Almost Perfect Risotto di Funghi at Fred's Italian Corner

There is something immensely comforting about a bowl of risotto at Fred's Italian Corner (2278 West Holcombe, 713-665-7506), the arborio rice nice and plump in its own creamy sauce, sending up visible waves of steam on a cold night last week.

That's an overused term these days: comfort food. I know. Especially considering the fact that what's comforting to me -- a bowl of Malt-O-Meal with butter, for instance -- might be downright disgusting to someone else, and vice versa. But if you're inclined to seek solace in carbohydrates and Cabernets, Fred's is a little slice of nap time in kindergarten.

It's perfectly serviceable at lunch, when the restaurant has counter service and a much snappier attitude. But I prefer dinner at Fred's, when it becomes less of a Medical Center hot spot and more of a neighborhood bistro: all softly aglow with dimmed lights, bottles of wine on each table, conversations taking a more hushed tone.

Fred's does not make the best Italian food in the world, let alone Houston. There are no hyperboles here. The red sauce it uses in so many dishes is too sweet for my taste, the bread service has all the personality of a loaf of Wonderbread.

However, Fred's does make a pretty good bowl of risotto.

The risotto di funghi seen above is one of my favorites here in Houston, with a temptingly creamy texture and a pleasant balance of earthy mushrooms and sweet peas. I do wish you could taste a hint of the truffle oil that's supposedly included, but the caramelized shallots almost make up for that. With only a sprig of basil on top, it's a wonderfully simple dish that -- along with a glass of Côtes du Rhône -- is an ideal respite from a loud, busy day. Especially considering it only costs $15 (and comes with a fairly charming salad with house-made vinaigrette).

Best of all, that Côtes du Rhône doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg, either: Fred's lets you BYOB for a $6 corkage fee.

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Katharine Shilcutt