Forget that ten-hour flight to Europe; there is no better place for French food than at Bistro Vatel in Olmos Park- right here in San Antonio.
Bistro Vatel captures the feel of a Parisian eatery, being at once both classy and unpretentious. Indeed, chef and owner Damien Watel studied in Paris at the Ecole de Cuisine Promhote; he opened his own restaurant here in 1999.
Dining at Bistro Vatel is like having your own personal French chef. Of course there are classic dishes (e.g., Coq Au Vin, Confit de Canard and Medallions de Filet de Boeuf Grilles avec Béarnaise) that are prepared with seasonal ingredients. The real gems are the Plats du Jour; Chef Damien buys the season's freshest products each day and then decides how to prepare them, based on how they will look and taste the best.
This is the reason why Bistro Vatel is also an ideal place for celiacs to dine. When a person with celiac requests a certain dish, Chef Damien will first evaluate it for gluten content, such as whether or not the stock used in a sauce was thickened with flour. If any part of the meal is deemed unsuitable, he will prepare it differently or make substitutions, with the presentation looking as if no special accommodations were made. Chef Damien is also very aware of cross contamination issues for celiacs, ensuring that clean pans and utensils are used whenever necessary. Chef Damien readily admits that customizing a meal may be more difficult and time consuming, but that it is very doable.
Reservations are suggested for dinner at Bistro Vatel, and it is similarly suggested that celiacs indicate at the time of the reservation if they have a preference for a particular entrée, be it chicken, duck, beef, veal, pork, rabbit, liver, sweetbreads, or seafood. Even without a preference, though, celiacs will not find it difficult to order gluten free; the preparation of the meal may just take a little longer. The servers are also quite proficient at guiding celiacs through the menu and making suggestions for suitable appetizers, entrées, and desserts.
Damien Watel has created and sold several restaurants since this review was written in 2004. I called and talked to Nancy who has been at Bistro Vatel for at least 10 years. She told me that sometimes Chef Damien cooks in this kitchen but sometimes it is Executive Chef Clint Connaway in the kitchen. The two chefs trade out between Ciel in the Stone Oak area and Bistro Vatel which is near Chicken Paradise. I have not reviewed Ciel yet, but I hope to do that soon.
This review was written by Melanie Psaltakis in September, 2004 and updated by Anne Barfield in September 2010.