Lunch at Palazzo's Trattoria

Italian cafes and restaurants abound in Houston, but I keep coming back to Palazzo's Trattoria. I still remember my first visit some 10 years ago. It was the beginning of a farewell evening for one of my friends, and we met at the location behind the House of Pies on Westheimer. That's the original restaurant, which opened 15 years ago; today, you can eat at two other locations. I recently had lunch at the one on 10455 Briar Forest.

They have the usual fare on the menu; pastas with Alfredo sauce, meatballs or meat sauce, cannelloni, lasagna. I usually go for the house specialties. I absolutely love the Penne Stefano, a lightly creamy tomato and basil sauce that hugs chunks of sausage and pasta. What I love about that dish is that neither the tomato nor the basil overpowers the flavors, they play nicely together. They also serve a heady veal ragout that's bursting in flavor, with tomatoes, carrots and garlic.

This time I was swayed by the special on the board: a salmon fillet wrapped in a thin slice of eggplant and served with a bianco sauce. It was delicious. The salmon was nicely roasted, and the sauce had just a hint of lemon, which complemented the fish and veggies beautifully. My companion opted for the shrimp scampi, and it was okay, although not memorable.

The pizzas here are pretty great, too. I love the crust -- there's enough dough to satisfy my bread addiction, and it is thin enough so that the toppings are not lost at sea. They use the same dough for the breadsticks they put in front of you while you wait for your meal. It's a trick I've yet to master; kinda like Lays, you can't just eat one. Beware of the deliciously evil breadstick.

Another favorite of mine is the tiramisu; coffeelicious ladyfingers serve as the foundation for the creamy mascarpone filling. They serve a pretty generous square here -- you may want to share or eat it in two acts.

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