Too Hot To Handle: Giacomo's Cibo e Vino

I'd heard about Giacomo's Cibo e Vino for some time, and after reading a couple of Houston Press articles about it, I put it on my to-do list of places to try. We arrived around 6 p.m. on a typical sweltering hot summer day. On first impression, I loved the kitschy '80s-looking wall art, the low ceiling, the wooden floors, and the personality of the décor. It had a very San Francisco-esque vibe to it and it was just the type of place that I would normally love.

We were greeted immediately when we stepped through the doors. I told the hostess that we were there for dinner. She led us to the right of the restaurant, into the sun-filled wine bar, where tables of colorful nest-egg blue contrasted brightly with bright cherry-red chairs and a wall-length chalkboard. The sun was shining through the patio windows, where we could see patio seating outside. The scene was lovely.

I took a look at the menu and started with a selection of cold appetizers, which I chose at the counter. The turkey breast, covered in a mayo-like dressing with capers, was dry and cardboard-like, not a good start. The seafood mixture, which looked like a ceviche, was bland and had a bit of a fishy smell to it; I did not like this one at all. The beets were my the best of the three I chose, which were $5 to $7 each. It doesn't sound expensive but for what we got -- three pieces of thin turkey breast, a small cup of seafood mix of shrimp and calamari, and a small cup of beets -- it was.

For drinks, I ordered their house drink, described to me as something similar to a sangria. It was served in a colorful earthenware jug, a quartino, with the name Giacomo's Cibo e Vino on it. I thought it was a lovely touch. But it didn't come with ice and as I sat waiting for our entrees, this became a problem.

The room was stiflingly hot, and I began to feel hot flashes as I sat waiting. My companion had ordered a cream soda, which had been served with ice, and I took a sip to cool down, reveling in the icy coldness coming from the cup. When I blew on the soda, a whiff of smoky cool condensation puffed upwards into my face, a nice respite from the heat.

I'd assumed that the entire restaurant was on the same cooling system, so I just tried to make it through the dinner in spite of the heat. However, sitting there fanning myself, I couldn't enjoy my entrée at all, a creamy seafood pasta. And my companion's porchetta e fagioli, a pork and bean stew that had been recommended to us by our server, was just too heavy to contemplate in the uncomfortable heat.

I finally walked to the counter and asked if they could turn the air conditioning down, and was informed that the air conditioning unit in that particular room had been on the blitz for several days. "You can go sit in the other side of the restaurant, if you like. It might be cooler over there," the lady informed me.

As we were almost at the end of our meal, I didn't see the point in moving everything to the other side of the restaurant, but moments later, when I got up to use the restroom, I noticed a significant difference in the temperature on the other side.

As I returned to my table, I walked by the hostess, who had seated us -- only us, as everyone else was seated on the cooler side -- on the hot side of the restaurant, and told her that it was unbearably hot on the other side. "I'll make note of that," she responded, without any apology for the discomfort she put us through by seating us on that side.

In my mind, I'm thinking: Why did she seat us on the other side when she seated everyone else in the much cooler main dining room? And why did the manager allow her to seat us there when they knew the air conditioning unit was malfunctioning? And didn't the server, who was working both sides of the restaurant, notice significant difference in temperatures between both rooms? Any thoughts, readers?

Even without the record high temperatures we've been experiencing in Houston, the summers here are hot. A well air-conditioned space is an imperative for any dining establishment, and yet, we were seated in a sun room where the air conditioning was known to be unreliable. They should have closed off the room completely if the air conditioning wasn't working.

I wanted to like Giacomo's, but after my encounter with the hostess, I couldn't get out of there fast enough. It's too bad, really, because if the room temperature had been comfortable, there was a definite charm about the place that would have brought me back, even with the slight misses on the antipasti. As it is, I will always remember that we spent about $70 for an average meal in a dining room was just too hot.

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