If you stand long enough at the order counter of R&R, the chef's mom, who, along with her husband, operated a taquería in the same location for years, will tell you everything you want to know about her son—his growing up rolling tortillas in the kitchen there, his U.S. Navy experience, his training at culinary school in Austin (and later with Nobu in New York and Damien Watel at Chez Vatel Bistro), his brief (and ultimately unhappy) foray into the corporate world, his divorce...OK, maybe even more than you wanted to know.
But what you are most curious about—how good are the "kickass gourmet" sandwiches that form most of the menu?—you'll have to learn from tasting. If Rick Bueno is to make a success of coming home to a bright but modest cafe on the Southeast side, globe-trotting and corporate America behind him, the plastic basket that will come quickly out of the kitchen will tell the story. We don't know about the ending, but the tale starts with promise.
The price is also right. One noon, the Philly cheese steak sandwich was $5 on daily special (It's normally $7.95); the steak had been marinated to advantage, there was an adequate amount of caramelized onion, sautéed button mushrooms added umami, there was the essential mozzarella (sometimes it's provolone) and the roll was just toasty/crusty enough to cradle the ingredients with care. We might have preferred more exotic mushrooms, but we realize that "gourmet" can also mean doing the best with good but not expensive ingredients. And with this in mind, the sammie succeeded admirably. A bowl of grilled summer corn with bacon, cilantro, lime and chili salt further proved Bueno's prowess in combining simple ingredients.
A mango jalapeño grilled chicken sandwich was on special another day, but somehow the homier meatball sub seemed to be calling my name—yup, more fresh-seeming mozzarella, along with well-seasoned orbs and a good, rustic tomato sauce. No look-at-me grandstanding, just a seriously-stuffed and damn good sub. The potato salad with mustard, mayo and vinegar was a comforting companion, and fearlessly fried tiny Brussels sprouts brightened with a splash of lemon hit that perfect point between perfunctory and over-executed.
Rounding out the menu are several melts, including tuna and turkey, a BLT and three regular salads, to which grilled chicken can be added. I didn't notice what the group sitting at a couple of pushed-together tables had been eating, but I did learn from mom that they were part of a neighborhood group that regularly meets there—and that the art on the walls was by a daughter of one of them. The 'hood, at least, has apparently welcomed the prodigal Mr. Bueno home.
4241 Clark, (210) 533-1603
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