By Ron Bechtol
There's a great scene in Steve Martin's L.A. Story in which a tableful of people at a restaurant orders coffee; the "decaf, half-caf, full-caf" litany growing more absurd the longer it goes on. Frankly this has been my opinion of most of the coffee culture in the Starbuck's era. Enough, already.
There are some passionate sorts who truly appreciate coffee's inherent nuances, however - people who talk about acid, aroma, and finish as though they were discussing fine wines. Andrew Weissman, chef/owner of La Rêve is one of those people, and Sip is, at least in part, his homage to the real thing. There are no flavors of the day at Sip, and though there is a café mocha, there are no coffees "streaked" with caramel and other add-ins better suited to ice cream. The dine-in cappuccino (morning only, please; it's not an afternoon drink in its native haunt) is served in a handsome glass container, and the foam is fine-textured and delicate. The take-out double espresso, on the other hand, is presented in a tiny paper container barely big enough to hold it; taking two steps would be fatal. (The coffee itself, made from locally exclusive Bristot beans, is gutsy, aromatic, and, yes, almost winey.) And for all of the reverence attached to the coffee, there's no drama in the making and serving of it. Some barista action - a little theater - would be appreciated.
Although there are only a few tables, lunch is a great time to sit at Sip's street-facing counter; it proves there's life downtown. On second thought, concentrate instead on your panini, the house specialty sandwich. Sip does a great job with versions such as the #5 with prosciutto, provolone, and roasted red peppers among other stuffings. The cheese melts into a kind of crispness in the ridged panini press, and the red pepper oil gives the whole sandwich a pleasant zing. The #9 with smoked chicken breast and spicy mayo could use more spice, but it, too, is a welcome change from the noontime norm. Special
Cookiephile that I am, I was less pleased with Sip's humungous chocolate chunk model. It's tasty, but also droopy-melty - the chocolate melts even as you look at it. The chocolate cake, on the other hand, is just about perfect - the quintessential mom-made cake, eschewing all the preciousness of the currently popular death-by-chocolate versions. There's a platonically perfect cinnamon & sugar scone, too; it even works with the robust house decaf.
Sip is open late on theater nights, adding more credence to the notion of a theater district - and to San Antonio as a city with a night (and day) life not confined to the River Walk. Welcome it with open arms. •
By Ron Bechtol