A dream comes true: French-American cuisine comes to Brownsville

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As seen here Wednesday, July 3, 2024, the restaurant’s downstairs bar features an extensive, French-inspired wine and spirits program, according to Le Rêve owners. (Steve Clark | The Brownsville Herald)

It’s not a dream, it’s the dream.

As crazy as it might have seemed just a few years ago, a French-American restaurant has joined the ranks of new businesses popping up like mushrooms in Brownsville’s reawakening downtown.

Le Rêve (French for “The Dream”) opened to the public May 29 at 1105 E. Washington St. It’s a creation of Ramblas Hospitality Group’s brothers Michael and Fabian Limas, with Executive Chef Eugenio Uribe, who has been involved in every aspect of the restaurant’s conceptual evolution and development.

The brothers’ original plan was to open an upscale, full-service restaurant first, then follow up with a tapas and wine bar, though it worked out the other way around.

“It got flipped, but in my opinion it worked for the best,” Michael said.

The tapas place, Boqueron, with Uribe at the helm, opened in September 2022 next door to Market Square’s Las Ramblas cocktail lounge, the Limas’ original flagship enterprise. It took around 20 months for Le Rêve to become a reality, after many course adjustments regarding exactly what kind of establishment it would be.

“Boqueron was successful,” Limas said. “People started to get Chef’s personality through the menu and high-quality ingredients. That really helped kind of prepare us, Fabian and myself, for what was to come with Le Rêve. We had a working relationship with Chef where we both understand each other and where we were headed. I think the opening of Boqueron really helped support the launch of Le Rêve. It was kind of like a training ground.”

He said the idea behind Le Rêve is to give customers an experience that wasn’t previously available here, an opportunity to try new kinds of food and drink alongside more familiar offerings, with a high-level of service but without a stuffy, intimidating vibe.

The high-end but relaxed guest experience Le Rêve is shooting for speaks through the silly alterations to the eatery’s reproductions of famous 18th-century paintings of notable figures in French history adorning the walls — Robespierre in an orange cowboy hat, for instance, or the Marquis de Lafayette balancing a wine glass on his head.

Le Rêve is also meant to spotlight Uribe and his menus, Limas said. Uribe said knowing what goes with what food-wise comes fairly naturally to him, and that as far as each recipe is concerned, “everything is a remix in a way.”

Le Rêve, Brownsville’s first French-American restaurant, features reproductions of classic French paintings with whimsical touches Monday, June 24, 2024. (Steve Clark | The Brownsville Herald)

He said he insists on procuring the best ingredients available, otherwise the rest of it is wasted effort. The restaurant sources locally if the quality is up to snuff, though some products are flown in overnight from hundreds or thousands of miles away if necessary to obtain peak quality, Uribe said.

“The branzino (a mild white fish, also called European bass) is coming from Greece,” he said. “As the season changes we’re going to switch to blue-fin tuna. That’s going to come from Rhode Island. The scallops are going to be from the East Coast as well. The prawns are coming from Australia. So it just depends. The chickens are from Weslaco.”

Uribe said the menu will change three to four times a year, and will also reflect customers’ preferences, though he encourages guests to “try new things and be curious,” just because it makes for a more memorable experience.

A recent menu included Herb Parisian Gnocchi with escargot and morel mushrooms; Golden Kaluga Caviar with duck fat hash brown and smoked crème fraiche; and Dry Aged Prime Sirloin with oxtail potato terrine and maitake mushrooms. Also on the menu: cheeseburger (the Dirty French Burger) and French fries.

Limas also pointed to the restaurant’s serious wine and spirits program, which he said likewise presents numerous opportunities for adventurous drinkers. Ramblas Beverage Director Chris Galicia designed the program, heavily French-inspired in its selection of brandies, cognacs and wines, Limas said. (Customers can chase their caviar or fries with an obscure French wine or champagne, a Galicia-original cocktail, or a Miller Lite.)

“Chris worked closely with chef on creating cocktails that pair well with food items,” Limas said. “That’ll be an evolving menu as well.”

The reception since opening day has been good, with reservations steadily pouring in, he said. Conceding there are less risky ways to make a buck, Limas said that’s not the point, but rather to create something that people from Brownsville, from across the Rio Grande Valley and even other parts of the state are compelled to experience.

“We’ve had a very successful launch, but at the same time we don’t want to be kept a secret,” he said. “We want people to understand that this is really a neighborhood restaurant. For us it’s about sharing what we put together. There has to be conviction and passion for projects like this.”