Autumnal Dining at Giacomo's Cibo e Vino

Cichetti sampler (Italian bread is good, foccacia is better).
Cichetti sampler (Italian bread is good, foccacia is better).
Photo by Henry Thiel

I blinked and suddenly it really feels like fall. I love that I no longer have to worry about my pumpkins rotting in triple-digit temperatures and that I can enjoy warm, hearty seasonal dishes without sweating buckets from the ambient heat, the sad fate of Mai Pham when she went to Giacomo's Cibo e Vino.

During my visit, however, I sat in the main dining room (not the sun room). Even after two hours of eating I didn't want to leave. Not that it was so terribly frigid outside that I couldn't face the short walk to my car, though I certainly was enjoying the dim cozy lighting and the warm splashes of color accenting the walls. The luxuriant food, especially one particular dish (more after the jump) ushered me into a state of near-paralysis. I was stuffed to the gills, definitely needed to do some reading for class, yet wanted to keep eating.

My friend and I started with an array of cichetti, hot and cold Italian tapas of sorts that one traditionally nibbles at a bar in between sips of wine and/or Peroni. Standout selections include the juicy roast beets with fennel, tarragon, and walnuts, and the frutti di mare, a citrusy mixture of herbs and poached shrimp and calamari. Feeling a bit giddy, I mentally nicknamed this first part of the meal "The Octopus's Garden" for its wonderful mix of seafood and botanical flavors.

More dignified diners probably use their forks to sample the cichetti; I preferred to seize bites (and sop up any delicious residual oil/juices) with pieces of fragrant, spongy focaccia. I'm glad I exhibited some restraint in my bread consumption, considering the carbohydrate explosion that was to follow in the form of the transcendent butternut squash risotto with seared scallops.

Butternut Squash Risotto with Mushrooms and Cranberries. Tastes like Italian Thanksgiving.
Butternut Squash Risotto with Mushrooms and Cranberries. Tastes like Italian Thanksgiving.
Photo by Henry Thiel

My risotto presented a creamy yet firm texture and was infused sage and thyme. The squash was strong but not dominant, thanks to the competing and complementary flavors of tart cranberries and smoky mushrooms. And crowning the mountain of rice were three buttery tender scallops. It was the perfect balance of meat, grains, fruits, and vegetables, a cornucopia of comforting autumnal tastes.

In response to Mai's post, commenter HiggenbothomH remarked:

Lynette [Hawkins] can really cook great Italian. It's too bad she doesn't invite the sub 40 food lovers into her place.

I certainly agree with the first claim but am more than a bit wary of the second. True, on a Tuesday night I was one of the youngest patrons, but I certainly didn't feel as if I was at The Hearth and Kettle for the early bird salt bomb special. If "sub 40 food lovers" aren't flocking to Giacomo's Cibo e Vino, that's their loss, though selfishly I wouldn't mind if the restaurant stayed on the quiet side. Lynette's cooking, however, deserves a greater following from Houstonians of all ages.

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