It’s only open for lunch on select Thursdays and Fridays. Plus, you should have reservations if you want to be sure you’ll have a seat at one of the tables available.
Yet a visit to Red is worth it if you want to taste the future of cooking in San Antonio.
Red is the restaurant of the Art Institute of San Antonio’s culinary school, and all of the work is being handled by the students, the people who hope to be running the restaurants of this city and beyond in the future. Even in the front of the house, the servers who wait on your table are chefs-in-training.
The interior of the dining room, with its wavy red wall and funky sculptures, has been created by students in the school’s design program and includes a large window into the kitchen as well as video monitors that take you behind the scenes, so you can see some of the food being prepared.
The menu changes each week it’s open (down times are between semesters), but there are a few standards, including a Red Burger with fries, though I’m not sure if the presentation of that patty remains the same; the last time I tasted the burger, it was presented with bacon jam on top and rosemary fries on the side. A vegetarian option, which has been a pad Thai variation on several visits; a chicken dish; and a rich chocolate dessert also seem to be regulars.
Nothing has been priced at more than $11 a plate, even though one seafood risotto contained a surprising amount of lobster, shrimp, mussels and clams. Braised short ribs, pork belly, salmon, crab, scallops, lamb, crème brûlée and chocolate have all been featured in different ways, with culinary preparations that touch on, but are not limited to, French, Asian, Mediterranean, Latin American, Italian and assorted European styles. Most everything has been excellent, with one notable exception I’ll describe later.
The menu is broken down into three segments of starters and salads, main courses and desserts. Certain chef students are highlighted on the menu when they have created a specific dish, which could be a rustic soup or a special dessert.
It would be useless to write an overlong critique of various dishes, because the kitchen lineup changes with the menus; but I will take one dish to illustrate how the the students are there to learn from your response. I’m sure they love praise, but they’re also open to criticism if something is wrong. On one visit, we had a crème brûlée in which the almond extract was so out of balance that it reminded all three of us of those accounts of arsenic poisoning in Agatha Christie novels. Remember the telltale aroma of bitter almonds that always seemed to hover in the air over the unfortunate corpse, we laughingly asked the waitress.
Our server was glad we took it in stride, and she promised to have the matter investigated further before anyone else fell victim to the mishap. Hopefully, you’ll remember your manners and pass along your notes in a way that encourages improvement.
Because that is what Red is, ultimately. It’s a lab that is meant for the students’ benefit. Sure, you can get a fine meal at a great price and your tips even go to benefit the school’s scholarship fund, but the real purpose of the restaurant is to give those students a taste of what it’s like to work in the heat of a real kitchen.
The Art Institute’s culinary program, which offers several degree paths, has met with some noteworthy success in its relatively short history, including taking top prize at the Fine Swine Cookoff two years in a row. The proud pig placard they received is proudly displayed in a corner of the dining room.
Red at the Art Institute of San Antonio
10000 I-10 W.
Lunch: Select Thursdays and Fridays. Call for schedule, seating times and reservations.