Beautiful, however overused the word is, can only describe Restaurant Gwendolyn.
I’d be remiss not to mention that it occupies the former Le Reve space. But it gently brushes off the sterling reputation of its previous occupant and stands, elegantly, on its own. It’s quite clear Chef Michael Sohocki was an apprentice of Weissman establishments (Le Reve, then Il Sogno). Using high quality, fresh ingredients with gentle preparations are the usual hallmarks. Thankfully, the chef takes it one sustainable step further and only buys from local producers within a 150 mile radius.
Chef Michael is an interesting man himself. A soft-spoken, humble young man, I first introduced myself when I went for lunch on my own the second week he was open. I perched on a stool in front of the kitchen window. At the time it was a one-man kitchen, with just him behind the stove, as he hadn’t even hired more cooks yet. No matter, it was a treat to watch and have the head chef prepare the meal a la minute. I had the seared chicken breast over lentil stew. The herb crusted chicken was juicy and the lentils surprisingly flavorful.
I came back to the office recharged and raving a tad, but , like a saying I heard once – “when all your dreams come true, don’t tell anyone” – I tucked it in my back pocket and slipped into silently rejoicing at my newfound favorite restaurant. One which also subscribed to a way of sustainable cooking, which I’m passionate about. I was in a trance as he elaborated on his theories, goals and passions about the state of the nation’s food industry. You don’t often hear such talk in San Antonio.
Two weeks later, I received the most splendid handwritten letter from him. It closed with “thank you for your company.” I romanticized the missive. Combining that with the nostalgia for his food, I quickly headed back at the end of the week for lunch. It was then I concluded Chef Michael was what Fitzwilliam Darcy would have been like if he was a chef in the present day. An amusing and utterly delightful thought.
This time I had the juicy pork housemade sausages with the homemade mustard. “This is my second attempt at making mustard,” he said sheepishly. But what a mustard! Ultra tangy and fresh. The sausage was seasoned perfectly and the casing was not too tough, as is sometimes the case with others. The steamed mustard greens and rice pilaf with wheat berries were nice complements. And the bread is still perfection – the added milk sweetened the deal and the crust was just the right amount of crunch. (And for goodness sake, even the butter is great, rolled in little chives and sea salt. The saltiness offsets the slight sweetness of the bread perfectly.) I’m convinced this is the best in-house bread a San Antonio restaurant produces.
The rich atmosphere of the restaurant: being surrounded by Grandma Gwendolyn’s armoirs and a charcoal drawing of her youthful self, make you honored to sit in the space. (Even the vanity mirror in the ladies room was Gwendolyn’s. Chef Michael reminisced that was where she would sit and apply her makeup.) But make no mistake, she was a tough, tractor-driving farmer who taught her grandson to honor and care for the land, and how to live off of it. “You ate what you had, you did what you could, and took pleasure in small things,” the chef wrote on his site. At Restaurant Gwendolyn, you dine and just feel the emotional pull of a family’s generational love not only in the atmosphere, but in the cooking.
I think it’s well worth supporting Chef Michael Sohocki and his concept. And I predict you’ll request a second plate of bread.
152 E. Pecan, #100
San Antonio, TX 78205