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Pre-Show Dining and Transcendent Tortellini at Birraporetti's

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Birraporetti's is not the best Italian restaurant in Houston, nor is it the second or even the third. But it's a stone's throw away from the theater district, offers fast, friendly service, and serves transcendent cheese tortellini.

Let me elaborate.

On a recent Thursday night, my husband and I and a good friend of ours met downtown for dinner before going to the Bayou Music Center to see Jim Gaffigan, my current favorite comedian (hot pockets!). We wanted to go with something not far from the show, something not fast food and something not expensive. (See how two Virgos think in negatives.) There were other contenders, but we settled on Birraporetti's, mostly because online reviews emphasized its staff were highly accommodating to theater-goers.

When we arrived, I was a bit chagrined to learn we would have to wait a few minutes despite having made a reservation online and calling to confirm just a few hours earlier. But we were seated sooner rather than later, and our server immediately took drink orders.

Birraporetti's menu is that of a standard red gravy Italian-American restaurant, with appetizers such as stuffed mushrooms, garlic bread and calamari and entrées like fettuccine alfredo and lasagna. I'm sure harsher critics would deride it as a slightly upscale Olive Garden, but I'm inclined to be more generous.

We all began with Caesar salads, though my husband and I opted for the "grande" version, which for $9 provides a veritable mountain of greens, a generous amount of dressing with strong anchovy flavor, and a large handful of croutons. As much as I enjoyed my salad, however, I would have skipped that course altogether in favor of eating TWO orders of tortellini had I known then what I know now.

"Cheese Tortellini with Italian sausage, broccoli and your choice of Alfredo or pesto sauce" is not a menu description that suggests greatness. Certainly not one that prepares you for ten oversized, pillowy pasta rings stuffed with a decadent mixture of ricotta and mozzarella cheese and liberally coated with an earthy pesto sauce. Perfectly cooked broccoli sprigs and two plump, slightly spicy sausages provided a wonderful contrast in taste and texture.

My husband was rightfully disappointed with his soggy pizza and my friend reasonably satisfied with her shrimp scampi. So Birraporetti's doesn't necessarily deliver well on every dish.

But the cheese tortellini, my friends, is the perfect pasta prelude to an evening at the theater.

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