Mark Bliss might be one of the most positive people we know, not to mention one of the best — and most beloved — chefs San Antonio has followed for decades. When we heard that he was returning here from Nevada, where he’s been operating a catering business, to open a restaurant on South Presa Street, it was very good news.
But was he really opening his restaurant, Bliss, at the site of an old filling station? That’s a San Antonio tradition. Once upon a time, ice houses moved into these vacated properties, then barbecue joints or taquerias. So, why not a chic restaurant by a talented chef?
“Chic” might be a bit of an outdated word, so let’s just say that Bliss, arising from the ruins of an old service station, is simply a stunner.
The main building wasn’t large enough to be an entire restaurant, but it is still the heart of Bliss. It serves as the main dining room. An entryway has been built on, with a small wine bar to welcome guests. The original painted brick walls of the main room has been preserved and provides a colorful backdrop for dining tables. Each of these, with decorative inlaid-wood detail, is different. All are constructed of reclaimed longleaf pine from a 200-year-old cotton mill in Alabama; they glow with a golden sheen, the wood carefully coaxed back to life by woodworker John O’Brien.
“I figured, I could have a $20,000-a-year bill for cleaning table linens or I could spend more on the tables themselves and not cover them up,” said Bliss.
Architect Candid Rogers’ design incorporates stainless steel both inside and outside the building.
In the kitchen, it’s a chef’s dream come true. “I never thought I’d get to have stainless steel walls in a kitchen,” said Bliss, pointing out the gleaming expanses of metal. These walls, plus the white subway tile that surround the alcove where the chef’s table adjoins the kitchen, are touches that make the kitchen, that Bliss himself designed, easy to clean.
While Bliss and his wife, Lisa, are the sole owners and partners in Bliss, the landlord, Jack Lewis and his business, Mission Restaurant Supply, will have a role in the restaurant’s daily schedule. While Bliss will be open for dinner, by day it will be a test kitchen for Mission’s customers. The kitchen is equipped with top-of-the-line stoves, refrigerated drawers, a salamander, a plancha (flat-top grill) and a deep well-burner for sauces.
In addition to the dining room and kitchen, there is an area that will be devoted to charcuterie, a wine room that doubles as a private party area or overflow room. A paved patio with a firepit, surrounded by landscaped beds will have more tables, while an herb garden on the south side of the property is already home to a half-dozen deep-green rosemary plants.
A panel of etched glass looks into the chef’s table area. The etching designs are originals from local businessman and artist Harold Wood, a personal friend of the Blisses. His original artwork will adorn the walls of the restaurant.
Though Mark Bliss first came to San Antonio from his native California, he is something of a native son to this city. He worked with Bruce Auden at Polo’s, then the restaurant at the Fairmount Hotel, and after that at Auden’s first Restaurant Biga, on Locust Street. He went on to open Silo on Austin Highway in the 1990s and had a stint as chef at the Tower of the Americas restaurant before moving into the catering business.
The cuisine at Bliss will be some of the Southwest-influenced fare the chef is known for, plus plenty of fresh ideas. We liked his description of buttery lobster tucked into soft potato rolls, served with celeriac (celery root) salad, as well the promise of a robust charcuterie offering.
“I keep doing this,” Bliss said, pinching his cheek, as though to assure himself it was all real. “This is where I’ll stay.”
Bliss, at 926 S. Presa St., will open Thursday for dinner. Make reservations at 210-225-2547. Or visit the website.