Food & Drink
Does A Tempo hold a fourth-time charm for Olmos Park restaurateur?
Published: July 3, 2012
In 2007 Martha McCracken bought land near the corner of Olmos Drive and McCullough in Olmos Park and built a 5,000-square-foot 1920s romantic-style structure with a stone entrance facade. She opened an upscale Italian Mediterranean restaurant called Valentino's the next year. In late 2010, with Valentino's facing declining patronage, Martha rechristened her building Olmos Park Bistro and brought chef Laurent Rea on board. A year and a half later, and Rea has opened Laurent's Modern Cuisine a block away in the place that long housed Shiraz, an area favorite. And McCracken? She's digging in at the property for another go.
The short-lived Etcetera, which drew upon an abbreviated form of the defunct Valentino's menu, has been converted to A Tempo, featuring locavore items with an emphasis on nearby farm freshness. As a former Monte Vistite who enjoyed stopping there for a late lunch or an early drink, I can't help but admire McCracken's persistence. Let's hope the fourth time is the charm for her.
"Ultimately, I believe that the driving force behind the eternal optimists who love this business is that of a desire for goodwill, a love of people," McCracken said. "We are pleasers who love bringing joy into the lives of others, and, maybe, if one is lucky, there might be a chance to make some money doing it."
Her new chef is no stranger to San Antonio. Belying his youthful looks and energetic demeanor are Tomme Johnson's 30-plus years in the restaurant business. Aficionados will remember him from L'Etoile with Thierry Burkle in the '90s and later at Thierry's newest setting, The Grill at Leon Springs in Boerne.
The new menu is just over a week in and we'll be checking in with A Tempo in a few weeks to see how it shakes out in the final analysis. But some interior design work is called for. Except for the enclosed south room (to your left as you enter), the place is dark and gloomy, and no one would voluntarily choose a seat in the vast central dining room. The restaurant cries out for a designer's hand to create smaller, more interesting spaces, and an enhanced system of illumination. With a seating capacity of over 200, the current arrangement is cavernous and uninviting.
Chef Johnson is bringing ambitious changes to A Tempo, and he was kind enough to share the prospective menu when I stopped in before the conversion. Pizzas are still featured, but with a few new wrinkles, like smoked duck with apple jam, which I can't wait to try. In fact, duck finds itself in several settings, including crispy spring rolls with a spicy fish sauce, a confit and spinach salad, and pan roasted with huckleberry sauce and creamed leeks.
The enclosed patio is an attractive place for an after work drink, particularly if McCracken brings in some live music, like nearby Olmos Bharmacy just down the block on McCullough.
The menu appears well arranged, service is friendly and generally attentive, and Chef Johnson is knowledgeable and respected by area foodies. While no major design overhauls are planned at this time, do look for eye candy around the bend. "We are planning to hang photos in the bar of our regular customers and of special events that have taken place in the restaurant," McCracken said. "We will also be bringing in art from our local (San Antonio) artists."
And watch for A Tempo's modest wine and beer selection to be accented by a full liquor license, possibly by this week. It's a (multi-pronged) start on something exciting and new. •
New chef and updated menu holds promise for this in-town restaurant
Lunch 11am-2pm Mon-Sat; Dinner 5-9pm Mon-Thu, 5-10pm Fri-Sat; Brunch 11:30am-3pm Sun