lovely, paper-thin crêpes with quartered strawberries and Chantilly cream spiked with hazelnut liqueur. As for the poached-pear-and-frangipane tart with a sweet pastry crust, our friend looked up with a smile and said, “Very comme il faut.” And it was, which we confirmed after we wrested it from his grasp. Indeed, that might be just the coda for Pavil. It’s exactly as it should be—both a picture-perfect replica of a Parisian brasserie and exactly what the slick northern corridor of the Alamo City wants right now. Bar. 1818 N. Loop 1604 West, at Huebner, southeast corner (210-479-5000). Lunch Mon–Fri 11–3. Dinner 7 days 5:30–11 (light food till midnight). Brunch Sat & Sun 10:30–3. $$–$$$ W+
Try this recipe for Chocolate Fondue, from Brasserie Pavil, San Antonio.