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Shafik Rifaat, the architect behind the “magic” at Tony’s…

shafik rifaat

Beyond Tony’s stunning wine list and five-star wine service, beyond its award-winning cuisine and its world-class tableside service, the thing you hear most about the Tony’s fine dining experience is what a gorgeous, “magical” room.

The other day, we sat down with celebrated Houston architect Shafik Rifaat (pictured left with Donna Vallone) to chat about his long friendship with Tony and his uncanny ability to implement Tony’s vision for his restaurants.

“What I like about Tony,” said Shafik, “is that he makes decisions. There’s no wishy-washyness. With Tony, you present him with options and he makes decisions.”

In the case of Tony’s current location (on Richmond), “We tore down the entire structure before we built the new restaurant. We had done some wind tunnel studies and we realized that if we had people entering from the previous restaurant’s entrance, the wind would disturb the patrons’ hairdos. And so we decided that guests should enter from the park. And so Tony said, ‘let’s tear it down,’ and we built the beautiful rotunda that you see today. You’ll note that when ladies arrive, they are entirely protected from the elements. Genius!”

“Tony’s is shaped like a theater,” explained Shafik. “It’s a series of ‘bays.’ And what most people don’t know is that there is an entirely hidden bay, behind Tony’s ‘open’ kitchen,’ where his catering staff can operate without disturbing the rest of the restaurant,” another one of Tony’s brilliant innovations for the current location.

“Tony stands at the center of the theater, like the maestro conducting the symphony. And what you’ll notice is that there is no bad table in the house. No matter where you’re sitting, you’re always looking at something fascinating: whether the artworks or sculptures or the waterfall. Tony said he wanted water to shape the mood of the space. And so we created a 60-foot long waterfall that follows the contour of the theater’s outer bay. Together with the skylight, it’s what really creates the mood and ambiance” of this magical room.

Shafik holds his degree in architecture from MIT and his degree in urban planning from Harvard. And somewhere along the way, as he rose to prominence as one of the greatest architects in the U.S., he also became a gourmet and is an active member of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs.

“No one can touch Tony’s Red Snapper,” said Shafik, referring to his favorite dish at the restaurant. “But his osso buco is also the best I’ve ever had.”

“Tony and his wife Donna are such hard-working people. And you have to admire that,” he said, talking of his long-time friend. “His service is always impeccable and his staff always treats everyone — every guest — like a human being. That’s a lost art in today’s world of restaurants” in the U.S.

“I’m bragging about Tony,” he added, “because he deserves it.”

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