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Cucina Italiana con Comfort

A Houston stalwart resurfaces in an unlikely Shenandoah location.

The fazzoletti I ordered with braised wild boar was good, to be sure, although the boar itself wanted for some salt. But those wide strips of "handkerchief pasta" were the real attraction anyway, the dough rich with eggs and so tender that each square seemed to melt under my fork. Surprisingly, though, the fazzoletti wasn't the hit of the night, nor was an arugula salad that overflowed with plump roasted beets in two vivid colors.

Instead, it was my cousin's simple meal of tagliatelle alfredo that made me pause for a good few minutes of contemplation. The sauce tasted of pure butter — I imagined a whole brick of golden, salty Plugra sinking beneath a pool of cream in a saucepan somewhere — and was nearly too good to stop eating. A childlike dish such as this is transformed here into something greater, even though it would be just as easy for el Sharif to turn out a boring, chalky mess for those impudent enough to order tagliatelle alfredo from a big, bold menu that includes dishes such as big-eye tuna with a blood orange reduction or cioppino in a spicy marinara.
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Aldo's Cucina Italiana recently started offering lunch, and it's an ideal time to experience the menu in a more compact and affordable format. By day, the staid dining room takes on a formal feel, making it more suited to business meetings than to casual lunching. But it can still be comfortable, especially with a glass of wine in hand.

Every wonderful piece of pasta is handmade, including the oxtail ravioli.
Troy Fields
Every wonderful piece of pasta is handmade, including the oxtail ravioli.

Location Info

Map

Aldo's Cucina Italiana

18450 Interstate 45 S.
Shenandoah, TX 77384

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Conroe

Details

Hours: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 11 p.m. Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays.
Butternut squash soup: $8
Sweet corn soup: $9
Roasted beet salad: $9
Chilled seafood salad: $15
Tagliatelle alfredo: $13
Fazzoletti with wild boar: $17
Ravioli with oxtail: $17
Veal milanese: $28
READ MORE
SLIDESHOW: Aldo el Sharif Is Back at Aldo's Cucina Italiana
BLOG POST: Italian Food in Bloom in The Woodlands

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It was over a recent lunch, in fact, that three friends and I made ourselves at home by passing our dishes around one after another in the kind of family-style eating I wish was more encouraged here. We passed a citrus-laced seafood salad that was heavy with mussels, clams, squid, shrimp and huge, fluffy scallops (although also too heavy on the olive oil dressing) and bowls of soup with similar sunflower hues but totally different flavors: One, my favorite, a vanilla bean-flecked sweet corn soup topped with fat curves of crabmeat, the other a butternut squash soup kept summery with bright-tasting almond cream.

We dove into each other's plates of pasta, forks reaching into twirls of simple pappardelle with a robust, savory Bolognese sauce and fine layers of lasagna al forno in a sweet marinara that burst with the flavor of San Marzano tomatoes. I even let one friend order those oxtail ravioli again just so I could have another taste of the soft shreds of meat inside, something I rarely allow for on these types of visits.

I ventured outside the pasta menu for some of el Sharif's veal milanese, an exceptionally straightforward dish that can induce either boredom or sweet nostalgia, depending on the chef. In el Sharif's capable hands, the dish was a tribute to its kind: Fat bread crumbs with the crunch of Panko enveloped the thin cutlets, milky pure, and soaked up the mushroom-laden lemon-butter sauce without losing their crisp bite. A disappointing side of boiled green beans and a frankly terrible tiramisu were the only misses of the meal. (Now, roast those green beans with some shallots and soak your ladyfingers in coffee before sandwiching them into a tiramisu, and we'll be talking about a really exceptional meal.)

Though el Sharif's veal is less expensive now than it once was at Con Amore in the 1990s, you'll probably make that difference up with the cost of gas to get up to Shenandoah. It's worth it, though, if only for a visit to see for yourself what one of Houston's most memorable chefs is up to these days. And for those who live out here, it's a gem they might try to keep — almost — all to themselves.

katharine.shilcutt@houstonpress.com

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8 comments
snolan380
snolan380

Hubby bought a Groupon and we waited till the last minute to use it frankly because the parking lot always seems so empty at this place. Several restaurants have tried and tanked at this location. We assumed no reservation would be needed for dinner at 5:00 p.m. on Saturday. Sure enough, there were two other diners. Nevertheless the pretentious maitre d' seemed horrified that we didn't make reservations (judging by the pregnant pause, the expression on his face - you know, that down-the-nose hmph that would have been funny if it were not so offensive - and the fact that he seated us at the worst possible table). Our waiter handed us the wine list and then asked us what we would like to drink (hint hint). what if i wanted a cocktail or, God forbid, a beer. The table of contents in the wine list said you could see a list of wines by the glass on page 9, but page 9 had been removed. The hovering wait staff eagle-eyed every move and interrupted conversations at every turn to ask questions, refill water glasses, sweep crumbs off the table. Unnerving. They even had a couple of waiters standing by the kitchen watching every move at every table. They seriously need some coaching on the art of being helpful yet unobtrusive. Unseasoned salad overdressed with unpleasantly-flavored olive oil but no salt. A little balsamic vinegar dressing was drizzled over the plate but I had a hard time scraping it up into my salad so the salad was overall bland and flavorless. It was a great idea - arugula, goat cheese, roasted beets, candied pecans - but not well executed. I guess they were low on pecans because there was only one pecan on my plate.  No salt provided on any of the tables as if the little people can't judge adequate seasoning. Hubby said the crab cake was the best he's ever tasted, and he will be back for that. He had kobe steak and veal meatballs for the main course, and he said the meatballs were moist and tasty. The chicken, spinach, and pine nut raviolo was tasty. I couldn't detect any pine nuts in it - maybe ground up really fine? The raviolo was swimming in an overabundance of sauce, but I guess too much trumps too little. And it was OVERsalted, ironically, but edible. Could have used some of that seasoning in the salad dressing. The overzealous waiter actually asked my husband if he wanted a box for his uneaten entree while I was still eating mine. Again, it would have been funny if it were not so offensive. For me, I didn't think my portion size was enough for two meals. But how rude of the waiter to make a point of what a piggie I am :) I loved the tiramisu, although the portion size was small.  Bottom line, I won't be back but hubby says he will return for the crab cakes. I don't see how this restaurant can make a go of it in this location unless they work out some of these snags. 

Anthony Lefferts
Anthony Lefferts

Love Aldo's! The seafood salad is amazing and packed with mussels, clams, squid, prawn and large scallops. The pasta dishes are great, the wine list is really good as well as the big bar area for drinks. My only complaint, just wish it was closer to my house.

Carla Soriano
Carla Soriano

Great review! I wish I had had a similar experience. When I went, I found nothing "out-of this world". My main complaint: I ordered a simple pasta so as to be able to appreciate the delectable simplicity of hand-made pasta. The pasta I received was inconsistently cooked throughout - some parts were under-cooked, while some were over-cooked, making it hard to appreciate any effort that was put into the pasta's crafting :/

sbterry
sbterry

Guess I need to pack a back, book a room at the hotel and plan on a long, delicious dinner!!! I won't want to drive home after I indulge in that divinely described pasta and a bottle of wine!

Bradg
Bradg

Actually, the wife and I have done two weekend getaways to The Woodlands and it was a great idea. We went mainly for the concerts at Cynthia Woods Mitchell but found that there is a lot to do there and it was very relaxing.

Woodlands Mama
Woodlands Mama

Try kayaking Lake Woodlands with a rental from Riva Row Boathouse and walking Market Street and The Waterway. There are many activities and great restaurants in The Woodlands.

 
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