Brunch never looked better in Alamo Heights
By Janis Turk
Chef Lisa Astorga Watel is in the Bistr09 kitchen, cooking in four-inch heels.
“Why not? I love these shoes,” she says with a wink and a smile.
Ever the fashionista, in the kitchen or the front of the house, Lisa is always dressed to the nines.
The Chile-born, culinary school-trained chef, who for nine years served as personal chef to actor Tommy Lee Jones and family, cooks beside husband chef Damien Watel and niece chef Andrea Astorga in the kitchen of their Alamo Heights eatery, making every dish divine.
A little bit Jennifer Lopez and a whole lot Julia Child, Lisa carries her natural beauty and good taste, be it in food or fashion, in a way that seems effortless, modern, and fun.
It’s that ‘simple-meets-stylish’ concept that’s the recipe for Bistr09’s success.
“Bistr09 is a classic French brasserie that elevates and celebrates the food and the dining experience. It’s also everyone’s favorite neighborhood place,” says Damien Watel.
French-born Damien is a celebrated local chef, best known for the Olmos Park eatery, Bistro Vatel, which enjoyed a cult-like following for many years.
Bistr09 is the ninth restaurant the Watels have had in San Antonio, and many of their most ardent patrons live in Alamo Heights. So when Bistr09 opened in the spring of 2019 in the former L’Etoile space on Broadway, its name gave a nod to its new zip code. “I love to cook for locals, so we wanted a neighborhood bistro that doesn’t look back at how things were done before, but rather toward the next 20 years,” explains Damien. “Restaurants have become too casual in today’s food-truck era, so we focused on a strong sense of style.
Stylish it is. With vaulted ceilings, tile floors, bright skylights, a long bar with cheery yellow chairs, and a shiny black piano, the front room gleams. Behind a wall of exposed brick and a large arched window, tables set with white linens fill a quieter space in the carpeted dining room.
Contemporary art adds bright colors, and in homage to artist Gilbert Duran’s controversial giant fork sculpture at the Watels’ former Stone Oak restaurants, Ciel and Ciao 2, a fat silver fork stands by the front door.
Lisa, who with Andrea was also the force behind Bite restaurant in Southtown, today spends her time in the kitchen at Bistr09 with Damien, and Andrea (who last hails from Monterrey, Mexico), bringing their diverse culinary traditions to the table. Even their young son, Enzo, helps taste everything.
“We collaborate with a pinch of love, salt, and work,” she says.
The dinner menu is filled with traditional brasserie favorites, including a poulet roti and mash (roasted chicken and potatoes), duck confit, steak frites, foie gras, French onion soup, moules frites (mussels in white wine served with fries), and newer dishes, like fried chicken lollipops.
The bespoke wine list is impressive, and the restaurant offers a full bar, featuring Bite’s signature Bloody Marys.
The restaurant’s modern approach seemed to attract a younger crowd on weekends, so when Lisa suggested they host big-draw events, like a Rolls Royce/Bentley Brunch, Ferrari and BMW-sponsored dinners, and fashion show feasts, Damien was delighted.
Now, each month, Bistr09 teams with Sloan/Hall, a neighboring Broadway boutique, to curate a stylish brunch fusing the hottest trends in food and fashion. Designers from both coasts have shown collections on Bistr09’s red carpet. A table with jewelry at the front adds a dash of shopping delight.
“We loved the idea of doing something fun, flirty, and safe,” says Lisa. Indoor tables are set apart, and outdoor seating is available on a Parisian-style patio. Dressing smart and being smart about safety are both encouraged. Even the red carpet models wear face shields.
While haute couture models and well-dressed guests vie for attention at these brunches, it’s Bistr09’s taste-sensations that steal the show. Try the lush lobster risotto, the cool beet and goat cheese salad, the light tempura shrimp, or the handsome Zebra bow-tie pasta and salmon. Thick and airy, the waffles are pressed in a waffle maker brought from Belgium. Desserts, like the velvety crème brûlée delight.
As fabulous as it all sounds, ultimately, Bistr09 is just a simple, classic neighborhood spot.
You don’t need to dress up. Come as you are, and feel at home. Leave the high heels to Lisa.
This article was originally published in the January/February 2021 Issue of San Antonio Woman magazine and online at sawoman.com.