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Nundini: Straight from the Old Country

Italian kitchen, still lacking its sea legs, shows real promise.

Get a feel for Nundini's "simpatico ambience" in our slideshow.

As you enter Nundini Chef's Table Italian Kitchen and Wine Bar on North Shepherd, just above the Katy Freeway, you are greeted by a wall of imported Italian pastas with wonderfully politically incorrect names like strozzapreti (priest stranglers) and anelli d'Africa (African rings, a pasta shape that Americans know from eating SpaghettiOs, but used traditionally in Italy to make baked pasta pies, like the Sicilian timballo di anelli alla palermitana).

As your gaze wanders to the right, you notice that there's a deli case filled with real-deal Italian cheeses: mozzarella di bufala (buffalo's milk mozzarella from Campania), burrata (the cream-filled plastic cheese from Apulia), Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino, Grana Padano...In the "library" in the back of the delicatessen, there are imported Italian cookies, Italian jams, Italian extra-virgin olive oils — all neatly presented in sharp rows, just like in the "old country."

You can't lose with the white pizza with bresaola.
Allison McPhail
You can't lose with the white pizza with bresaola.

Location Info

Map

Nundini Chef's Table Italian Kitchen and Wine Bar

500 N. Shepherd
Houston, TX 77007

Category: Restaurant > Deli

Region: Heights

Details

Grocery hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. Restaurant hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.
Spaghetti Pomodoro Fresco e Basilico: $11
White Pizza with Bresaola: $13
Pizza Margherita: $11
Fritto Misto: $10.50
Stroppiana Dolcetto d'Alba: $6.75 by the glass
Rivera Castel del Monte Rupicolo: $8 by the glass
Dezzani Dolcetto d'Alba: $17.50 by the bottle

READ MORE
SLIDESHOW: Straight from the Old Country: Nundini Chef's Table Italian Kitchen and Wine Bar
BLOG POST: A Great Italian Wine List at Nundini

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Then, as you make your way to the main dining room, you are welcomed by faux Greco-Roman statuettes and Italian marble Renaissance putti, basking in the warm light of the gently lit room. The walls are lined with wooden racks packed with wine bottles, and each section is demarcated by a handsome oval sign that reports the Italian region of origin together with the region's flag. To your left there's an open kitchen, and to your right a wine bar.

The waiter who seats you is a petite man with Mediterranean features and a head of hair I would kill for. His name is Roberto, and he's from Sicily. His horn-rimmed glasses offer a touch of panache, a counterpoint to the classic "waiter" black he dons nightly.

The simpatico ambience of this smallish Italian restaurant, which opened last year, is not surprising considering the fact that owner Giampaolo Nundini began working in the restaurant business in Tuscany in the 1960s and has supplied Houston's restaurants and food lovers with authentic Italian products since the 1980s.

According to his Facebook page, Nundini grew up in Rome, a street urchin whose life path was shaped by Boys' Town, a home for wayward young people founded by a priest in the wake of the Second World War. This story — like a scene from De Sica's Shoeshine or Pasolini's A Violent Life — is truly inspirational. Houston's leading purveyor of Italian food products, Giampaolo has a reputation for humor and love of good food — in fact, he calls himself "The Godfather of Food."

The bad news is that Giampaolo's knowledge and experience in the world of Italian gastronomy do not always translate well in his kitchen.
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On the two occasions that I visited the restaurant in August, I was disappointed by a carbonara — a classic dish of central Italy — made with macaroni instead of long noodles, a flagrant transgression of the Italian culinary canon (an issue that had been resolved by my second visit). The pasta was overcooked and gooey and the sauce insipid.

A veal scaloppa alla milanese arrived not in the form of a breaded and crisply fried escalope but rather a soggy slice of veal that had been dredged in flour and poorly sautéed, resembling instead a scaloppina di vitello al limone (it was topped, in its sogginess, with two slices of lemon). One of the guests who joined me that evening ordered the scaloppina "Oscar." It was the same as my dish but topped with crab meat (traditionally this dish, named after King Oscar II of Sweden, is made using a veal chop or veal loin medallions and is layered with crab, lobster, asparagus and Béarnaise sauce).

The fettuccine alla papalina — fettuccine "for the pope," a dish purportedly favored by Pope Pius XII and a classic of Rome — arrived not with the de rigueur lightly fried prosciutto but with sliced (not crumbled) sausage rounds. The "creme" sauce was so thick and heavy and the noodles so overcooked, I gave up on this dish after two mouthfuls.

As much as I wanted to love Nundini, there's a glaring and sadly regrettable disconnect between Nundini's expertise and experience and the staff he has running the kitchen. The menu also features a number of dishes that are in no way related to pan-Italian cooking, like the Salad Kathrin, which came in the guise of dried-out supermarket mesclun mix, smoked salmon and greened hard-boiled egg and without the promised mozzarella di bufala.

Houston needs more and better Italian and Italianate food, and I'm looking forward to returning to Nundini as Nundini and his team get their sea legs.

In the meantime, I found that the restaurant does best when it keeps things simple, as in the classic spaghetti al pomodoro, cooked perfectly al dente, with an excellent balance of savory, sweet and tart (although a bit heavy on the garlic, a personal choice that I didn't mind at all).

I was also thrilled by the white pizza with bresaola, the air-dried beef of northern Italy. The crust was more like a savory flatbread than an Italian-style pizza, but it was well-seasoned and well-baked. And between the high-quality mozzarella and the truly superb bresaola (a category of Italian charcuterie that's rarely found in Texas and must be stored properly in order to ensure its correct service), you really couldn't lose with this dish. It was an ideal pairing for the restaurant's excellent wines-by-the-glass program.
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4 comments
MadMac
MadMac topcommenter

Checked this place out Friday night with the Mrs. She LOVED the brasoala, btw, thanks, on the tip-side, Mr. Parzen. Everyone seemed warm and friendly. Except our waitress, who seemed new and nervous. When asked about the charcuterie plate--rather than say, I'm not sure/let me ask--this child said, "I don't know, not many people ordered it." WTF? We decided to take our chances and started with the charcuterie appetizer. The plate of thick-cut meat with three olives, would've fed four. I would've given up half the meat for something to cut it with--cheese, bread, hell a cracker. Note: waitress girl redeemed herself by telling me the tea was sour and they had not brewed a fresh urn. Further, it was nice not to be educated that the drink we're PAYING for is a dessert wine. My Mrs. enjoyed the Reisling by the glass. Next up was the pizza we made the trip for. I didn't care for the white pie. At first taste it was like a bland grilled cheese sam'mich. I keep getting an eggy flavor I didn't care for. But, again, the Mrs. enjoyed it. As our table for two backed up with plates, we asked the waitress to pack our charcuterie to go. She left it on the table--training appears to be an issue--and we juggled plates, pizza and a bowl of pasta. The good news of the night was the strozzapreti with safron. WONDERFUL and I doubt we'll screw around with the pizza on our next trip. When asked about the liqueur in Cannoli, (as in what flavor) she proceded to tell us what a Cannoli is, (???). Like I didn't get that from Peter Clemenza. We opted for the gelato and while we were not disappointed, the getting up to go to the counter to return to our seats to tell waitress girl what we wanted (and hope she didn't bring us a plate of McNuggets) was a bit much. Nundini is a fun--if quirky--joint we'll hit again. Thanks for your review, Mr. Parzen.

DoBianchi
DoBianchi

@kshilcutt aw shux Katharine! those are some hi-falutin shoes to fill! congrats again on your AFJ award. http://t.co/CMXbKyha u SO deserve!

 
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