The middle of January may be a little too soon to start looking for the trends that will drive Houston's restaurant scene in 2015, but one theme that's becoming increasingly clear is that restaurateurs are betting big that Washington Ave is poised for a major comeback. Both Urban Eats and Big Eyed Fish opened in December, and Commonwealth should open in the next week or so.
In between, Il Mascalzone, the London-based Italian restaurant owned by former Olympic boxer Andrea Magi has opened its second location in the former Solea space on Shepherd. The first location opened in west Houston in September.
Since Magi and his family live in Miami, they have turned to a familiar face to help them maintain quality at both locations.
Since Magi and his family live in Miami, they have turned to a familiar face to help them maintain quality at both locations. Diners may recognize Alberto Baffoni from his former restaurant Simposio. Back in the late '90s and early '00s, Simposio was widely considered one of Houston's best Italian restaurants. After Simposio closed, Baffoni has worked at a number of places, including a stint at Mezzanotte in Cypress.
He seems to have found a home at Mascalzone, because he and Magi attended culinary school in Italy together. Baffoni spent time training on Mascalzone's menu with Magi in London prior to moving into this role. He reports that the recipes are essentially the same, but some menu items have different names to account for the differences between British and American English.
Having a chef of Baffoni's caliber in the kitchen seems to have stabilized Mascalzone's cooking, which produced excellent pizzas and so-so pastas on my only visit to the original location prior to his hiring; this week's was mostly excellent across a variety of dishes. Admittedly, it's also possible that arranging an interview with the chef in advance results in better food than an anonymous visit on a weekday night.
Those making a first visit to Mascalzone will want to try the restaurant's namesake: A half calzone-half pizza that's available in both carnivore and vegetarian versions. Baffoni has expanded the restaurant's selection of housemade pastas; his strozzapreti with sausage and broccoli is another must-try.
To further enhance Mascalzone's appeal in its neighborhood, the restaurant will offer a late night, tapas-style menu and serve pizza until 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Giving the neighborhood another evening destination and keeping an eye on quality should bode well for its future.