A Roman Repast at Giacomo's Cibo e Vino

Categories: On the Menu

G-Tomato.JPG
Photo by Joanna O'Leary.
A rosy baked tomato, stuffed with risotto and wearing a jaunty cap.
When I told my husband I wanted to go to the May Roman Feast at Giacomo's Cibo e Vino, he responded:

"Will there be a vomitorium?"*

"Good God, I hope not," I said. "Though its presence might actually suggest people were really enjoying the food."

And they were. Light tones and merry laughter circulated around the dining room on the breezy Thursday evening we visited. I'm not usually one to be infected by ambient enthusiasm, but I couldn't help but feel festive that night, especially when the cicchetti started arriving.

*Apparently a myth, anyway.

Each was a little masterpiece served in its own earthenware dish. We began with the Pomodori a Riso, baked tomatoes bursting with risotto. Considering Chef Lynette Hawkins prepares the risotto in small batches before hand-stuffing the tomatoes, this seemingly simple dish (priced at only $5) requires rather painstaking preparation, which is evident in the more subtle herb flavors of the grain filling and delicate texture of the enveloping fruit.

During an earlier excursion to Giacomo's, I learned these little dishes are similar to tapas, meant to be eaten leisurely over a glass of wine or bottle of Peroni. A fine practice, to be sure, but try nibbling "leisurely" at delicious food when you're hungry. The carciofi alla romana was thus especially challenging, for if there's one thing my grandmother taught me, it's that stuffing a whole braised artichoke into your gullet does not help your social status or your digestive system. For slowly stripping the artichoke leaf by leaf, I was rewarded with the rich tastes of olive oil, basil, lemon, white wine and shallots mingling in my mouth with the barest hint of fibrous flower.

G-artichoke.JPG
Photo by Joanna O'Leary.
The only thing more enjoyable than stripping the leaves is savoring the heart inside.
I might have spent an hour on that artichoke if I didn't have to move on to gnocchi, which my husband was threatening to devour all by himself.

G-Gnocchi.JPG
Photo by Joanna O'Leary.
Gnocchi all Romana.
Readers of my previous posts know I have this thing for gnocchi, which I often refer to as "pasta pillows from heaven." Hawkins's gnocchi are cut larger and thicker than your standard gnocchi and benefit from a higher semolina content that provides softer, grainier texture. Apparently, Chef Hawkins has fond memories of her mother preparing gnocchi for her when she was sick and was inspired to put it on the Feast menu to represent a "comfort food" of her childhood.

Um, when I was sick, my mom and dad opened a can of Campbell's, turned on the television and handed me a juicebox. No bitterness here. ANYWAY, readers will be happy to know that the gnocchi alla romana, so popular during the Feast, has earned a permanent place on Giacomo's menu.

G-Carbonara.JPG
Photo by Joanna O'Leary.
Spaghetti alla Carbonara, so popular it's migrating to the regular menu.
Our competition to eat all the cicchetti was interrupted (fortunately) by the arrival of the main courses. We ordered a mix of half and whole portions to increase variety without wasting food, but I easily could have consumed a double order of the Feast's featured entrée, spaghetti carbonara.Yawn, I hear you say. Yes, yes, I know everyone and their dog makes carbonara these days thanks to all the simplified versions showcased on Good Morning America via three-minute segments with Mario Batali. I myself have slapped together noodles, eggs, pancetta (or bacon), olive oil, cheese and garlic at home for a quick dinner.

However, a fine and, perhaps more important, traditional carbonara requires not just any cured meat but guanciale (pork jowl), which adds an earthy robustness you can't get using regular old bacon or pancetta. Hawkins's carbonara is also heavy on the black pepper and pecorino romano and lighter on the parsley, making for thicker, pleasantly uneven coils of pasta laced with clumps of cheese.

G-Tortelli.JPG
Photo by Joanna O'Leary.
Glorious half-moons stuffed with goat cheese and chard in a sage butter sauce.
Sharing is caring (or so I'm told), so I laid off the carbonara momentarily and switched to the tagliatelle alla bolognese and tortelli di bietola. Both are signature secondi at Giacomo's, and for good reason. The tagliatelle satisfies the "where's the beef?" diner with a strong but not overpowering meat sauce, and the tortelli are a natural draw for Houstonians craving something spicy. And when I say spicy, I'm not referring to the heat factor, but the exceptionally strong taste of sage. (This is a good thing, folks, and may I be the first to predict that sage is the new cinnamon?) Each tortello is filled with goat cheese and swiss chard, which together add a botanical creaminess that wonderfully complements the rich sage butter sauce.

G-Panna Cotta.JPG
Photo by Joanna O'Leary.
1 Panna Cotta + 2 Spoons = Reluctant Co-Consumption
Dessert usually seems anticlimatic after such a colorful meal, but the panna cotta caught my attention with its strong notes of citrus amongst the firm cream base. Not so much your traditional panna cotta, but a perfectly refreshing end to the Feast.

The Roman Holiday Feast concludes at the end of May, but, as I have noted, the gnocchi alla romana and carbonara have been added to the permanent menu.



Follow Eating Our Words on Facebook and on Twitter @EatingOurWords

Location Info

Venue

Map

Giacomo's Cibo e Vino

3215 Westheimer, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

My Voice Nation Help
19 comments
lalaboateng
lalaboateng

Horrible!!!

I never in my life experience such racism!!! My boyfriend and I decided to try this place based off a recommendation from a friend. When we got there the Hostess was very kind. Our server Karly was horrible, after we got our drinks it took her forever to come back, when she did, it took another 30 mins for her to place our order and had another server of our race bring our food. The whole time she was carrying conversations with all the other customers around us. She never came back to check on us nor asked us if we wanted a re-fill. To make matters worse, when another couple was placed to sit next to us they immediately got up and asked to be seated somewhere else because they didn't want to sit near us!!!

Chuck
Chuck

I really don't think that it classically had the cream, but restaurants use it to temper the eggs so they don't overcook and you get a silkier sauce (I use 1 oz cream - 1 egg). Without the cream, it tends to look like the pic above and when your busy working, it's a pain to redo. My guess is that in Italy since they don't hold eggs cold, maybe enough heat to cook through by just tossing with hot pasta, while here it never seems to get right without putting back on heat and then the eggs get overcooked. Oh well, been my guess for a while.

Clumsy Plumsy
Clumsy Plumsy

No better way to start off a food article than vomit talk. Ha!

I kid, Giacomo's is the dog's bollocks. Their tagliatelle bolognese is the best I've had in Houston (so far). The onion tart is also great. Oh, and the ratatouille "marti" (poached egg on top, 'nuff said). And, and, and...

Lauren
Lauren

I think Giacamo's is one of the most underrated restaurants in Houston. All the fresh pastas are divine, the best I've had in Houston (and yes, I've been to Da Marco). That said, I wish they'd do a refresh of the dining room and add some sound absorption. We usually only go when we can eat outside since the noise inside at peak times literally makes my ears hurt.

Nicholas L. Hall
Nicholas L. Hall

Honestly, I found the carbonara a bit underwhelming. The guanciale was admirable, bringing that lovely floral/herbal note and slight funk, but the pasta was somewhat seriously underseasoned, wanting both salt and a good bit more black pepper. The eggs were also cooked a bit hard for my liking. That said, it's probably the best version I've had in Houston.

DevlinK
DevlinK

Absolutely love Giacomo's! Wonderful stuff. Great wines. Lovely patio.

I do, however, wish more young people knew about the place. I'm forty-something and feel whipper-snapper young when I eat there.

Nicholas L. Hall
Nicholas L. Hall

I think that's probably an accurate account, and why proper carbonara is so special. That which is simple, is often the most difficult. With care, though, it's not that tough to make silky carbonara sans cream, which is to say proper carbonara.

Chuck
Chuck

This was supposed to be a reply to Nicholas and Giada.

LoudonW
LoudonW

Try the Cacio e Pepe at Dolce Vita, when they re-open. It's more sharply flavored, owing to the Pecorino Romano instead of  Parmigiana Reggiano,  but basically the same, and definitely not underwhelming!

Ted Stickles
Ted Stickles

My girlfriend and I are in our mid-20s and we freaking love Giacomo's. We'll bring friends next time!

Meritage11
Meritage11

Just as likely: carbonara did feature the cream before it became somewhat politically incorrect to use heavy cream, especially in the states. Older Italian cookbooks use it. Even my Italian language college textbook from the 80s has a lesson with a recipe using heavy cream. The Italian cooks from my student house in Florence used it. Yes, I agree: That which is simple, is simple. You don't need to complicate things to call them 'proper'. Cooking is about what you like, not prescriptions and following recipes.

Nicholas L. Hall
Nicholas L. Hall

I've had it, and it is indeed delicious, though I don't think I'd argue that it's basically the same.

KingsleyA
KingsleyA

 Some use cream. Some don't. Lynette chooses not to. She can still call it carbonara.

GiadaD
GiadaD

Many Italians would disagree. And Rogers and Gray in London who spent time living with Italians would disagree. But ok.

Nicholas L. Hall
Nicholas L. Hall

She couldn't call it carbonara if she did include heavy cream.

GiadaD
GiadaD

You're right. But Lynette's Carbonara doesn't include heavy cream....can she still call it carbonara?

Nicholas L. Hall
Nicholas L. Hall

Well, seeing as how cacio e pepe doesn't contain eggs, I'll stick with my assertion.

GiadaD
GiadaD

Cheese, egg, pasta, pepper, one no meat, the other meat; one Reggiano, the other Pecorino. Sounds basically the same to me....

Now Trending

From the Vault

 

Loading...