Tony's Still Wows Nearly 50 Years After First Opening
With newer, hipper Italian restaurants opening in Houston every year, it can be easy to overlook the fine-dining behemoth that is Tony's in favor of something, perhaps, less dated. But this would be a mistake.
Photo courtesy of Tony's The seared foie gras with Sicilian blood orange reduction is not to be missed.
Tony's opened in 1965 as a mom-and-pop Italian eatery serving hearty bowls of pasta and recipes owner Tony Vallone learned from his family. In part due to his interest in the culinary realm and in part thanks to prodding from a developer, Gerald Hines, Vallone began transitioning to fine dining. Now, nearly 50 years later, Tony's is the place you suggest to your wealthy, retired friends when they want to drop some dough for a birthday dinner. When people talk about Tony's, they tend to lump it in a category of "expensive, fancy and for an older crowd" or "expensive, fancy and with a tasting menu."
If you've never been to Tony's, though, or if you haven't been in a long time, I urge you to go back, and soon. Yes, you might run into an oil baron treating his family to a lavish meal with ten courses of small,tasting-menu portions. But you'll also find large bowls of perfect pasta and impeccable steaks and Tony Vallone himself stopping by tables to check on customers while his wife greets diners at the door. It's still the same mom-and-pop joint Vallone opened back in '65. It's just a little bigger now.
The pasta on Tony's menu is what grabbed my attention on a recent visit. Previously, I'd had only the tasting menu at Tony's. It's much like tasting menus at other upscale restaurants in that it's a number of small-to-medium-sized plates thoughtfully arranged and featuring a bit of foam here and gel there and some avant-garde flavor combinations as well.
Photo courtesy of Tony's A light as air but earthy and aromatic truffle soufflé.
Tony's tasting menu is wonderful--don't get me wrong. Last time I ate there, Grant Gordon was in the kitchen taking fine dining to new levels with sometimes challenging but always delicious and unique plates of food. And now Kate McLean is leading the show, and her creativity is definitely on display in a number of the tasting menu dishes.
But when I think of Italian food, I don't think of avant-garde. I think of warm, hearty dishes that remind me of Florence and family and little trattorias that have been in the same family for 80 years. And, as I discovered, Tony's does that, too.
Of course, I didn't start my meal that way. I started with seared foie gras with a blood orange reduction, because any time I see foie gras, I order it. And it was, as I suspected it would be, incredible. The blood orange syrup enhanced with a bit of orange zest has enough acid and bitterness to cut through the fat of the foie beautifully, allowing both elements to shine.
I then moved on to a truffle soufflé, because, much like foie gras, any time I see truffles on a menu--real truffles, not that fake truffle oil that everyone is so obsessed with--I order it. I'm a sucker for good truffles and foie. The truffle soufflé is light as air. It lets out a small breath when you dig in with a spoon, and the earthy aroma of truffles fills the air around you. It's subtle but aromatic, almost like perfume. It doesn't melt in your mouth per se, but it's reminiscent of the lightness and fluffiness of cotton candy.
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