L'Italia Classica

If one is in search of the classical, starting at Simposio [5591 Richmond, (713)532-0550], a restaurant presumably named after one of Plato's most famous Socratic dialogues, is a logical first step. Alberto Baffoni has earned a solid following for his northern Italian cuisine, but for the true insider, the chef's quintessentially classic rendition of osso buco ($25.95), an item that never appears on the menu, is the real draw. Short of hopping an Alitalia flight, it is the truest version a Houston diner can experience. Veal shanks are sawed into two- or three-inch lengths, then slowly braised in a mixture that always includes tomatoes, wine and aromatic vegetables such as carrots. The shanks are then placed on a bed of risotto flavored with lemon and saffron, and sprinkled with a mixture called gremolata (lemon zest, garlic and parsley). It's a good idea to call ahead to see if the osso buco is available.

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