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News : “Is Houston the Next Great American Food City?” by John Mariani

February 20, 2012
Posted by: Elysia Sutherland

    For decades now The Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Houston has tried to find a winning formula for its upstairs dining room, and I think I've tried all the incarnations over the years. Its newest, Quattro, strikes me as its best and certainly most lively, rescuing this space from neglect by giving it sunshine, Mondrian-like colors, Murano glass and an Italian chef who knows well the Four Seasons style, having worked with the group since 2000 in hotels from Hawaii to Budapest.
    Maurizio Ferrarese was born in Vercelli, Italy, arriving in Houston two years ago, imprinting his own stamp indelibly on a menu that had long been a mishmash of Tex-Mex and continental cooking with no personality. There is also a wine bar here that works well especially after 5 PM, with a long list of wines by the glass.
    His menu, which even includes pizzas, hits many expected notes but he marks little chef's hats next to those dishes he calls "Chef Maurizio's Toque Top Pick," and he offers guests a chance to have him cook a tasting menu, too. 
    You might begin with buffalo mozzarella with glazed shallots and tomato confit, or a very good, creamy vitello tonnato that is all about subtlety.  There is always a risotto among the pastas, and the one I tried, with four cheeses and black truffles, would easily slip onto any menu in Ferrara.  I was not in love with the bland duck ravioli in a murky lentil ragôut.
    It's always hard not to order cotoletta of veal alla milanese when I see it on a menu, and Quattro's is first rate, the breading crisp and buttery, the veal full of flavor, with bright salad and tomatoes on top. Nothing could improve on an impeccably cooked branzino alla piastra, grilled, with mixed vegetables.
    I very much like it when a substantive wine list is written on the back of a menu, as is Quattro's, and, while understandably rich in Italian bottlings, there are global offerings too, and at least 30 wines by the glass.


To see John Mariani's full article on Houston's food scene, click here http://www.johnmariani.com/current-issue/