When Pesce suddenly closed, news that Brio Tuscan Grille would take its place quickly followed. Brio is a national chain restaurant, this being the third location in Houston, with the others in The Woodlands and City Centre.
The former Pesce space has been transformed to fit Brio's casual but chic aesthetic. If there is one thing to note about Brio, it's the extremely friendly service. I was greeted warmly as I walked in and was never left with an empty glass or dirty plate. Managers came by often, but not often enough to be a nuisance, to inquire about my meal.
The menu is extensive and has a lot of variety, with pastas, salads, house specialties and even a section reserved for Italian steak. The Calamari Fritto Misto ($10.95) was a quite satisfying start. The mountain of golden fried calamari came with two sauces, a traditional marinara and a cheesy garlic Alfredo. Fried pepperoncini added a surprising heat and tang in between bites of crisp calamari.
My dining companion and I decided to share a classic Caesar salad ($4.95) and were pleasantly surprised when two chilled plates of crunchy romaine hearts arrived, as they were nice enough to split it without our asking.
My dining companion chose the grilled salmon ($21.95) served atop Romano-crusted tomatoes, with a side of asparagus and topped with shoestring potatoes. The plate was a little busy and the tomatoes became a little soggy, but the salmon itself was cooked medium as requested, still moist and flavorful. I chose The Brio Mixed Grille ($22.95), which comes with a skewer each of lemon rosemary chicken, beef tenderloin and shrimp, served with roasted vegetable wild rice orzo and citrus tomato pesto. It was a good representation of the simple but flavorful foods they serve at Brio.
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I'm usually too full to indulge in dessert, so Brio's offering of small dessert samplers ($2.99 each) is perfect for getting just a few bites of sweetness in at the end of the meal. We chose the tiramisu and a berry cheesecake. The tiramisu was a traditional version, creamy and light. I preferred it over the berry cheesecake, which was just slightly too sweet.
With so many great options for food in our city, I rarely choose to visit a chain. But Brio is good, solid food in a comfortable and pleasant environment, one where you could take your family but could also enjoy happy hour or brunch. It should do well in its new location.