We make no secret that Tony's is one of our favorite restaurants... anywhere. With decades of dedication to a superlative dining experience, and unrivaled attention to detail, Tony's sets the standard in Texas for fine dining restaurants.
We were recently invited to take part in the #TonyLoveHouston wine dinner. This was a very smart idea; Tony Vallone and Scott Sulma invited a group of lifestyle bloggers to experience Tony's. This savvy group of media personalities trended young (I was definitely the senior citizen at the table) and they were well traveled and knew good food. But many hadn't visited Tony's before. It was fascinating to watch the reactions to a first time experiencing the magic that is Tony's
Upon our arrival, the main dining room was full of both energy and patrons. The beautiful room displays a formidable art collection, highlighted by a towering work by Jesus Moroles and a stunning work by Rauschenberg. Outside of a museum, one rarely sees this sort of art collection; it is an indication that you're not at a typical restaurant.
We were shown to the Wine Cellar, one of the larger private rooms at Tony's. The table was set for the soiree, with Versace chargers and the beautiful floral arrangements that are a hallmark of Tony's.
As the crowd gathered, appetizers and cocktails were passed. Allowing for the fashionably late to arrive, the first course was announced, and we were seated to see what Tony had in mind.
Tony and Scott welcomed the assembled group to the dinner, and Tony gave the reassuring words I've heard him say so often: "Have fun!" Even at an establishment as storied as Tony's, the mindset is all about joy and delight, and making sure the guests have a great time. This is one reason that Tony's has stayed on top for five decades as other fine restaurants have come and gone.
Now, without further adieu, the food:
The first course was an attention grabber. Caviale e Franciacorta, featuring beautifully carved slices of Granny Smith apple, topped with a heaping serving of Petrossian Caviar. The salty/sweet balance was inspired, and this course announced that this was not going to be an ordinary meal.
After a short respite, the Tonno Crudo in Camicia arrived as a second course. Thinly sliced, raw Ahi tuna was draped over braised octopus, and garnished with an heirloom tomato tonnato. Raw fish is something Tony's does extremely well, and this combination with the braised octopus was inspired.
Now we get to the pasta - something Tony does better than anyone else in Houston. Cappelletti d'Anatra Confit in this case. Handmade cappelletti filled with Crescent Island duck, sauced with an etherial Parmigiana stravecchio, and crowned with a freshly cut slice of Norcia black truffle. A perfect bite; my favorite of the evening.
The fish course was next: Opah Erbette. A perfectly cooked slab of this unique fish (typically found near the Hawaiian islands, and the first fish discovered to be warm-blooded) was finished with a lobster ristretto, petite herbs, and offered with an expertly seared slice of eggplant.
Lamb is a meat that is easy to mishandle. That doesn't happen at Tony's. Cotoletta di Agnello was prepared optimally rare, and accented with a combination of chopped bluefoot mushrooms and huckleberry jus. Easily one of the best lamb dishes we've ever tasted.
Foie gras is a delicacy that fits perfectly with the Tony's philosophy, and the offered Foie Gras all Fiamma did not disappoint. Pan seared with moscato and toasted farro, the lush, creamy foie gras was beautifully balanced with the acidic tang of the sauce.
Dessert was beautiful in its simplicity: Un Bacio Arancione. Pound cake served with orange sorbet and a light cookie crumble. After an evening of decadence, this simple, beautifully executed dessert was the perfect finish.
Chef Austin Waiter, the Chef de Cuisine at Tony's generously allowed us to venture into the kitchen and watch the magic take place. Watching him work revealed a master technician who won't let a plate go out that doesn't meet his incredibly high standards. It was a privilege to watch the man do what he does so very well.
To say this event was a success would be a gross understatement. Tony Vallone introduced a new generation of thought leaders to the magic that is Tony's. In the course of our conversations, I heard many gushing compliments about the food, the service, and the atmosphere. But one I won't ever forget:
"I've eaten all over the world. But I've never experienced anything on this level."
It reminded me of my first visit as an adult to Tony's many years ago. I left with the same impression. Tony Vallone does that to you.
Thank you, my friend, for another spectacular evening.