Going to the theater district should be an occasion. Maybe you have tickets to the Houston Grand Opera or the Houston Ballet. Maybe you're getting dressed up to see the Houston Symphony's new music director, Andrés Orozco-Estrada. Occasions like these make for a perfect date night -- especially if you start the evening with a great meal.
These days, however, the options for pre-theater dining near the theater district are limited. Within walking distance of Wortham Center, the choices are The Hard Rock Cafe, The Blue Fish for sushi, Biraporetti's for pasta, the Bistro at The Lancaster hotel, and Sambuca or Azuma at the Post Rice Lofts. Closer to Jones Hall, there is Perbacco. The Hobby Center has Artista -- and that's about all one can find within a two-block radius of the major performing arts venues in town.
A less obvious choice for pre-theater dining is Damian's Cucina Italiana in Midtown. Their pre-theater program is pretty hard to beat. Though it's definitely further out than the above mentioned restaurants, dining there will actually get you closer than driving into downtown because their complimentary shuttle service will drop you off right at the entrance to your show.
Dining at Damian's is also a pleasure. There's something to be said about good old fashioned ambiance and service, and Damian's serves this up in spades. From the starched white tablecloths, to the flowery wall murals, to the servers' classic white-jacket uniforms, to the warm honeyed voice of Dean Martin singing "That's Amore," Damian's offers classic fine dining that's homey at the same time.
The food is hearty, generously portioned, and executed with the confidence that comes from years of practice (Damian's celebrated 30 years in the business just last year). An off-menu order of caesar salad is not only delicious but a true show. Your waiter will bring out a stand topped with a large wooden bowl, adding and blending all the ingredients to make the dressing, before tossing in fresh-cut romaine and chunks of fresh crouton. The result is a true masterpiece of a classic caesar salad, the romaine cool and crisp; the dressing creamy and savory from the anchovies, worcestershire and capers whipped into it; the croutons adding that buttery crunch that brings it all together.
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For pasta, nothing beats Damian's classic bowl of spaghetti with Mama Mandola's meatballs. Tossed in a red pomodoro tomato sauce, every twirl of al dente noodle is a joy. The large meatballs (two to a plate) are in a class of their own, tender and moist and savory rich. They taste as good as homemade, and are indisputably some of the best in town. Other dishes, such as the classic osso bucco, or the linguine and clams in white sauce are also highly recommended, but anyone would be happy with Damian's spaghetti and meatballs.
So, for pre-theater dining, give Damian's a try. Plan to arrive by 5:30 p.m. (the earliest possible seating) for a 7:30 p.m. show. Damian's will hold any leftovers for pickup after the show. The shuttle departs Damian's no later than 10 minutes to 7 p.m., dropping patrons off as close to the entrance as the venue will allow, a truly welcome convenience. Not only does the shuttle service eliminate the hassle associated with trying to find parking in the theater district, but for the ladies decked out in killer four-inch heels, your feet with thank you, as well.