Hot Plate

Truffle Stop
All crisp black and white under its eccentric deep-rose ceiling, DaCapo's three-table bakery-cafe brings an assortment of modest and not-so-modest pleasures to a corner of the Heights that can use them. Agreeable sandwiches on highly seasoned, home-style breads. Daily soups. Salads. And most significantly, a couple of sweets that propel the place into the must-visit category.

Important stuff first: pastry chef Lisa Biggerstaff, who superintended the remarkable desserts at the late Mercy, is one of four DaCapo partners. Her silken, bittersweet-chocolate grand marnier truffles, knobbed and gold-leafed so that they resemble alien wampum, may be the best 75-cent indulgence in Houston. A single one of these truffles, savored slowly along with respectable cappuccino served in a fat-and-sassy ceramic cup made by Heights potter Elizabeth Waltman, can put you into a blissful stupor.

So can the sumptuous Italian cream cake, a three-layered miracle of gilt and shaved white chocolate that deftly avoids the usual cream-cake sin of over-sweetness. Lots of walnuts; a little toasted coconut; a tart edge to the cream cheese icing. No improvements needed.

DaCapo's sandwiches may not scale the same Olympian heights, but they're pleasant affairs with a careful, handmade quality to them. Egg-white salad is far less deprivational than it sounds: peppery, herbed with fresh dill, jolted with a bit of curry and mustard. Order it on sun-dried-tomato-and-provolone bread and you'll never miss those yolks. The vegetarian sandwich may not exactly come together -- its raw quality and a thin, cold slice of provolone hold it back -- but its sun-dried tomato vinaigrette does well by all that zucchini, cucumber and marinated pepper, and its herb bread radiates a black-peppery warmth.

Those who require only a bit of pre-truffle sustenance can content themselves with a mug of daily soup, perhaps a very gentle roasted-potato chowder punctuated with scallion, bacon and carrot -- and best of all, not thickened to death.

But dessert's the thing, whether it be a truffle or an elaborately layered slice of cake or an old-fashioned cherry turnover that restores honor to this grievously devolved American classic. For the morning, there are better-than-competent croissants, more soft than layery, but crackly of crust; they beat the cloying cinnamon rolls by a mile. Be sure to pay obeisance to Biggerstaff's cake in the form of a gilded, vintage mantel clock, which is on eerie, permanent exhibition in one of the shining display cases.

-- Alison Cook

DaCapo's, 1141 East 11th at Studewood, 869-9141.

DaCapo's: egg-white salad sandwich, $3.50; assorted chocolate truffles, 75 cents.


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