PaperCity Magazine

PaperCity Houston October 2022

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Page 33 of 135

T he Italian- i n s p i r e d eatery Il B r a c c o , which launched in Dallas in 2019, has opened a second location at the corner of San Felipe and Post Oak, in the former stead of California Pizza Kitchen — and the Dallas import has been bustling ever since. Designed by Michael Hsu Office of Architecture, the 6,000-square-foot space offers 160 seats inside and 35 outside on a charming pocket patio. Stroll through the large double glass doors at the entrance, and to your left is a spacious oval travertine- topped bar, lit with a serpentine fixture of golden orbs; to your right is a vibrant open kitchen. Just beyond the hostess stand, the dark, moody dining room has low leather banquettes that are perfect for people watching, the surrounds fashioned from rich stained walnut with artwork by Wayne Thiebaud, Alexander Calder, Alex Katz, Richard Serra, Lucien Freud, and Joseph Albers, among others, chosen by co-owner Robert Quick and his wife, interior designer Mary Lucille Quick. If Il Bracco (Italian for "the hound") gives you subtle Hillstone vibes, it's no wonder: Quick and co-owner Matt Gottlieb each had a long tenure with Hillstone Restaurant Group, among others. Quick, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America (St. Helena campus), worked at Thomas Keller's casual concepts Ad Hoc and Bouchon before taking on the role of kitchen manager for Hillstone and moving up and onward. Gottlieb, a 10-year veteran of Hillstone, ran nine of its locations, including the Westheimer Houston's restaurant, before he joined Quick to conjure their own Italianesque eatery. While they're not imitating any restaurant per se, there's no denying the Hillstone influence on the style of service and fare. If Il Bracco can consistently deliver the quality of food and service for which Hillstone is known, this newcomer is destined to become a fixture in the Houston dining scene. We're looking at you, GM Marco Vides, culinary director AJ Elftmann, and kitchen manager Lester Flores. The seasonal menus at lunch and dinner are largely identical, save for a few additions in the evening. Try the crispy artichokes when they're in season — fresh baby artichokes, flash-fried for a crisp, hot bite, By Laurann Claridge then shepherded to your table with a side of olive aioli for dipping ($17). Or opt for the simple plate of Sicilian crudo, which proves that less can be so much more: Raw big-eye tuna, impeccably fresh Ora King salmon, and jumbo scallops are thinly sliced and presented with a drizzle of good olive oil, sea salt, capers, and diced onions ($22). If any place is going to call itself Italian (or inspired by it), a decent meatball is a must — no excuses. Here, the meatball appetizer is a combination of beef, pork, and lamb, topped with grated Reggiano and a chiffonade of fresh basil. These meatballs are as tender as they should be, enrobed in a thick tomato gravy — but even better are the go-withs — addictive spears of crisp but chewy house-made focaccia with a crunchy herb crust scented with fragrant olive oil. As an app, the focaccia is served with whipped ricotta spread seasoned with roasted garlic and thyme; of course, I requested a side of the unctuous spread, too, and suggest you do the same ($11). Cool greens include a whole-leaf Caesar salad ($13), seasonal burrata salad ($17), and chopped salad with salami, aged provolone, Castelvetrano olives, piquillo peppers, and pepperoncini ($18). The Plaza— a cult favorite, we're told — can make a meal, composed of roasted chicken, golden beets, pancetta, Marcona almonds, and goat cheese, all tossed in a balanced honey vinaigrette ($20). Fans of the hit Hulu series The Bear (where the main character leaves the fine-dining world to manage his family's Chicago sandwich shop, where the star is the shaved-beef sandwich) might be drawn to Il Bracco's version. The Italian beef sandwich here is composed of shaved tri- tip, melted provolone, sauteed broccolini, and a giardiniera spread, accompanied by warm au jus for dipping; the flavor- packed meat is tender, and the roll stands up to those hefty fillings ($22). The cheeseburger here takes on an Italian accent too, with aged provolone atop a house- ground chuck patty, spiced with Calabrian chilies and layered with fennel, arugula, and onions ($17). The New York strip ($45) and the center-cut filet ($49) are USDA prime, butchered in-house and broiled to your desired doneness. Fish options include pesto-crusted Patagonia-sourced salmon ($33) and Mediterranean sea bass topped with gremolata ($30). Like the breads, pasta noodles are made in-house. The red-pepper-spiked spicy gemelli — small twists of noodles tossed in a spicy vodka sauce — is a signature dish ($20). The Bolognese is a six-hour slow braise of beef, lamb, and pork ragu, wound around ruffled- edge mafaldine noodles ($24). Vegetarians will love the deftly made eggplant parmesan, where each thick, steak-like round is salted to remove its bitter essence, breaded then fried to crisp the exterior, and topped with tomato sauce and hot oozing mozzarella ($23). Cocktails are $15 each and include The Bracco, a frozen greyhound variation with gin, Aperol, and fresh grapefruit juice, and the Asti 76, made with Tito's vodka, lemon, and Coppo Moscato D'Asti — their take on a classic with an Italian twist. The wine list delivers both varietals from Italy and approachably priced New World wines. Seasonal desserts are $12 each. My Italian sundae, presented in a chilly old-fashioned metal coupe, was perfect, the creamy vanilla ice cream topped with a drizzle of olive oil, whipped cream, sea salt, and chopped pistachios. That might seem an unlikely pairing, but it's a beautiful blend of sweet meets savory. Il Bracco, 1705-A Post Oak Blvd., 713.532.9950, Il Bracco, a Buzzy New Italian Restaurant Designed by MICHAEL HSU The new Il Bracco restaurant 32

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