by Jim Ayres
For years, I’ve been waiting for a casual yet contemporary Italian restaurant in Houston—one where I could just as easily drop in for an afternoon snack as I could have a full meal at lunch or dinner. And now I’ve found it. Go west on Westheimer a few blocks past the West Ave. development and stop at Giacomo’s Cibo e Vino.
The colorful dining room encourages you to forget your cares and “mangiapoco, bene, e spesso” – Giacomo’s motto of eating little, well, and often. That’s why Giacomo’s offers such a variety of small plates which can be shared, over wines from Italy, Spain, and the west coast.
Polloai peperoni (a juicy chicken thigh with sweet peppers and polenta) and spiedino di pollo (grilled skewers of chicken breast with a green goddess sauce) are personal favorites. At any time, at least a dozen of these little dishes – cichetti – are available.
And Giacomo’s makes a mean minestrone. The fresh, hearty soup is hot and comforting, and the flavors of the vegetables and beans harmonize with the lightly salted broth.
But let’s face it. I’m a big eater. And on that front I find Giacomo’s entirely engaging. Just one taste of pappardelle al telefono, its wide noodles oozing with tomatoes, garlic, basil, and mozzarella, and you’ll be transported to the heart of Italy. Pastas like these are jokingly considered “junk food” in Italy, but there’s nothing trashy about this decadent preparation.
If you’re a meat lover, I recommend bistecca alla griglia, a nicely marinated grilled hangar steak served with a lively chimichurri-like sauce. And I suggest a side of broccoli di rabe to go with it. Sauteed in olive oil and garlic, this vegetable is the perfect accompaniment to the delicious, melt-in-your-mouth steak.
On a recent visit I tried a special that I hope will make it on to the regular menu. Now, I know the words spaghetti alla carbonara evoke fear in many people. After all, it is made with pecorino romano cheese, guanciale (pig cheeks), egg, and olive oil. In truth, however, none of these ingredients are used to excess in Giacomo’s version. And the result is a rich (but not too rich) pasta punctuated by the smoky, intense flavor of the guanciale.
Giacomo’s owner Lynette Hawkins, who formerly ran the much loved La Mora on Lovett, is always up front with a warm welcome and huge smile for her guests. So drop in and see her soon, and try some of Giacomo’s wonderful dishes. You can tell it’s a labor of love.