Chow, Baby: Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Seventh Heaven

Chow, Baby was preparing to give Bobby Albanese a piece of its mind. The successful restaurateur — in this industry, “successful” means that one of the Albanese brothers’ six previous restaurants (Ruffino’s, on Forest Park Boulevard) is still alive and going strong — closed the exceedingly popular Fizzi downtown with zero warning (to Chow, Baby). And then he opened a new place, Piola (3700 Mattison Av.), but hid it on the corner of two streets Chow, Baby had never heard of, neither of which crosses anything major, like, say, Camp Bowie or Montgomery, and both of which seem to have more dead-ends than mathematically possible.
But if you have to drive around a neighborhood for an hour or two, you could do a lot worse than charming-bungalowed Arlington Heights. At the charming bungalow that houses Piola, the only Fizzi remnant is the wall o’ wine bottles; the rest feels like home, a warm contrast to the mod urban bistro. The menu includes a few greatest hits from Fizzi and its also-late neighbor Ciao — for instance, the addictive giant calamari ($7.95) and the garlic-cream-sauced smoked-chicken fettuccini ($15.95). Chow, Baby also curled up with a new dish, veal involtini ($17.95), a cutlet wrapped around mozzarella, prosciutto, and asparagus. Perfect. Everything was perfect.
So by the time Bobby started making his guest-greeting rounds, Chow, Baby was in a pretty good mood (tiramisu, $6) — but that’s not why it failed to deliver the what-the-hell-were-you-thinking speech it had planned. No, it was the look on Bobby’s face: pure contentment. Anybody who’s been to one of Bobby’s restaurants knows that his cheerfulness is part of his colossal charm. But this was different. This was a man who finally, finally, has everything just the way he wants — the menu, the building, the gorgeous outdoor patio (coming soon), the kitchen staff and servers. And the customers he wants, too — tranquilly enjoying their food rather than frantically checking their watches every 10 seconds because they have to be at Bass Hall by 8 p.m.
Bobby Albanese’s seventh restaurant is close to perfect by his stratospheric standards. You know it’s also going to be heaven for the rest of us.

Unlikely Haven
The new inhabitant at 702 N. Henderson St. (formerly Zapata’s, formerly Red’s Pit Bar-Be-Cue) is Trinity Bistro, a name that seems strikingly at odds with the building’s shack-like exterior and semi-industrial surroundings. Inside, though, is a pretty redecorating job featuring bistro-y black, white, and silver, and a diverse (almost weirdly so) menu ranging from meatball subs to smoked salmon with mango salsa. Skipping the pedestrian-looking sections, Chow, Baby started with a Bistro smoked sampler ($10.95) and gave first-bite privileges to the smoked-fish spread — freaking amazing. (The smoker is right in the back, so the restaurant smells as great as the food tastes.) The sampler included chunks of smoked mahi mahi and an entire smoked quail. Already Chow, Baby could see that this place is setting its prices way too low.
Other pleasant surprises: smoked duck with fettuccini in a garlicky cream sauce ($9.95); fresh tuna perfectly grilled to Chow, Baby’s taste (sandwich $8.95); and very nice sides including sweet barbecue beans, tangy Asian slaw, and bowtie pasta dotted with feta, sun-dried tomatoes, and basil. As Chow, Baby learned during its dating years, it’s always good to have low expectations. Trinity Bistro certainly surpassed them.

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