IT’S A LITTLE EMBARRASSING to admit this, but I’m a sucker for off-the-wall restaurants. Just say “Tasmanian-Eskimo-Zulu vegan fusion” within earshot of me and I’ll be making reservations in a flash. This strange condition is something that happens if you eat out all the time—you become terminally bored with good, plain, everyday food and turn into a culinary thrill seeker. Which is why I was so surprised when I had a perfectly predictable and perfectly delightful meal at the Grill at Leon Springs.
This new restaurant in an old building popped up four months ago in Leon Springs, a historic community about half an hour northwest of downtown San Antonio. The “predictable” part of the equation was the Grill’s bill of fare, with the likes of steaks, shrimp, fried calamari, Caesar salad, pizza, pasta, and molten chocolate cake. Oh, and crème brûlée—don’t let me forget crème brûlée. The “delightful” part was the high level of skill in the kitchen. Consider this: The succulent crab cake I carted home and had for lunch the following day was almost as good as it had been fresh off the stove. If that’s not a sign of quality ingredients and accomplished cooking, I don’t know what is.
How to explain the paradox of a mundane menu and fine execution? The Grill has a French pedigree: Its owners are Armand Obadia and Thierry Burkle, the same two guys who operate the excellent restaurant L’Etoile, in San Antonio’s tony ’09 zip code. But while L’Etoile is formal, the Grill is easygoing, with an eclectic menu and a spacious, limestone-walled dining room that welcomes courting couples and family groups with equanimity.
The French connection accounts for several of the nicer touches on the Grill’s menu. The filet mignon, for instance, comes with two sauces, a lush béarnaise and a feisty green-peppercorn. Or take the fact that the rotisserie chicken arrives with skinny, toasty pommes frites (not “fried potatoes”) and jus (not “pan juices”). As for the molten chocolate cake, it’s described as a “warm chocolate fondant,” and a fine one it is too, dark and seductive, although on one visit the center was not quite as liquid as I would have liked.
On the other hand, San Antonio has a strong German heritage, and Burkle is from Alsace, so listed under weekly specials you’ll find “Wednesday: Sauerkraut Alsatian” (yes, liberties are taken with syntax) accompanied by several types of wurst. I wasn’t there midweek, so instead I tried the excellent three-sausage appetizer, including a spicily seasoned lamb merguez with a sweet, pungent fruit chutney.
Italy comes in for considerable attention, not for reasons of history but because nobody ever lost money selling pizza. My friend and I ordered a prosciutto-and-roasted-tomato version, which emerged thin and crisp from the brick oven ten minutes later. Pasta is popular too, as well it should be, given the quality of the delicate house-made fettuccine topped with moist grilled chicken and an asiago cream sauce. The less-than-airy ricotta gnocchi were a rare letdown.
For dessert, it was back to France for five of the seven choices, including a classic crème brûlée with tiny morsels of apple tucked under its burnt-sugar crust. Fantastic. Sometimes “predictable” isn’t a naughty word after all.