Cheap Wine and Chard at Giacomo's Cibo e Vino

As former EOW blogger Ruthie Johnson noted back in May -- quite pointedly, at that -- Giacomo's Cibo e Vino (3215 Westheimer, 713-522-1934) now offers table-side service at night. This is different from its original model of counter service, which confused many of the restaurant's patrons. Like Ruthie, I failed to see how counter service -- identical to other fast-casual places such as Paulie's or Pronto Cucinino -- confused people, but there you have it.

To her immense credit, owner Lynette Hawkins didn't fight the tide on this issue and transformed the service to better suit her patrons: counter service at lunch, table service in the evenings. I realized this past weekend that I hadn't been back to Giacomo's since the switch, and needed to rectify this right away.

On a cool Saturday evening with a plate of swiss chard-stuffed crepes and a bottle of very reasonably priced Capezzana Barco Reale, I was very glad that I did.

One of the wonderful things about Giacomo's is the wine list, where very few bottles are more than $37. There are a few pricey picks, if that's your game plan, but most hover in the mid-$20-to-mid-$30 range. My dinner companions raved about the Capezzana Barco Reale, which was $27, a Sangiovese blend that was both fruity and loamy and didn't once overpower our food.

And one of the other fabulous things about Giacomo's is that even though counter service is gone at night, the little dishes -- cold or hot -- for $5 aren't. You can build an entire Italian tapas-style meal around those small plates, or just split a few as appetizers. Those crepes stuffed with swiss chard were a huge hit, the slightly bitter chard sweetened by the crepe batter and salted with some pecorino-romano on top. My dining companion used his knife to scrape out every last bit of chard and cheese from the ramekin.

My entree, however, wasn't as fab. Cavatappi pasta is a favorite of mine for the way its curls capture sauces and bounce seductively on your fork. So of course I ordered the cavatappi dish that came with cheesy cream sauce and cauliflower: more favorites. But the dish just wasn't balanced. The sauce was aggressively salty, the cauliflower even more so. How does cauliflower get over-salted? And although I appreciated the crunch that came from putting it under a broiler, that also served to excessively dry out the top of the pasta.

No matter, I suppose, as my dining companions swept through their dishes like a brush fire in a drought-ridden forest. Gnocchi with wild mushrooms, chicken breast stuffed with prosciutto, mozzarella, tomato and basil, roasted butternut squash soup: all gone in the blink of an eye.

And my dessert more than made up for the entree: A gentle pour of espresso over vanilla bean gelato -- simple, straightforward and timeless dessert, just like most of the rest of the food at Giacomo's.

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Katharine Shilcutt