Andrew Weissman is moving fast these days. With a clutch of the city’s most highly regarded restaurants already to his credit, he has chomped off an especially big bite this summer. He’s keeping a critical eye on the construction of his new Italian restaurant, Il Sogno, on the Pearl Brewery property, while down the sidewalk he’s overseeing the development of Sandbar’s new location, which will open onto the weekend farmers market and the River Walk
And Weissman, 42, is still the full-time chef and owner of San Antonio’s top upper-tier restaurant, Le Rêve. As Sandbar moves out of its current location, next door to Le Rêve on Pecan Street, a new Le Rêve the Wine Bar will rise in its place. (Think vin, with assorted delicacies such as pâté, cheeses, and desserts.) Sip Coffee & Espresso Bar, in the Hotel Valencia building on Houston Street, pulls in a steady caffeine and panini trade, although, says Weissman, the coffee shop "is kind of a well-oiled wheel. It doesn’t require a whole lot of my attention; the staff is great."
The northern reach of Weissman’s growing empire `see sidebar, page 16` is Big’z Burger Joint on Loop 1604, which meets a growing demand for family-friendly dining with excellent burgers and a large outdoor play area for kids. Weissman’s sister, Lauren Stanley, runs the popular restaurant.
"It has a huge party barn now — Astroturf that looks just like grass in the back, big-screen TVs, beer on tap. I didn’t think that I’d ever be into this demographic — but now I have two kids,"
How does the man keep up with the ambition? He zipped into the parking lot at the Pearl Brewery recently, aimed his Porsche Carrera into a handy parking space, and jumped out, announcing that he’d just finished his workout. This, he told me later, is one of the ways he copes with his overtime schedule. Weissman’s wife Maureen is his right hand at Le Rêve — dinner guests will recognize her as the stylish and striking brunette who keeps the front of the house in order. Today, she and the kids — Maxwell Joaquin, 2-and-a-half, and Ella, 1-and-a-half — are all out at Costco.
"If it weren’t for the children, my wife, and the exercise, I’d be exhausted," says Weissman. "I just take it one day at a time."
oise engulfs us as we step into the two-story building that will house Il Sogno. Weissman has to raise his voice over the whirr of power drills, the heavy chunking sounds of building materials falling into place, and occasional shouts from workers. The restaurant is expected to open toward the end of July. With breakfast, lunch, and dinner service, it will be more an "osteria"
The pronunciation of Il Sogno is already causing some confusion. "Il" sounds like it looks. "Sogno"
Weissman has a reputation for compulsion and perfectionism, but his attention to detail behind the scenes makes for extraordinary experiences for his customers. He is involved in most of the creation of any new venue, and claims to enjoy the concept and design stages nearly as much as planning menus and laying out kitchens. His college degree is in communications, but along the way he decided he’d be a far better chef than journalist. He studied at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and interned in France, but his family roots drew him back to San Antonio, where he opened Le Rêve 11 years ago.
The CIA-San Antonio has broken ground for its new expanded facility on the Pearl campus, and we walk to the fenced-off construction area and gaze at what is now just a mass of earth-moving equipment and a big hole. "This means so much to me," he says. "The CIA is where it all started. I have so much respect for them, and I am always so grateful." Weissman is returning the gift more than generously: The addition of Il Sogno and Sandbar to Pearl’s roster of food-themed attractions — the cooking school, the city’s most ambitious farmers market, which includes a Saturday chef’s table, the locavore Farm to Table café — will make the former brewery a premiere foodie destination.
Weissman has been nominated for four James Beard awards, and Gourmet magazine ranked Le Rêve sixth among the nation’s top 50 restaurants. The restaurant’s "ego" wall, discreetly placed in Le Rêve, is covered with framed articles from newspapers and magazines spanning the country. Creativity has served Weissman outside of the kitchen, as well. Once, when he needed artwork to cover a large, empty expanse of wall at Le Rêve, he took up brushes and painted a colorful, densely abstract cityscape. Customers subsequently made him offers for the work, and finally he relented: "I was embarrassed anyone would offer me money for it. But this customer, a nice lady, kept asking, so I sold it."
At Il Sogno, Weissman is working with Lake-Flato Architects for the exterior, and Archcon architects for the interior. He chose many of the colors and was involved with the kitchen design, but Archcon, especially owner Jeff Dallenbach, gets much of the credit for what Weissman hopes will be a casual but inviting interior.
We pick our way over plywood sub-floors, stepping cautiously around snaking electrical cords. He points out where the enameled signs will hang outside above the door. The brick structure was designed to echo a grain-drying facility, a nod to the brewery that once dominated the property. Inside, a small foyer will house a prosecco bar, where waiting customers can cool their palates with the sparkling Italian wine.
Rounding a corner we pass a bar with seating for those who want an up-close look at the pasta and pizzas being made. Il Sogno’s pasta will emerge from an extruder with copper dies that will produce the traditional and desirable burrs on its surface. A gas-fired, wood-burning oven already holds pride of place in the kitchen. It will fire up pizzas at around 1,000 degrees, and diners seated on the restaurant’s first floor will have a view of the oven’s fiery mouth. More seating is upstairs, with great views toward downtown and across the Pearl property.
Il Sogno will be open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day except Monday, though Weissman says he may decide to open for a few hours on Mondays.
"Everything will be made in-house, just like at Le Rêve. Well, at Le Rêve it’s 100-percent fabricated in-house, here it will be maybe 99 percent. There are so many pasta shapes, and some of the Italian families have been making them for generations,"
Luca Dellacasa, a native of Turin, Italy, and a lead cook at Le Rêve for more than two years, is in charge of the kitchen at Il Sogno. He’ll follow the menu Weissman has devised for a few months, then branch out to create his own menu items.
"We’ll make our own sausages and cured meats, classic pizzas such as margherita bianci, quattro formaggi `four cheese`, a bismark `cheese, basil, and tomato sauce topped with eggs`, and the arugula-topped pizza contorni,"
"I have told Luca that if we make something at Il Sogno that his mom in Italy wouldn’t recognize, then it’s off the menu,"
The osteria will seat up to 147 people at a time. Breakfast will be European in style, with classic espresso drinks, freshly made breads, yogurt, and coddled eggs from the wood oven. Muesli, the European rolled oats, fruit, and nut cereal created a century ago by a Swiss physician, will be on the menu, too.
Not long before he died in 2006, famed gastronome and journalist R.W. Apple penned a near-rave review of Le Rêve in the New York Times, the intro of which essentially said that the restaurant and its refined French cuisine are out of place "in easy-living San Antonio, a city known for air bases, the Alamo and Tex-Mex, and most certainly not haute cuisine." Residents of our easy-living city can read Weissman’s retort in his growing roster of businesses, where even hamburgers are a little haute. He expects the clientele at Il Sogno to be largely local. At Le Rêve, "We used to be 60 to 40 percent tourists-to-locals,"
The downturn in the economy has taken a slight toll on Le Rêve’s business. "For the past 10 years all the restaurants in town, whether they’ve deserved it or not, were busy. It was just fat out there," he says. "Now, people are tightening their belts more during the week, but they still seem to be going out on weekends."
The economy might be challenging, but Weissman goes with the philosophy that in tough economic times, people and businesses can survive, even thrive. And he doesn’t plan to rein in his imagination or ambition. In addition to planning menus and working with contractors at Pearl, Weissman is organizing a bike club that will operate out of Il Sogno. "I’ve become a nut about cycling," he says. So, he isn’t running out of energy, either. Happily, for San Antonio’s dining-out devotees, that just means there’s more to come.