The restaurant world can at times seem like a tangled mess to the public, even to those of us who try to keep up with who is where. All too often, the game ends up being the culinary equivalent of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on first?” and the customer is the one who is left confused.
Without going too much into the history of the situation, chef Laurent Rea, formerly of Olmos Park Bistro, has moved a few doors down the street to open Laurent’s Modern Cuisine in the space that once housed Shiraz. It’s somewhat smaller that his original space, and if our recent meal there is any indication, it’s one that suits the chef’s sensibilities well.
Little has been done to the interior, except for the addition of a floor-to-ceiling vase and greenery at the center to break the view. The spare gray walls give the space a modern feel in keeping with the cuisine, which carries the European tradition of using the freshest and best ingredients in simple yet memorable ways while showcasing a world of flavors and influences.
Right now, it is the place to see and be seen in the neighborhood, and on the night we visited, most everyone seemed to know someone else. Patrons mingled among the tables, chatting and generally relieved to be out of the heat.
When it’s time to settle down for dinner, you’ll be greeted with a multi-course prix fixe for $45, plus an additional $7 if you want dishes such as the lobster appetizer or the beef, which is for two and is, therefore, an additional $14. Our server told us that the lineup changes regularly, which sounded right considering the number of seasonal items offered.
Our evening started with an amuse bouche of a warm pear soup with just the right amount of saffron and ginger to accent the flavor of the fruit without overpowering it. That approach would play out for much of the rest of the evening, such as in the appetizer dish of strips of tender black tea-smoked duck breast over breaded udon noodles and seasoned with a splash of salty soy vinaigrette; a sprig of fresh chervil with its delicate licorice flavor crowned the dish. My friend said her porcini ravioli, served with a Roquefort sauce, a touch of truffle and pomegranate seeds on top, were the best she had ever tasted in San Antonio; I found them to be quite good, but not good enough to compare with what I had recently in Italy, a fault I lay more on the porcini than the pasta.
The idea behind the Fredericksburg tomato salad was inspired. Instead of settling for the expected Caprese salad by pairing tomatoes with fresh mozzarella, Rea served a sublime quenelle of goat cheese sorbet that was cool, tangy and refreshing. The tiniest drizzle of sherry vinegar added a welcome sweet-sour component, and miniature croutons provided a little crunch. The only problem with both of our portions was that the tomatoes were practically flavorless and almost lacking entirely in acidity.
For our main course, we could have tried redfish, veal tenderloin or rabbit two ways, but we opted for the Cote de Boeuf for two, a 20-ounce rib steak that was carved tableside by our host for the evening, Rea’s partner, Michael Burkle. The steak was medium rare to order, so tender it could be cut with a spoon (something Burkle demonstrated without being too showy) and loaded with earthy meat juices.
On the side were a fine dish of sautéed spinach, a surprisingly ordinary truffled mac and cheese (if mac and cheese with truffle oil can ever be considered ordinary) and a black lentil dish redolent with spice.
For dessert, we chose the pleasant if slightly timid lime parfait, which was frozen and welcome on a hot Saturday night. The buttery peach tarte tatin with salted caramel ice cream on the side was more impressive, as, once again, the ingredients all served to showcase the fresh peaches.
Laurent’s is new, and we hope that the wine list evolves into something as engaging as the menu. As is, it is limited and not terribly interesting. A glass of Burgess Merlot, a last-minute choice after nixing the other options, was OK. It did have more acidity than the tomatoes, which is not saying a lot.
White dishware in various intriguing shapes appears to have been leftover from the two previous restaurants that inhabited the space, and it adds a playful touch to the presentation.
Laurent’s is very much a work in progress. But if our meal is any indication, it should be a welcome addition to the neighborhood.
Photos by John Griffin and Bonnie Walker
Laurent’s Modern Cuisine
4230 McCullough Ave.