RESPLENDENT WITH crystal globes, Philippe Starck–designed transparent “ghost chairs,” and a smart black, white, and gray color scheme, Feast burst onto the scene in San Antonio’s vaguely bohemian Southtown neighborhood five months ago like a New York runway model crashing the ladies’ bridge club. Owner and principal designer Andrew Goodman took the cozy old storefront that once housed Oloroso and transformed it into something rich and strange. But there’s more going on here than the arrival of a single glitzy tenant. When you look at other significant newcomers to the area, like the eclectic Monterey and Bliss (the latter from chef Mark Bliss, which was on the verge of opening at press time), it’s clear that the once sleepy neighborhood is waking up.
Not to be confused with the Feast in Houston, famous for nose-to-tail dining, this Feast is a totally different animal. Under the direction of chef Stefan Bowers, who was recently with 20Nine and who undoubtedly picked up a few ideas about modern cuisine at the late, lamented Lodge, San Antonio’s Feast is striking out in a highly personal direction.
So how to describe Mr. Bowers’s opus? Tough question. “Eastern Mediterranean” might be one way, given his fondness for lamb and his use of exotic spice blends and marinades like za’atar and chermoula. Another label might be “San Antonio Mexican” (barbacoa appears at both dinner and brunch). The “all-American” bell is rung by dishes like Jack Cheese Mac. But what to make of seared ahi tuna with watermelon, avocado, and pink peppercorn vinaigrette? I’d call it “whatever the chef damn well pleases.”
In a stroke of luck, our group started with one of the best dishes on the menu, mussels cooked with white wine and green harissa, a cilantro-and-serrano-chile-rich North African spice paste. The shellfish were beautifully briny, the pungent seasoning brilliant. Veering into the comfort-food lane, we next tried braised purple-hull peas with cilantro in an Aleppo-pepper-infused “zippy broth” boosted with pork brisket (pictured). These relatives of black-eyed peas were like something you’d find on a Southern buffet, satisfying and meaty. Validated, we checked out the corn fritters, which reminded us more of hush puppies, with a crisp surface and a smooth, ultra-moist interior. Our excursion into the Mexican idiom led to poblanos stuffed with ground pork and set off by a crunchy toasted-pistachio crust. We liked it, but I wish Bowers had cut the cumin down by half (he’s way too fond of that pushy spice). The only dish I would not order again was the fatty, ugly-as-sin grilled lamb breast.
Desserts did the job if your main goal was “something sweet” to cap the meal, but they did seem like a bit of an afterthought. One notable exception was the luscious if unevenly cooked white chocolate–ginger pot de crème. So next time—and there will definitely be a next time—I’ll save the calories for something like the fried calamari with Ottoman spices. And what exactly are “Ottoman spices”? I have no idea, but I’d love to find out. Bar. 1024 S. Alamo (210-354-1024). Dinner Tue–Thur 5–10, Fri & Sat 5–11. Brunch Sun 10:30–2:30. Closed Mon. $$$ W+