Hyaku Me: A Nineteen Hyaku Experience
We waited patiently as Nineteen Hyaku’s Instagram page counted down to their opening in Fall 2023. Hyaku, meaning “hundred” in Japanese, when paired with the English word “nineteen”, is cleverly and simply the restaurant's address at 1900 Broadway in San Antonio. It is the same building as the new Jefferson Bank Building near the Historic Pearl.
In a promotional video on their Instagram page, Houston Carpenter, Director of Operations stated, “The motivation is to deliver a spot where Japanese cuisine and Western hospitality meet.” Their General Manager, Breanda Carielo mentioned, “...we are experience makers. We want you to come in and feel like you are on a journey.”
When reflecting on the name of the restaurant and these sentiments from the restaurant staff, it began to remind us of the philosophies mentioned in the book “Unreasonable Hospitality: The Remarkable Power of Giving People More than They Expect”, by author Will Guidara (available in hardcover, Kindle, and Audiobook). Guidara was General Manager of Eleven Madison Park in New York City as they were building the organization into a powerhouse that was on its way to eventually being named Number 1 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Their claim to fame? Over-the-top hospitality, to the point of being “unreasonable.” It’s an excellent read for anyone in a service-oriented industry.
Nineteen Hyaku Interior Design
The Interior Designer for Nineteen Hyaku is, Alegra Volpe, of Alegra Volpe Interiors, based in San Antonio, Texas. The interior was warm yet minimal, and fit well with the Japanese theme of the restaurant. We could not help but notice the sleek detailing from well-placed objects like statement lighting and wood accents, to the air registers tightly recessed into the gypsum board ceiling. The ceilings downstairs were high, possibly up to 20 feet, with a cozy upstairs mezzanine. A variety of accent wood slats/paneling was a repeated design feature located on select walls, wrapping the sushi bar, front of the cocktail bar, and hostess station. Arches and curves found throughout the space kept things minimal yet organic. A well-placed black-and-white organic-patterned wall was found mostly along the stairs and mezzanine. The furniture was a lovely light wood (a bamboo tone) with a clear finish. Some of the seating is only wood while others are upholstered banquettes in a warm golden hue. These are not your typical bulky diner banquettes, but much lighter with the unnecessary bulky massing removed. Many of the light fixtures had a linen or paper lantern look. It certainly left us with a feeling of zen.
Nineteen Hyaku Omakase Experience
Upon being seated, water was served on the side in an amber-shaded decanter which was poured into short and wide clear glasses. After reviewing the menu, we decided to go with the server’s recommendation and opted for the chef's Omakase (translating to “I’ll leave it to the chef”) experience. To start the evening on a refreshing note, I ordered a Lychee Mojito. It was served in a basic clear glass cocktail tumbler. It was a delightful and light palate-cleansing choice and was served with a maraschino cherry. When I came to the end of my drink, the server offered to clear it from the table but my inner child still wanted that cherry. Unclear as to how I was going to gracefully dig it out under a pile of ice, they offered to bring a fork to me specifically to complete the task. This was one example of their exceptional hospitality that night.
The first course arrived, presenting a thick and creamy miso soup. The rich aroma of truffle shavings filled the air as I savored each spoonful. It was served in an earthenware bowl with a lid that you would customarily find in a Japanese setting complete with a traditional renge spoon.
The second course was a creative rice porridge featuring caviar, topped with what appeared to be a mussel and crispy leafy green tempura. The contrasting textures and flavors melded seamlessly, creating a dish that was both comforting and sophisticated.
During the third course, we were presented with five pieces of nigiri. We were instructed that they were to be savored from right to left. The progression from mild and lean fish to fatty and rich options showcased Chef Ruben Pantaleon's meticulous attention to detail and commitment to delivering a well-curated flavor experience. I particularly liked that each piece was sized perfectly for a single-bite serving. This was much appreciated since many sushi places in town serve a large Texas-sized nigiri that, unless you were blessed with a massive mouth, makes it nearly impossible to savor without creating a mess.
The fourth course featured an eel hand roll. The balance of textures and the umami-rich taste left a lasting impression. We agreed that it was personally our least favorite dish, but worth savoring in its entirety.
The fifth course added a touch of theatricality to the meal, as a glass filled with smoke encased a selection of sashimi. The mystery surrounding the type/flavor of smoke only added to the intrigue, leaving me guessing as I enjoyed each bite.
The sixth course introduced a wagyu beef meatball marinated in garlic and other herbs. The succulent and flavorful meatball showcased the team’s skill in handling premium ingredients.
The seventh course showcased a grilled octopus (which seemed to be cooked on their special binchotan grill) with shaved radish, accompanied by drops of wasabi and a creamy white sauce on a bed of slaw. The combination of textures and flavors created a harmonious dish that was both visually stunning and delicious. If you are not one for octopus, you should at least try what they are serving at Nineteen Hyaku. The texture was the best I have ever had, not rubbery but tender, much like the texture of a scallop.
For dessert, the eighth course was a cardamom-infused ice cream paired with a small mochi ball on the side. The mochi stole the spotlight, delivering a mouthful of dense creaminess that began with a sweet cocoa-like flavor and concluded with a delightfully surprising salty miso punch. Each bite of the mochi delivered this perfectly timed flavor burst like it was programmed to do so.
The innovative dishes, attentive service, and the restaurant's commitment to delivering a memorable dining experience along with its soothing interior made it a culinary journey worth remembering. The only caution we propose to our readers is if you are sensitive to the decibel level in a space, we suggest going earlier or wrapping up your experience by 8:00 pm. Throughout the night, the crowd gets larger, libations are consumed, and voices therefore get louder. These things paired with the background music, make it more difficult to carry on a standard conversation. We were sitting in the mezzanine, so it is possible that the voices from the floor below were echoing off the ceiling in our space. Albeit charming, the lighting level in the space is low in the evenings. This paired with the small typeface of the menus might create a problem for those with certain visual impairments. We recommend coming with a discrete flashlight or just being prepared to use your phone to zoom in.
Overall, our experience at Nineteen Hyaku was exceptional. From our vantage point, the staff is certainly accomplishing the goals that they have set for themselves. We highly recommend this establishment and will be going back for more.