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Simposio

An old favorite has opened at a new location, but is its upscale Northern Italian fare still worth the price?

I started with a house salad, which turned out to be a small portion of greens, with mushrooms, fennel and parmesan shavings for $8.50. Add an iced tea, and you're looking at close to $25 for lunch. There are some amazing lunches available in Houston for 25 bucks, and this wasn't one of them.
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On my final visit to Simposio, I opted for osso bucco, an off-the-menu special for $29. It came to the table heaped with sauce on a delicious saffron risotto. The waiter delivered the customary marrow spoon, a long utensil designed for excavating the marrow from the shank bone in the middle.

But when I cleared away the sauce that had been heaped on top of the marrow bone, I was surprised to discover a skinny bone with hardly any marrow rather than the wide bone I was expecting. The meat around the bone was quite tough and dried out in places. There was a lot of undissolved connective tissue holding the chewy meat hunks together. As I broke the osso bucco meat away, I discovered a second bone.

Veal with creamy tuna, anchovy and mayonnaise sauce sounds bizarre but tastes wonderful.
Troy Fields
Veal with creamy tuna, anchovy and mayonnaise sauce sounds bizarre but tastes wonderful.

Location Info

Map

Simposio

8401 Westheimer
Houston, TX 77056

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Galleria

Details

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays; 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturdays.

Caesar salad: $9

Penne with pancetta: $17

Mushroom risotto: $19

Osso bucco: $29

Mixed grill: $32

8401 Westheimer Rd., 713-532-0550.

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I once took a Styrofoam carton containing some questionable osso bucco to Martin Preferred Foods, Houston's biggest veal supplier, to learn more about the cut [see "Osso Bucco Me? Osso Bucco You!" September 16, 2004]. The veal guys explained the difference between top-quality osso bucco cut from the hindshank of the calf and cheaper, tougher foreshank. The meltingly tender meat of classic osso bucco surrounds the one big marrow bone of the hindshank. The tougher foreshank can be identified by the presence of two skinny bones.

I laid the two bones from Simposio's osso bucco next to the uneaten meat on my plate. "Is this a foreshank or a hindshank?" I asked the waiter when he came by.

"Hindshank," he answered. I asked him to take the plate back to the kitchen and ask the chef if it was a foreshank or a hindshank. I already knew what the answer would be.

"The chef says it's a hindshank," the waiter told me when he returned. I asked him to put the leftovers in a to-go box, which he did. The Styrofoam container came back to the table tightly tied in a plastic bag. When I opened up the Styrofoam box after I got home, I found only one bone.

It was a miracle.

I now believe that the chef at Simposio, like the Pope, is infallible. But in the end, it doesn't really matter whether he was cooking foreshank or hindshank, or if that's the way they do it back in Italy. Simposio's osso bucco was horribly, dreadfully, too-tough-to-feed-your-dog awful.

Simposio is a lovely restaurant, and most of the classic Italian food is delightful. It was once among the very best Italian restaurants in Houston. But unfortunately, the high prices left over from Simposio's heyday create an expectation of excellence that the overall dining experience can no longer deliver.

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