Tipping in Restaurants Reaches a Tipping Point

Will 2014 be the year it's abolished?

4. Provisions

Ah, the cresta di gallo pasta. Named for its shape, which resembles a rooster comb, the cresta di gallo at Provisions is by far the best pasta dish on a menu of really good dishes. The curly pasta swims in a bowl of wild hen-of-the-woods mushroom cream sauce with roasted yeast, which makes it light and frothy rather than heavy. Parmesan brings out the crisp funk of the mushrooms, while red pepper flakes add a spicy punch that breaks through the cream sauce every few bites. This dish may just make you reconsider altogether what pasta should be.

3. Étoile

Tipping after meals is no longer as universally accepted as it once was.
Tipping after meals is no longer as universally accepted as it once was.
The cheese sticks at Lucky Burger are top-notch.
Joanna Leary
The cheese sticks at Lucky Burger are top-notch.

When I think pasta, I don't usually think French restaurant, but chef Philippe Verpiand at Étoile makes one of the most divine, melt-in-your-mouth pasta dishes in town. The raviolis de champignon (told you I love mushrooms) are filled with the smoothest mushroom purée and bathed in a lightly whipped sauce of port wine, truffle oil and aged Parmesan, then topped with thin wisps of cheese and finely sliced chives. The frothy sauce is almost impossibly light, and the handmade pasta perfectly chewy.

2. Ciao Bello

I consider Ciao Bello to be the king of pasta in Houston. All the pasta is handmade from the same imported flour and Italian water that makes the pasta at Tony's so delectable, but it's the slightly less formal atmosphere at Ciao Bello that makes me feel like I'm eating at an Italian trattoria. The doppio ravioli is one of the most creative pastas that (sometimes) finds its way to the menu here. The double-pocketed ravioli filled with puréed red and yellow beets and topped with olive oil, fried sage, roasted chestnuts and a light pan sauce is just a special for now. But I'd be surprised if it doesn't soon become a regular menu item.

1. Coppa Ristorante Italiano

If pasta is your thing, chef Brandi Key should be your new best friend. Under her watch, the kitchens at both Coppa Ristorante and Coppa Osteria turn out incredible upscale takes on Italian classics with flair — like the porcini-flavored pappardelle with slightly sweet braised brisket sugo or the supremely delicate house-made gnocchi, swimming in a rich broth with notes of fresh sage and dollops of ricotta. It's the bright, yolk-topped spaghetti carbonara with wisps of pink salami scattered throughout that brings crowds to each restaurant, though. It's by no means traditional carbonara, but the mixture of salami, Parmesan, parsley, pepper and a single egg topped with pour-it-yourself Parmesan cream sauce is so good that I bet the Romans wish they'd thought of it.

Off the Wall

State Representative Has a Message for Sriracha CEO
Relocate to Texas, please.

Kaitlin Steinberg

By now we've all heard about the ongoing saga of the Huy Fong Sriracha plant, which was forced to temporarily shut down part of its production due to complaints from nearby residents about fumes emanating from the plant. We've moaned and groaned and wrung our hands, fearful that we might be deprived of the spicy red sauce on which we've grown so dependent. And we've whined a lot. Could California be losing a great thing?

The Texas state representative for House District 114, which encompasses part of northern Dallas, isn't content to sit back and wait for the Sriracha shortage to grip the nation. Instead, he's gotten proactive, inviting David Tran, chief executive officer of Huy Fong Foods, Inc., to move the plant to Texas.

On Tuesday, Rep. Jason Villalba sent a letter to Tran in which he wrote, "As a public official and a corporate attorney for small businesses, I am extremely troubled by excessive government interference in the operations of private, job-creating businesses like Huy Fong Foods. You have worked too hard and have helped too many people to let government bureaucrats shut down your thriving business."

Amen to that!

In the letter, Villalba listed the following as good reasons for Huy Fong Foods to come to the Lone Star State:

"There is no personal or corporate state income tax — this means you would keep more of your hard earned profits;

"Texas has the finest distribution channels in North America — based in the center of the United States, and nearly equidistant between Mexico and Canada;

"According to Forbes magazine, Texas has the best climate in the country to run and grow a business because of its low regulations and limited government interference;

"Texas is a right-to-work state with a sophisticated and plentiful labor pool — ensuring that companies have access to good, well-trained employees to grow their business;

"Texas appreciates and supports business owners. We do NOT believe in interfering in the internal operations of private businesses."

When reached by phone, Villalba admitted that his request may sound a little silly, but, he says, "We believe strongly in free enterprise, and that is something we take very seriously. We thought that this is a problem caused by California's overregulation and a litigious climate that stifles businesses from doing what they do best. What better place to do business than an open or free market like in Texas?"

Villalba has long been a fan of Sriracha, which he enjoys on much more than just Asian food.

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