Giacomo's Cibo e Vino

When La Mora closed in April 2006, Houston's community of Italian-food lovers was in despair. Now owner and chef Lynette Hawkins is back, this time with an entirely different concept, called Giacomo's Cibo e Vino (3215 Westheimer, 713-522-1934). "This is a totally different concept from that of La Mora," says Hawkins. "When I lived in Venice, I got used to visiting the bacaro, or wine bar, and I enjoyed snacking throughout the day. Every once in a while, you would take a break in the day and sample various things, which the Venetians call cicchetti, or small plates. I really enjoy the variety of eating a lot of little things, so I developed a number of different small dishes, which will allow me to change the menu frequently. However, since Houstonians also like a more conventional menu, we have one of those as well."

First-time customers may be somewhat confused by the cafeteria-style layout of the place, but once they realize they can order either cold or hot plates from the vast array Hawkins has prepared that day, and can supplement these dishes with items from the menu written on the wall, the system makes sense.

When Dish visited one lunchtime, we got caught up with Hawkins's motto of "eat little, well and often." With so much delicious, ready-to-eat food available, it was hard to choose just a few dishes. We tried the roasted peppers, a frittata — a thick Italian omelet with prosciutto and fontina cheese — and an unbelievably good porchetta panino made of fennel-roasted pork. A pistachio gelato and a real espresso were the perfect end to an afternoon of grazing. As for the name of the restaurant, "It's the name of my yellow lab," says Hawkins, "and he's named after Giacomo Puccini!"

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Paul Galvani