Talk about pressure: The night that Andrew Weissman’s new Italian venture, Il Sogno, opened its doors, the dining room—75 seats—filled up in less than five minutes. It’s been that way at dinner ever since (breakfast and lunch aren’t as crazy yet). When I visited, three weeks after day one, the kitchen was getting in the groove, although some line cooks still had that deer-in-the-headlights stare. As we were having dessert, Weissman, forty, stopped by, looking as if he hadn’t slept in a week. “How’s Luca holding up?” we asked, referring to executive chef Luca Della Casa. “He’s upstairs crying,” Weissman cracked.
In fact, Della Casa was up to his elbows in pasta in the quasi-chaotic open kitchen, looking composed if equally sleep-deprived. But that’s what you would expect from a three-year veteran of Weissman’s acclaimed French restaurant, Le Rêve. And it’s also what you would expect from a 35-year-old native of Torino, Italy, who is finally getting a chance to cook the dishes that are close to his heart.
Seated in the industrially chic but convivial dining room, we started with a round of antipasti chosen from an array of bountiful platters. In the chilled octopus and potato salad (polipo e patate), that famously rubbery denizen of the deep came off mild and tender. Garlic-and-olive-oil-marinated wild mushrooms let the flavor of the fungi shine through, and all the nibbles went well with the fabulous skinny breadsticks piled on the table like so many twigs.
After this, we decided to order randomly and share. We all agreed that the crispy-outside, mealy-inside fried chickpeas seemed more like a bar snack, but we could have eaten two helpings of the al dente spaghetti with bacon and smoked fiore cheese. Our hands-down favorite starter, though, was the fat steamed asparagus stalks snugged up to a perfectly poached egg, grated ricotta salata, and a crunchy strip of bacon. The “sauce” of egg yolk and all the other ingredients (including white truffle oil) was heaven.
Of course, we had to sample the thin-crusted wood-oven margherita pizza (it comes unsliced, Italian-style), which was fine if not earth moving, but the kitchen really hit its stride with the next two dishes. The first was chicken—potentially the most boring bird in the barnyard—which had a russet-colored, crackly skin encasing moist, tender flesh. The second was cod—definitely the most boring fish in the ocean—poached to delicate doneness and beautifully seared on its golden-brown exterior (pictured). Arranged alongside in a subtle saffron broth was a fearsome, bristling whole prawn, tender as butter. Forget bouillabaisse. I’ll take this any day.
Desserts were soft and comforting—what the English call “nursery food”—especially the hazelnut tart, a dream of milky chocolate all but held in suspension on a whisper of pastry. When we double-checked the menu, we noticed its fancy pedigree: the “Famous Le Rêve Nutella Tart.” But of course. Some things are just too good not to share. Bar. Pearl Brewery complex, 200 E. Grayson (210-223-3900). Breakfast Tue—Fri 7:30—10, Sat 8:30—10, Sun 9—10. Lunch Tue—Sat 11:30—2. Dinner Tue—Sat 5:45—9. Closed Mon. $$$ W+