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Less Price, Less Spice

Two Mandola-family restaurants provide a lesson in what we're paying for when we eat out


A few days later at high noon, a buddy and I were shown to a table in the bar area at Vincent's. As soon as we were seated, we were served some excellent rustic Italian bread and vegetables marinated in olive oil. And nobody tried to charge us a quarter, either.

The waiter asked if we wanted a glass of wine. We opted for iced tea. I already knew what we were going to order: Vincent's house specialty, half of a wood-fire-roasted chicken with garlic, lemon and rosemary (sound familiar?) and the linguine diavolo. But first we had to listen to the waiter as he recommended the expensive osso buco.

The roasted chicken and linguine diavolo are 
cheaper -- and blander -- at Pronto Cucinino than at 
Vincent's.
Troy Fields
The roasted chicken and linguine diavolo are cheaper -- and blander -- at Pronto Cucinino than at Vincent's.

Location Info

Map

Pronto Cucinino

1401 Montrose
Houston, TX 77006

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Montrose

Pronto Cucinino

3191 W. Holcombe Blvd.
Houston, TX 77025

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Braeswood

Pronto Cucinino

791 Town and Country Blvd.
Houston, TX 77024

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Outer Loop - NW

Details

Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

Whole chicken to go: $10.50
Half-chicken with two sides: $10.95
Pasta Julia: $7.75
Linguine diavolo: $9.95
Pork chop: $10.50
Italian sausage: $7.95

1401 Montrose, 713-528-8646

After we ordered, the waiter came by to ask if we would like a salad. My friend asked if the salad came with the meal. When the waiter said it didn't, we declined. A few minutes later, the waiter returned to our table and attempted to deliver two salads. After some argument, we sent him away.

Finally, we got our chicken and linguine, and what a difference there was between this and the same dishes at Pronto Cucinino a few blocks away. The roasted chicken was moist and juicy throughout the white meat. And the linguine diavolo, which had contained only shrimp at Pronto Cucinino, was served here with shrimp, scallops, calamari, mussels and a marinara sauce loaded with so much red pepper, it left my nose watering. This food was stellar, I told my friend.

We compared the Pronto Cucinino menu, which I had brought with me, to the Vincent's menu. Linguine diavolo goes for $15.95 at Vincent's and $9.95 at Pronto. Half a chicken with two sides goes for $14.95 at Vincent's and $10.95 at Pronto. "Hey, I got an advertising slogan for them," my buddy said with a grin, looking over the menus. "A third less price and a third less spice."

Until Pronto Cucinino came along, it was always difficult to compare fast-casual to fine dining. Cafe Express and Cafe Annie have the same owners, but not the same food. But by serving the same items at Vincent's and Pronto Cucinino, the Mandola family has given us a lesson in what we're paying for.

I would much rather pay a couple of bucks more and eat at Nino's or Vincent's, where the food has some pizzazz. But if you're getting takeout for the family and have to consider the tender taste buds of small children, then the blander, cheaper pasta dishes at Pronto Cucinino may be your best bet. And you never have to worry about making a reservation or waiting over there. But don't expect to be coddled. Pronto Cucinino is a high-volume eatery with the same impersonal feeling you get in a fast-food restaurant.

Not that that's all bad. Wait service, which is the main difference in cost between fast-casual and fine dining restaurants, isn't the treat it used to be. The days when the friendly server acted as the customer's advocate are long gone in most restaurants, as our experience here illustrated. The American food-service industry has turned the once kindly waitstaff into a pushy sales force. Our waiter at Vincent's tried to jack up the bill every time he visited the table. And for this we're supposed to tip him?

No wonder the fast-casual concept is becoming so popular. Now if they could just give us some flavor.

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