Tony's Still Wows Nearly 50 Years After First Opening

foie-gras-blood-orange.jpg
Photo courtesy of Tony's
The seared foie gras with Sicilian blood orange reduction is not to be missed.
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.

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.

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Photo courtesy of Tony's
A light as air but earthy and aromatic truffle soufflé.
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.

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.

This story continues on the next page.


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Tony's Restaurant

3755 Richmond Ave., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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14 comments
kagan34
kagan34

Didn't realize Tony's been around since the 60's here. It would be fascinating to take a look at the other old time Houston restaurant families, Italians, Greeks, Lebanese, etc.

del.martinis
del.martinis topcommenter

I wish someone would take me!

hesterD
hesterD

I'm not sure you can accurately say that there are 'newer, hipper Italian restaurants opening every year". Maybe years ago that was true when Robb Walsh wrote about his Post Oak location being perk--rather than food & wine--driven.

I think that must have stung, and Tony Vallone has invested on staying food-current and learning and traveling and hiring young chefs with talent. Alison Cook gave him kudos a few years ago for going the right direction, and then Robb Walsh basically replayed her review in his inaugural Houstonia review (which, oddly, was considered too harsh and sent the Tony's kow-towing publisher fleeing for fluffier pastures).

Anyway, good piece about an original Houston treasure who's had his ups and downs, and is now looking more up.

bmanchester
bmanchester

Tony's come quite a long way since his spag and meatball days, not to mention his salon-to-Houston-society days on Post Oak (Robb Walsh did the definitive review of that Tony's).


In between he had some hits (Grotto, Anthony's) and some misses (El Tonyo's, Chophouse), but he's always come back and was smart to invest in some young talent along the way. They challenged him, and he, them; so it became a sybiotic relationship that is responsible for the goodness of Tony's today.


Given that, it's a mystery why the new Vallone's Steakhouse has been such a dud over in CityCenter. Service, food, ambience, nothing was working right when I dined there last week.

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@rngivens  And this dinner I wrote about at Tony's ended up being about $100 each, in case you're curious :)

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@rngivens  Nope, I never accept comped meals. It is necessary for writers at some publications that can't afford to pay for everything they need to eat for the job, but at the Houston Press, we never accept comped meals.

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@kagan34  Pick up a copy of the Houston Press next Thursday ;)

rngivens
rngivens

@KaitlinS @rngivens 

Thanks I thought that was the norm. The CM editor argues that restaurant writers are the same as sportswriters or theater critics, both of whom get free passes and tickets without influencing coverage.

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@rngivens @KaitlinS  I would argue that, for a good critic, it doesn't influence coverage. I think it influences what readers think about coverage though. And sometimes, like at media dinners, there's just no way to pay. The restaurants won't let you. But we always note when something is a media dinner.

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