Random header image... Refresh for more!

My lunch date with Karl Rove at Ristorante Cavour (HOU)

Entering Hotel Granduca is a little like following the rabbit hole – just beyond the iron gates and right past the horse mounted statue of Adalberto Malatesta Granduca of Monfallito (?) is a different world than one might find in otherwise sensible Houston.

Granduca was made to look like an Italian villa, complete with armored knights, medieval weapons on the walls, and little touches like wood beams laid into plaster and freshly distressed furniture in more "rustic" parts of the hotel. Like everything else at the Uptown Park, Granduca it feels more like Las Vegas than old Europe.

I was always curious about the people who pay $1,300 a night for a hotel suite in Houston. Who are they? What do they eat? I got my answer as soon as I arrived and saw Karl Rove waiting to get picked up in the lobby (sulfur, smoke, instant drop in temperature, and all). For a split second I thought about inviting him to join us for lunch. It’s not often you are in the presence of one of the more diabolical political minds of our generation.

Ristorante Cavour is an odd place. I counted maybe 20 seats total in the mostly empty dining room and with the prices more than reasonable for the quality of food, I couldn’t figure out how they make money ($5 Cokes, that’s how). I don’t get a sense Cavour gets a whole lot of business other than soon to be indicted Republican operatives, either. When we asked our waiter to replace our strangely sweet salt – which immediately made me think of weaponized Anthrax – he came back to tell us that our salt shaker was filled with 50% salt and 50% sugar combination. I am not sure how that happens in a place where people eat regularly, but still, the kitchen is run by one of the best chefs in town and you can find great food here if you order right.

We started with a Ceviche-Style Roulade, Lobster, Cucumber, Cilantro and Lemon Mousseline, which turned out to be the best dish we tried. Except for a couple of problems, some of the lobster was unevenly seasoned, it was a knockout combination. It’s rare that on a plate with high quality lobster and 25 year balsamic it’s the cucumber that stands out, but Cavour apparently sources their produce carefully enough where the vegetables were the best thing on the plate. Good sign, overall.

I wasn’t thrilled with my meat dish, but it was well put together, if anything. The chicken scaloppine was fine, but the sauce was something you’d expect to find at the River Oaks Country Club, frequented by a more conservative audience. I suppose I should have known better when I ordered Chicken Scaloppine, Pinot Grigio Caper Italian Parsley Sauce and Zucchini Beignet, but it seemed more exciting than seared tuna, shrimp skewer flambée and filet mignon. I took a look at the dinner menu to see if there were more exciting options, but it was no less tame (lame?) than lunch.

The surprise was, again, the vegetable. All sorts of things can go wrong with a zucchini beignet, but I would have gladly eaten a whole heap of this stuff. The zucchini slice had that farm fresh sweetness, that dissipates when you refrigerate produce, and wasn’t overwhelmed by the oil or the batter. I found myself scraping the inferior sauce off the beignet just so it wouldn’t ruin it.

The Apple Beignet (again, best thing available) was decent, but not great. A steaming hunk of fresh apple battered and fried just doesn’t work all that well. I think I’ll skip the dessert next time.

I think at the very least Ristorante Cavour deserves another look. Even if the meat dishes are underwhelming, you may be able to put together a good meal from appetizers and pastas. It beats eating at Grotto any day of the week. And you might find yourself rubbing shoulders with someone like Karl Rove, if you’re lucky.

March 26, 2008   1 Comment