Off the Wall: Riva's Italian Restaurant

When Anamaris Cousins Price wrote about her old favorite Montrose hangouts, EOW reader J. Britt Alexander chimed in with his pick:

"Rivas - directly behind Niko-Nikos and the Tower Lofts off Montrose. -- Old green house romantically lit by white twinkle light. The best bang for your buck Italian food in the neighborhood. And Michael, the owner, always around to make sure everything is perfect. (1117 Missouri St.)

P.S. , save room for the Cannoli."

I've only lived in Houston for three years, but I like to think I'm pretty clued in on local restaurants, especially the ones in my neck of the woods, like Riva's. However, I had never heard of the place, or even seen it, for that matter. "There's a restaurant behind Niko Niko's?" I thought to myself. "And it's Italian?" (Which is my favorite.) I had to check it out.

From the get-go we had good service; my dining companion and I were some of the only people in there. Our waiter was a gentleman who was very attentive and helpful in recommending dishes.

I only wish they hadn't have been so nice. It'd make disliking the food a lot easier. To start with some positives, you really do get a lot of bang for your buck - unlimited garlic bread, soup, salad, and huge portions at very reasonable prices -- the most expensive item on their menu is the Rack of Lamb for $21.95. Unfortunately, I can't recommend this place based on taste or quality.

The garlic bread was average. The cream-based lentil soup decent but unimaginative. And the salad? Well let's just say you can get a better one with more choices than just Ranch or Italian dressing at a Golden Corral. As for our entrees, we chose two highly recommended dishes - the Chicken Funchezzi ($13.95) and the Veal San Pietro ($16.95).

The Chicken Funchezzi was similar to Chicken Parmesan but instead of Marinara sauce, it's drizzled with butter. Not bad, but its taste was comparable to a chicken dish I often make - only I do it better. And you know who else does too? The Olive Garden.

The Veal San Pietro, thin scallops of veal in a lemon-cream sauce with capers, artichoke hearts and tomatoes, was worse. While the meat was tender and perfectly cooked, the sauce was runny and bland. I barely finished one piece before pushing my plate away and deciding that more garlic bread made for a better dinner choice. As for the Fettucine Alfredo that came alongside, it was drowned in what tasted like a stale manufactured sauce and not at all worth the calories.

The Tiramisu we ordered for dessert was this meal's only saving grace. Thin layers of pressed, espresso-soaked ladyfingers sandwiched between a sweet and creamy mascarpone cheese mixture, it was a perfectly light and refreshing ending to a meal that hadn't gone so well.

From what I gathered by a short perusal of the restaurant's walls and a brief Internet search when I returned home, Riva's is a neighborhood treasure. They're proud supporters of the gay community and quite the philanthropists, having donated 100 percent of their profits from April's "Dining out for Life" to AIDS Foundation Houston. I can't knock them for that. And though I may share some differences of opinion with locals as well as the Zagat Guide, I wish Riva's all the best.

Still, next time I crave Italian, I'm going to Nino's for Veal Vincent and Fettucine Alfredo. It's phenomenal.

Follow Eating Our Words on Facebook and on Twitter @EatingOurWords

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Stacy Zane
Contact: Stacy Zane