That '70s Place

Come on, get happy. Valentino's serves up some fine retro food.

At lunch, we found more company at Valentino's, and a very different menu. An elegant bevy of black women, very stylishly dressed, dined at the table next to us. Two wore witty little hats that made me feel frumpy. Across the room, a group of suit-and-tie white businessmen conducted a power lunch in a semiprivate alcove, while a gang of theatrically pierced students held a rainbow coalition court over by the piano. (That's what I like best about Midtown: It supplies the random eclectic touch that I miss, particularly now that downtown and Montrose have grown so homogenized.)

Although Valentino's has been open since January, the lunch menu still has an experimental feel. Perhaps that's because chef Miguel Roman, formerly of Brennan's and Baroque, joined the Valentines only a couple of months ago. (Even the piano player disliked the Valentines' first chef. "He was just the wrong chef," Michael admits.)

The lunch list hops, skips and jumps across the board from shrimp poor boys ($7.95) to spaghetti with meat sauce ($6.95) to the big-deal salmon Valentino with crawfish and scallops ($12.95). It's as if Roman and the Valentines weren't exactly sure what Midtowners might want for lunch, and so anxiously tried to cover all the possible bases. "Caesar salad? Tiramisu? This menu is just soŠ '70s!" crowed a friend. I have to agree.

The menu may be from the '70s, but the decor recalls even earlier times.
Amy Spangler
The menu may be from the '70s, but the decor recalls even earlier times.


3704 Fannin,

But hey, the catfish ($6.95) was impeccable, with a salty cornmeal coating fried flawlessly crisp and an accompanying stack of very tasty french fries. We also liked the $8.95 chicken Parmesan -- there's that '70s thing again -- a juicy chicken breast pounded and crusted with bread crumbs and Parmesan, then lapped with a sweet red marinara sauce and a chewy topping of stretchy white mozzarella.

I was less enthralled with the "coffee and pepper crusted" strip sirloin ($11.95), which reminds me of that coffee-bean encrusted tenderloin Dacapo's used to dish up over on Allen Parkway. Perhaps it's my fault I didn't like Valentino's rendition -- I'm not crazy about black pepper, and this steak is thickly studded with whole peppercorns. I should have been warned when darling Hanh assured me that you really can't taste the coffee flavor. She's right. It's drowned out by those peppercorns, which are not only too strong but also unpleasant to bite down on, like trying to eat BBs. I scraped off as many corns as I could, and the picture improved. I could finally taste the coffee and even detected a faint whiff of cilantro from the avocado-cilantro sauce. This is a dish that needs paring down: Either go with the coffee-pepper medley, I think, or stick to the avocado-cilantro concept, but don't throw all four contenders at once onto a defenseless steak.

By the time we got to dessert I was hearing Partridge Family tunes in my head. Yes, we got the tiramisu ($4.95) and found it fluffy and sweet and inoffensive, perfectly suited to my mental soundtrack. Ditto for the crème brûlée ($4.50), pleasantly light and crackly-topped with caramelized sugar, exactly as you'd expect. And to complete the Watergate-era picture, there's chocolate mousse ($4.95), though this is a more memorable concoction of triple chocolate, alternating layers of cake and mousse finished with downy frosting.

Valentino's is a white elephant worth riding again, I've decided. If you like a rococo room and reassuringly retro food, you're going to like this restaurant a lot. And if you were fond of the Partridge Family, or are too young to remember either David Cassidy or CREEP, well, then, so much the better. Valentino's, 3704 Fannin, (713)522-1403.

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