Mama Mia

The fragrances of old Italy waft through La Mora Cucina Toscana (912 Lovett Boulevard, 713-522-7412), a restored home in the Montrose. The smell of herbs grown in the garden behind the restaurant mingle with the scent rising off plates piled high with fresh pasta. And garlic is everywhere -- in the air, in the food, festooned as a decoration. Chef and owner Lynette Hawkins Mandola uses her mother's rustic Tuscan recipes, honed in rural Italy, for everything from pastas to pesce. One of the best entrées is the pollo ai peperoni ($15), a heaping plate of tender, succulent chicken baked and sautéed with a touch of flour, a hint of fresh herbs and a whole lotta peppers. It's juicy, spicy and colorful, with red and yellow peppers, red onion, a pinch of hot pepper flakes and, of course, garlic. The dish is the perfect meal for two; just add a nice Chianti and one of La Mora's delicious antipasti, such as the grilled portobello mushrooms. --Marene Gustin


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