Local restaurateurs Tony and Jeff Vallone have their sights set on the River Oaks Shopping Center. Don’t worry - Weingarten Realty won’t have to tear down anything this time. The as-of-yet-unnamed Italian restaurant/wine bar will go on the northwest corner of the intersection of Shepherd and West Gray, which has already been “newly redeveloped.” (A Barnes & Noble Booksellers shop and four-story parking garage will share the corner with the restaurant.)
The new Vallone eatery will have room for about 150 folks, with two levels (a first-floor dining room and outdoor patio, and a second-floor wine bar and patio). Chef Francesco Casetta (previously of NY’s Café des Artistes and Italy’s Dal Pacatore) will be in charge.
“We’re very excited,” Tony Vallone told Eating Our Words. “It’s going to be different than what Houston has seen before. It’s going to be the coming together of cutting edge new Italian and classic Italian on the same menu. It’s going to be well-priced. It’s going to be casual. Upstairs there’s a wine bar and a private venue and there’ll be two patios overlooking River Oaks. It will be a very creative menu. I’m not going to talk about the menu just yet because we’re still working on it, but it’s very exciting, something new.”
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Asked about his chef, Francesco Cassetta, Vallone neatly steered the conversation back to himself and the Vallone name. “I want to keep the focus on the restaurant,” he said. “It’s my restaurant. [Cassetta] is very talented. And I have a couple of other fellows coming in from Italy also, but I’m the one that insures quality and consistency. Chefs can come and go, I’m the one that makes sure that it stays good.”
Vallone expects to break ground on the building in February with an opening date projected for next August or September.
Asked if Ike put a damper on his plans, given that several area restaurants suffered severe damage and a few will not be reopening, Vallone said, “Not at all. We’ve never been hurt by a hurricane before. It’s the first hurricane that we’ve had, of that size, in 25 years. I have Tony’s and a catering business and we had no damage at all. In fact, at Tony’s we never even lost power. So, why would Ike bother us whatsoever?”
Why indeed? -- Olivia Flores Alvarez