Tony's - The Truffle Tasting

February 2, 2009

Truffles. That elusive ingredient that can transform an already excellent dish to another plane. Rich, earthy, musky, rare and delicious. We were having a craving for truffles, so we went to the place we knew would be offering them: Tony's.

Tony's is the iconic Houston fine dining restaurant. It has been the preferred destination for the city's glitterati for many years, but some foodies grumbled that the cuisine was too staid, too traditional, too boring.

In our experience, nothing could be farther from the truth. My guess is that these foodies have never dined at Tony's, and that is their loss.

Tony Vallone is a master restaurateur, and he periodically reinvents the restaurant, making it fresh and new, but never gets caught up in the fly-by-night trends that tempt the less savvy host. And the Vallone touch is evident on every plate that exits the kitchen... this attention to detail is a key that separates Tony's from Houston's other fine dining establishments.

The latest incarnation of Tony's resides at the beautiful Richmond and Timmons location that Tony's occupied after decades on Post Oak. Built from the ground up to Tony Vallone's exacting specifications, this dramatic setting was the backdrop for our truffle degustation.

Executive Chef Francesco Casetta's kitchen is firing on all cylinders, and created a variety of dishes that flowed together like movements in a symphony. Several featured the ethereal truffle as an ingredient.

We started with a simple Tortelloni Bolognese - housemade pasta stuffed with three cheeses and draped in Tony's superb bolognese meat sauce. The flavors are bold yet smooth, and this dish warmed up our senses for the upcoming courses.

Next was my favorite appetizer - Paglia e Fieno. A deceptively simple dish featuring fresh ribbons of green and white tagliatelle, drizzled with a light cream sauce and accented with thin slices of fresh black truffles. Simple and superlative.

We then tried something more exotic - Tagliarini with Sicilian Sea Urchin. Smooth strands of tagliarini were tossed in a light creamy sauce of pinot grigio and alba mushrooms, and mixed with chunks of sea urchin. The dish was surprisingly spicy; the heat was balanced by the creamy pasta. It was something we'd never experienced before, but would gladly order again.

Our final appetizer is one we can rarely pass up at Tony's - the Japanese-influenced Ribbons and Squares. Fresh, sushi-grade blue fin tuna prepared two ways: perfect thumb-sized cubes, and thin, pasta-like ribbons formed into a cylindrical shape. The tuna is accented with fresh avocado puree and a tangy soy-lime vinaigrette. We love sushi, and the balance of this dish speaks to a bright future if the Vallones ever decide to open a sushi bar.

After these delicious entrees, it was time for the main course. More truffles were called for, so we ordered the rich Stuffed Truffled Filet of Beef. This may be the best steak in the city - a large, thick filet of USDA Prime beef, naturally aged for 40 days, and stuffed with black truffle butter. The truffle flavor infuses the beef, and the combination is greater than the sum of the parts.

On the side we asked for the oven-roasted truffled potatoes and the decadent truffled macaroni & cheese. These side dishes accented the steak very nicely, and we were awash in the aroma and flavor of truffles.

We barely had room for dessert, but missing the souffle at Tony's seems like a crime. This time we selected the rich bananas foster souffle, which was a delightful finish to an unforgettable meal.

My waistline won't tolerate a meal like this every day, but I'll be looking forward to the next gastronomical adventure at Tony's. The restaurant never disappoints.

Tony's: 3755 Richmond Avenue, Houston, 77046, 713-622-6778

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