Too Hot To Handle: Giacomo's Cibo e Vino

Categories: On the Menu

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Photos by Mai Pham
Giacomo's wine bar area
I'd heard about Giacomo's Cibo e Vino for some time, and after reading a couple of Houston Press articles about it, I put it on my to-do list of places to try. We arrived around 6 p.m. on a typical sweltering hot summer day. On first impression, I loved the kitschy '80s-looking wall art, the low ceiling, the wooden floors, and the personality of the décor. It had a very San Francisco-esque vibe to it and it was just the type of place that I would normally love.

We were greeted immediately when we stepped through the doors. I told the hostess that we were there for dinner. She led us to the right of the restaurant, into the sun-filled wine bar, where tables of colorful nest-egg blue contrasted brightly with bright cherry-red chairs and a wall-length chalkboard. The sun was shining through the patio windows, where we could see patio seating outside. The scene was lovely.

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A cold seafood antipasti. $7 for seafood, served in colorful earthenware
I took a look at the menu and started with a selection of cold appetizers, which I chose at the counter. The turkey breast, covered in a mayo-like dressing with capers, was dry and cardboard-like, not a good start. The seafood mixture, which looked like a ceviche, was bland and had a bit of a fishy smell to it; I did not like this one at all. The beets were my the best of the three I chose, which were $5 to $7 each. It doesn't sound expensive but for what we got -- three pieces of thin turkey breast, a small cup of seafood mix of shrimp and calamari, and a small cup of beets -- it was.

For drinks, I ordered their house drink, described to me as something similar to a sangria. It was served in a colorful earthenware jug, a quartino, with the name Giacomo's Cibo e Vino on it. I thought it was a lovely touch. But it didn't come with ice and as I sat waiting for our entrees, this became a problem.

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Giacomo's house made summer wine drink
The room was stiflingly hot, and I began to feel hot flashes as I sat waiting. My companion had ordered a cream soda, which had been served with ice, and I took a sip to cool down, reveling in the icy coldness coming from the cup. When I blew on the soda, a whiff of smoky cool condensation puffed upwards into my face, a nice respite from the heat.

I'd assumed that the entire restaurant was on the same cooling system, so I just tried to make it through the dinner in spite of the heat. However, sitting there fanning myself, I couldn't enjoy my entrée at all, a creamy seafood pasta. And my companion's porchetta e fagioli, a pork and bean stew that had been recommended to us by our server, was just too heavy to contemplate in the uncomfortable heat.

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Half portion of their porchetta e fagioli, pork and bean stew
I finally walked to the counter and asked if they could turn the air conditioning down, and was informed that the air conditioning unit in that particular room had been on the blitz for several days. "You can go sit in the other side of the restaurant, if you like. It might be cooler over there," the lady informed me.

As we were almost at the end of our meal, I didn't see the point in moving everything to the other side of the restaurant, but moments later, when I got up to use the restroom, I noticed a significant difference in the temperature on the other side.

As I returned to my table, I walked by the hostess, who had seated us -- only us, as everyone else was seated on the cooler side -- on the hot side of the restaurant, and told her that it was unbearably hot on the other side. "I'll make note of that," she responded, without any apology for the discomfort she put us through by seating us on that side.

In my mind, I'm thinking: Why did she seat us on the other side when she seated everyone else in the much cooler main dining room? And why did the manager allow her to seat us there when they knew the air conditioning unit was malfunctioning? And didn't the server, who was working both sides of the restaurant, notice significant difference in temperatures between both rooms? Any thoughts, readers?

Even without the record high temperatures we've been experiencing in Houston, the summers here are hot. A well air-conditioned space is an imperative for any dining establishment, and yet, we were seated in a sun room where the air conditioning was known to be unreliable. They should have closed off the room completely if the air conditioning wasn't working.

I wanted to like Giacomo's, but after my encounter with the hostess, I couldn't get out of there fast enough. It's too bad, really, because if the room temperature had been comfortable, there was a definite charm about the place that would have brought me back, even with the slight misses on the antipasti. As it is, I will always remember that we spent about $70 for an average meal in a dining room was just too hot.



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Location Info

Giacomo's Cibo e Vino

3215 Westheimer, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


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26 comments
Montrosegal
Montrosegal

wow.. The food is so fresh and good!  odd though, giacomos does not have a hostess.. never has.. Did you ever bring it up to the waiter??

Kimberly Park
Kimberly Park

Mai, next time you go check out the housemade papparadelle and the brussels sprouts.  

Culinary_Curmudgeon
Culinary_Curmudgeon

Walked in one day, felt like I'd landed on an alien planet; not made welcome at all so walked out. Blue hair brigade was out in force. Not going back.

We worked that building when it was Palazzo's event space. That building had *major* maintenance issues.

Jaegershnitz
Jaegershnitz

Fritz, not blitz. But very entertaining. I like the owner, think she cooks wonderfully, but really some of the staff have been boobs over the years; this just another confirms that.

CMN
CMN

I love Giacamo's, but I recently had a very similar disappointing experience. It was last Thursday night, around 8pm and myself and my dining companion were also sat in the "wine bar"/hot side of the dining room inexplicably, since the cooler side of the dining room had plenty of tables.  There was a fan running but it was no match for the heat, nearly ruined our entire meal.  We also were put off by the hostess, uncharacteristically rude for a place with normally delightful staff.  Whatever is going on, hope its short lived. 

Ivalee
Ivalee

No matter how good the food may be at any restaurant, if the servers and management does not see to the customers comfort, they do not deseve your business.  Uncomfortable tempurature or atmosphere will ruin any good meal, And first impressions mean a lot, if they did not treat a customer right the first time, they do not deserve a second chance.  There are a lot of other restaurants that do want your business and will ensure you wil want to come back.

Montrosian
Montrosian

You knew within 5 minutes if it was going to be too uncomfortable to sit there.  That's when you should have done something about it.  You bear the responsibility for electing to continue to sit there.  Did the restaurant make a dumb mistake by sitting you there in the first place?  Heck yes.  Did you compound the mistake by continuing to sit there? Heck yes.I can't believe this little incident warranted a whole story.  Must be slow news day.

CameronByars
CameronByars

I had mixed feelings about my experience there as well. I went in for lunch and was turned off by the format of their menu. I'd prefer to have a half sandwich and a side so I could try something from their cafeteria style sides, as they looked amazing, however I had to commit to a full sandwich and pay for a side. With a drink that came out to $16!! Way too pricey for lunch.

Mary
Mary

I have had several stellar experiences here and think very highly of the food.  But my last experience was like yours and it was the only time I have ever been seated in the "sun room."  Ordered some small plates that were really nothing special and had slow service.  That time, the bill was not justified by the experience.  If you go back, sit in the main dining area and order the gnocchi, pastas (1/2 dishes available), paninis or salads.  I love the homemade green goddess dressing.

Jeff
Jeff

I've eaten there a number of times and love the food. There have been a couple times, however, when service was slow and one time when we were seated at the end of a long table where another group was sitting. They called it "family style," but it felt more like a way for them to conserve seating.

Having said all that, I really do love the food there.

melissa
melissa

That's really unfortunate.  I have always had really great service in there - that kind of attitude just does not match up to my experiences (and I go once every week or two).   I would really recommend that you speak to the owner about it--I can't imagine she would be okay with that.

Mai Pham
Mai Pham

Maybe it was a server that seated us, I just assumed she was the hostess, because when we walked in, she came up from behind the counter, picked up a couple of menus and led us over to the hot side.  

It was warm when we arrived but got progressively hotter as we waited for our food. I mentioned that it was rather warm initially to the server, then when he served us our entrees I was fanning myself and stated "It's hot in here." He actually was sweating a bit and agreed me "Yeah, it is," but never mentioned that the other room was cooler even though he was working both sides.

HiggenbothomH
HiggenbothomH

I would agree that Giacomo's is a hangout of the old and infirm, kinda the Chron set mixed with My Table jacket wearers, but Lynette can really cook great Italian. It's too bad she doesn't invite the sub 40 food lovers into her place. I don't expect the restaurant will get much more traction now that the eagles have landed at West Ave down the street. Yet, I'm rooting for her nonetheless.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I guess that would be my question too, albeit phrased a little more calmly. I would have asked to be moved, although it sounds like Mai didn't realize the A/C was out, nor that the other side of the restaurant was cooler, until she was nearly done with her meal. The real burden of responsibility is with Giacomo's, though: Why seat someone in an empty section with a half-broken A/C system, and why not apologize for the oversight?

Defdave87
Defdave87

Slow news day? Really, Montrosian?! Stick to The Chronicle, homeboy!

Rip
Rip

It's a food blog not a newspaper. Slow news day does not equate to a blog post about a restaurant with faulty air conditioning.

Save the "Slow news day" bit for The Chronicle or local TV stations.

This is a food blog and they will continue to run blog posts about food, restaurants and the industry whether you deem it a "slow news day" or not.

Mai Pham
Mai Pham

It's the curse of the sun room! I'll think about going back, and if I do, I'll definitely heed your advice. I like the sound of a green goddess dressing.

Mai Pham
Mai Pham

@Jeff and everyone else who is a fan, what do you typically order that you love? 

Jalapeno
Jalapeno

Just curious if you have a theory on why you were seated in the hot seat, as it were.

Jim Ayres
Jim Ayres

There is nothing like Giacomo's at West Ave. Alto? It's horrible; not even in Lynette's ballpark. Giacomo's should do something about the AC, but I've often felt like I was in a refrigerator in the main dining room. Maybe the really hot day was taxing it. But I think Giacomo's is a really great restaurant.

Getoffmylawn
Getoffmylawn

One day you, too will be an adult.  Until then, re-tape those Pampers, they've come loose.

Mai Pham
Mai Pham

A pet peeve of mine is seeing a diner complain about every little thing when they dine. I really just try to enjoy my meal and let the little inconsistencies go (a forgotten spoon, no water, inattentive service, etc) because I know everyone has bad days. That being said, I didn't complain at the onset because the restaurant is housed in what appears like an older one story building and I was trying to do the "nice thing" by not complaining about what I thought to be a poor AC system throughout. I didn't know that there was a difference between the two sides until I got up to go to the restroom. Yes, it was partly my fault for not complaining sooner, but what really left an impression was the fact that the hostess basically just shrugged her shoulders "oh well" without even a hint of concern at our discomfort. I still don't know why she seated us there in the first place.

melissa
melissa

Just as a side note to defend the poor sun room, I have never sat anywhere else and I have never had a problem. So I don't think it's the poor room's fault :)

Now that the weather is nice, I would also recommend the really lovely patio. 

Guest
Guest

If I wasn't mildly annoyed by the term "to die for", I'd use it for the tortelli de bietola.

Mai Pham
Mai Pham

Yes - I have a few theories:1) Perhaps they are obligated to seat at least one party in the wine bar area for every seating period, and we happened to be the arbitrary pick of the night.

2) Perhaps there was a server assigned to that room that wouldn't get any tips if someone wasn't seated there

3) Or - and this would have been the worse reason - they took one look at us and wanted us segregated from everyone else for some reason -- pick an obvious reason.There are a couple of commenters who had similar experiences in that same room, so it's probably #1 or 2, especially since one commenter said his incident took place last Thursday.  

Whatever the case, if the AC is known to not work, and the other room has a perfectly good working AC system, and there are plenty of seats available in the cooler room, they should preferentially seat patrons in the cooler room until no option is available to seat elsewhere. And/or they need to close the room that's not working until it's fixed. Especially during the summer.

Mai Pham
Mai Pham

I meant that tongue-in-cheek, of course. I agree that the wine bar/sun room was actually quite charming, except for the temperature. And, the patio did look like it would be lovely on a nice day.

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