Compare Italian at Paulie’s and Giacomo’s
Published: Friday, February 8, 2013
Updated: Friday, February 8, 2013 00:02
Common wisdom says you can’t mess up pasta. It’s the first thing many people learn how to cook. Throw some spaghetti in a boiling pot of water, add a jar of tomato sauce, maybe some black pepper and voila! Tasty.
Pasta’s pretty much just pasta. However, those of us who have had the good fortune to try freshly-made pasta know this isn’t the case. While the dried pasta sold at grocery stores can be done up impressively in exciting sauces, it simply cannot compare to the tender, silky texture and distinct, delicate flavor of fresh pasta. But unless you have an Italian grandmother in the Houston area or a pasta maker or (let’s be honest) even a kitchen, you might think fresh pasta of superb quality is out of reach. No more! Near Rice there are two remarkably different, delicious Italian restaurants that both make fresh pasta in house. Giacomo’s Cibo e Vino and Paulie’s , both on Westheimer, offer fresh pastas in a variety of inventive and traditional sauces.
Giacomo’s has an intimate yet casual ambiance that would be perfect for a date. The décor is both warm and modern, with dark wooden furniture and bright accents of cherry and mint. Though they specialize in cichetti, small Italian snack dishes similar to Spanish tapas, the fresh pasta is the real menu standout. The pasta itself has such a supple, ribbon-like texture that provides an excellent canvas for whatever sauce is on top. I tried a classic Italian dish, the tagliatelle alla Bolognese. The Bolognese sauce, as tradition dictates, is rich and meaty, but did not overwhelm the taste of the fresh pasta. Another standout dish, especially for those who really want to taste the pasta itself, is the pappardelle al telefono. Wide sheets of housemade pasta tossed in a fragrant olive oil sauce with garlic, mozzarella and fresh basil add up to create a dish as delicious as it is simple. Giacomo’s also has a varied wine selection and a knowledgeable staff to help you pair wine with your meal. As per their motto, “mangia poco, bene e spesso,” which means, “eat little, well, and often,” Giacomo’s serves relatively conservative portions with half-portions available as well for many dishes. If you’re still hungry after dinner, Giacomo’s offers an array of gelatos to choose from. All in all, Giacomo’s might be a tad pricey for an average weekend meal, but great for a special occasion, say, for a certain romantic holiday that’s coming up.
Paulie’s serves up a similar menu of fresh pastas but has a more informal, family restaurant vibe. It may seem to be a no-frills system where customers order and pick up food at the counter, but the staff is helpful and courteous and little touches give the restaurant a certain degree of polish. Each pasta dish comes with complimentary bread for dipping and the water is infused with cucumber. I ordered the bucatini amatraciana, a spicy dish with thick homemade spaghetti-like noodles and a vibrant, tart sauce of tomato, bacon and pepper flakes. The pasta was a little thicker and not as delicate as Giacomo’s, but it stood up well to the flavorful sauce. Also, notably, Paulie’s is very affordable for college students, with most pasta dishes costing under $10. Before you leave, though, don’t forget to try one of Paulie’s cookies. It’s an absolute must. I recommend either the iced shortbread cookies if you’ve got a taste for cute things or the chocolate-dipped peanut butter cookie if you’re serious about your sweets. While Giacomo’s might be a once-in-a-while, top-notch date place, Paulie’s is an affordable neighborhood find with excellent food and service.