100 Favorite Dishes 2012: No. 4, Tuna and Bottarga at Tony's

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Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
This year leading up to our annual Best of Houston® issue, we're counting down our 100 favorite dishes in Houston. This list comprises our favorite dishes from the last year, dishes that are essential to Houston's cultural landscape and/or dishes that any visitor (or resident) should try at least once.

On its website, Tony's calls itself "Houston's top destination for innovative fine dining," and it's a rare example of a restaurant providing a completely accurate self-description. Yes, it's some bombastic braggadocio, but that doesn't mean it's not true. And that credit is due to Tony Vallone himself, a restaurateur not content to rest on his laurels and continue serving the same exact dishes to the same exact crowds decade in and decade out. And Tony's easily could: It was the fourth highest-grossing restaurant in America last year, raking in $20 million in gross revenue.

But Vallone has continued to learn, grow and change in his 47 years in the restaurant business, most recently bringing in chef de cuisine Grant Gordon -- a young Houstonian who trained at the CIA in Hyde Park -- and collaborating with him to make some exceptional changes to the menu in the last couple of years. One of my favorite additions is the "Tasting Menu & Nightly Creations" portion of the menu, which changes frequently (although not as frequently as the "nightly" description would suggest) and features seasonal ingredients, international and difficult-to-obtain specialties and fun, modern techniques.

The most current tasting menu features dishes such as a saffron-shellfish veloute with frito misto and black garlic; duck sausage and taleggio garganelli with summer squash and pecans; veal "filet mignon" with summer corn, huckleberries and fingerlime-sunflower seed hash in a cognac jus; and Tony's famous soufflés, which can be made into absolutely any flavor imaginable. (I recently went with a Grand Marnier-flavored soufflé, which came out looking like a fluffy pile of freshly-driven snow, with a silver boat of Grand Marnier whipped cream on the side -- and then had nightmares that evening about my own inability to ever make something so magical.)

But of all the dishes I've tried on three tasting menus so far, it's Gordon's simple tuna and bottarga that left the most lasting impression. A take on the classic spaghetti with bottarga (cured fish roe, ironically called the "poor man's caviar"), this beautifully straightforward dish takes freshly made tagliatelle and pairs it with rosy niblets of barely cooked bluefin tuna, velvety butter, delicately briny tuna bottarga and a light zesting of lemon to perk it all up. There's something to the resistance and eventual give in a strand of fresh pasta -- also employed to great effect at places such as Paulie's and The Pass & Provisions -- that immediately elevates a dish, and Tony's pastas are no exception.

Each nightly tasting menu is $65 for three courses or $95 for five courses, although -- in true Tony's fashion -- you can order the dishes a la carte as well. These nightly tasting menus get even better on Monday nights, when the wine pairings for the menus -- normally an additional $35 or $55, depending on the number of courses -- are complimentary. (This fact was actively ignored by my waiter on my most recent Monday night visit, something which rubbed me the wrong way, but I was too swayed by the perfect Manhattan before dinner and the soufflé at the end to raise a stink at the restaurant. I suggest that if you go, however, you hold the service to the promised Monday-night menu. Even if you don't get the wine pairings, though, the food will still be extraordinary.)

The list so far:

No. 100: Chili cheese mac at Jus' Mac
No. 99: Texas turkey sandwich at Spec's
No. 98: Custard at Petite Sweets
No. 97: Caprichos mixtos at Taqueria Monterrey Chiquito
No. 96: Pineapple-wasabi burger at Lankford Grocery
No. 95: Farmer's MKT Pizza at Phoenicia's MKT Bar
No. 94: Potatoes at Money Cat Brunch
No. 93: Breakfast tacos at Sunrise Taquito
No. 92: Hot dog at Tacos D.F.
No. 91: Avocado gelato at Frozen Cafe
No. 90: Chicken sandwich at JerryBuilt Homegrown Burgers
No. 89: Beer-battered asparagus at Hearsay
No. 88: Honey Badger omelet at Kraftsmen Cafe
No. 87: Pastelitos de carne at El Jalapeño
No. 86: Pancakes at Union Kitchen
No. 85: Wild boar and crab pizza at Boheme
No. 84: Breakfast croissant at BB Donuts
No. 83: Pretzel at Anvil Bar & Refuge
No. 82: Short rib sandwich at Shepherd Park Draught House
No. 81: Grilled shrimp po-boy at Pappadeaux
No. 80: Dahi puri at Shiv Sagar
No. 79: Aporreado at Los Corrales
No. 78: Oxtail francobolli at Aldo's Cucina Italiana
No. 77: Tonkotsu at Cafe Kubo's
No. 76: Spinach danish from Angela's Oven
No. 75: Pupusas at El Petate
No. 74: Pheasant dog at Sammy's Wild Game Grill
No. 73: X-Tudo burger at Friends Pizzeria
No. 72: Esparragos gratinados at Tintos
No. 71: Gua bao at Yummy Kitchen
No. 70: Geisha dog at Happy Endings
No. 69: Oyster po-boy and gumbo at Goode Co. Seafood
No. 68: Ceviche at Sirena Seafood
No. 67: Caldo de mariscos at Taqueria Arandas
No. 66: Banana pudding at Pizzitola's
No. 65: Fried catfish and gumbo at Cafe-A-La
No. 64: Soft-shell crabs at Banana Leaf
No. 63: Macaroni and cheese at Vic & Anthony's Steakhouse
No. 62: Torta burger at El Gran Malo
No. 61: Black bean burger at Ziggy's
No. 60: Parillada at Pampa Grill
No. 59: Peanut butter and jalapeño jelly burger at Wicked Whisk
No. 58: Eggplant involtini at Giacomo's Cibo e Vino
No. 57: Lone Star dog at James Coney Island
No. 56: Sushi at Sushi Miyagi
No. 55: Palestinian chicken at Al Aseel
No. 54: Roast beef sandwich at Local Foods
No. 53: Mexico City plate at Molina's Cantina
No. 52: Tacos at Brothers Taco House
No. 51: Branzino at Lucio's BYOB
No. 50: Beef sweetbreads at Feast
No. 49: Golden Doomba Special at the Rice Box Truck
No. 48: Malted waffle at City Cafe
No. 47: Banh mi bo kho at Cafe TH
No. 46: Chicken fried steak at Triple A
No. 45: Larissa plate at Harry's
No. 44: Spaghetti carbonara at Coppa Ristorante Italiano
No. 43: Wings and grits at The Breakfast Klub
No. 42: Frito pie at C&D Burger Shoppe
No. 41: Pollo con mole at El Gallo de Jalisco
No. 40: Fried avocado taco at H-Town StrEATs
No. 39: Rigatoni in bolognese sauce at Paulie's
No. 38: Chorizo kolaches at Peña's Donut Heaven
No. 37: Sashimi at Dadami
No. 36: Half-pound burger at benjy's
No. 35: Fried chicken at Haven
No. 34: Whole-fried speckled trout at Liberty Kitchen
No. 33: Moules congolaise at Jeannine's Bistro
No. 32: Pancakes at Fountain View Cafe
No. 31: Pineapple with chile en polvo at Canino's
No. 30: Fried chicken at Barbecue Inn
No. 29: Dirty Burque at Green Seed Vegan
No. 28: Egusi at Finger Licking Bukateria
No. 27: Brisket and turkey at CorkScrew BBQ
No. 26: Menudo at La Mexicana
No. 25: Shrimp and grits at Shade
No. 24: Kinilaw at Reef
No. 23: Lamb at El Hidalguense
No. 22: Gumbo at Danton's
No. 21: Chicken-fried water buffalo at The Hay Merchant
No. 20: Roasted cauliflower at Roost
No. 19: Truffled egg toast at Dolce Vita
No. 18: 63-degree egg at Brasserie 19
No. 17: Drunken foie gras at Philippe
No. 16: Beet salad at Triniti
No. 15: Yogi thali at Pondicheri
No. 14: Bialy and lox at The Hot Bagel Shop
No. 13: Ribs at Gatlin's
No. 12: Venison carpaccio at Thanh Phuong
No. 11: Camarones henesy en hamaca at Arturo Boada Cuisine
No. 10: Prosciutto and arugula pizza at Pizaro's Pizza Napoletana
No. 9: Crawfish at The Hideaway on Dunvale
No. 8: Pho at Pho Binh
No. 7: Ceviche at La Fisheria
No. 6: Ma po tofu at Mala Sichuan
No. 5: Machi cure at Uchi



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Tony's Restaurant

3755 Richmond Ave., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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6 comments
ginahawk
ginahawk

wow, now the Vallone marketing team is tweeting in Italian. they have a great sense of humor

Houstonblogger
Houstonblogger

@TonyVallone had lunch at your establishment a few weeks ago. Very good food, great service.

TonyVallone
TonyVallone

@htownchowdown grazie per la menzione!

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard topcommenter

See?  I knew a frito would get a mention in the top 10!

TonyVallone
TonyVallone

@houstonblogger che gentile! :) mille grazie.

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