Italy recognizes Tony’s: a celebrated Italian winemaker shares his impressions
The following translation comes from an article recently published by celebrated Italian winemaker Giovanni Arcari who visited Tony’s for lunch during his tour of the United States.
Hats off for Tony’s, an extraordinary restaurant in the heart of Houston!
During this incredible and wonderful trip [in the U.S.], I was expecting to be amazed by many things: the houses, the cars, and American culture during every moment of the day. And indeed, that’s what’s happened.
But I never imagined that it would be a restaurant that would captivate me with its food and its wine list — a veritable Disneyland (within reach, more or less) for every wine lover.
I have never seen such rare vintages of Romanée-Conti, Pétrus, Haut-Brion, or even Giacosa, Mascarello, and Quintarelli, just to name a few.
Signor Tony was exceedingly gracious and he spared no expense in opening his kitchen to us.
We were immediately treated to a foie gras au torchon (above, left) with brioche toast shaped like a chopstick, crunchy yet soft in its center.
Then came a dish of orecchiette housemade with courtyard-raised chicken eggs and dressed with mortadella, toasted bread, quail eggs, and a delicate cream sauce. The pasta was cooked perfectly — something often lacking even in Italy. Cooking time is fundamental for pasta.
This was followed by a dish of American fish [halibut], perfectly seasoned, delicated, and — most importantly — moist. Another sumptuous offering, light yet rich with flavor, a perfectly balanced dish.
Next I had the fortune of being served Texan lamb chops, which unleashed a monstruous hunger within me, causing me to lose my bearings and to forget the elegance of the venue as I dug my fangs into this extraordinary piece of meat.
[My friend] Jeremy stopped after the fish but we were both awestruck by the wine selection by the young general manager who opened a 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon [Palmaz Vineyards]. The wine had been chosen before the dishes as a sort of “welcome toast” and we decided to continue on with it even though a fish dish was served mid-meal.
Lean, racy, and sumptuous, with high but imperceptible alcohol inasmuch as the ripe fruit (not sour or dried but perfectly ripe) soared above it with imperial resolve. Wood, employed with profound ability and judiciousness. Dry in the mouth, meaty but at the same time fresh. A wine I’d love to taste again in a few years.
After so many God-given delicacies in such an elegant venue with a wine list that gave me goose bumps, I asked what rating the Michelin Guide had given the restaurant. And therein lies the rub: the guide has a presence only in New York, San Francisco, and Chicago, a fact I find no less than embarassing for the United Sates and for the most important restaurant guide in the world!
If Paul Bocuse were to open a restaurant in Houston, wouldn’t Michelin review it? Isn’t it a leader in discovering extraordinary excellence? These dishes cannot be ignored and nor can this wine list or Signor Tony’s passion. After all, Houston is the capital of the oil industry and therefore one of the most important cities in the world. It’s no backwater.
A heartfelt thanks to Signor Tony for his unbridled generosity, to Marty Levy (Jeremy’s cousin, who joined us for lunch) for the splendid conversation, and to Jeremy for the photos.