Saturday, May 25, 2013

Review of Little Napoli Italian Cuisine on Westheimer

     So, this is not the first time I have dined at Little Napoli. Nor will it be the last. Quite honestly, this is probably one of my favorite Italian places in Houston. This, however, will be my first official review of it. I might do more at a later date since I enjoy the food so much and I am always trying to order something different. Speaking of food, it has everything from pizza to the classics. This place should cover everyone.
    So tonight my wife were having a little mini celebration.  When we were talking about what to do for dinner I suggested Little Napoli because one of the things that I absolutely love about this place is its atmosphere.  It can be great for a casual dinner with friends or accommodate you when you want something a little more intimate.  The lighting is nice and low without being dark.  The music selection is varied ranging from slow romantic music to a peppy Italian ballad to something from the Rat Pack's repertoire. 
   Another I love about the place is the the overall volume is very subdued.  It is not quiet by any means, but I can hear myself talk and hold a conversation with another person without having to resort to screaming.  Maybe this has something to do with the fact that almost every time I have ever been to Little Napoli it has never been full.  Some might see this as a negative, but I see it as quite the opposite. It helps keep the intimacy in my opinion.  Even if the place fills up, I have the feeling that the noise would still not be a problem.
   Now, let's get to the food.  For tonight's repast I ordered the crab cakes as the appetizer.  The plate came with two crab cakes that were covered in a nice pink sauce (mix of tomato and cream) with chunks of tomato and bell pepper that gave the sauce some substance.  The crab cakes themselves were expertly cooked.  Nice and crispy on the outside with a soft and moist, but flaky interior.  They were masterfully seasoned and had a good ratio of crab meat to bread crumbs.
    My wife ordered a staple of ours at Little Napoli: the braised beef and tortellini.  The dish is served in a nice creamy sweet Marsala sauce and has sliced portobellos as well as the tender beef and four cheese tortellini.  There is a reason why this is one of our favorite dishes here and why it is sometimes difficult to stray and try something different.  This dish just screams comfort.  Like your favorite blanket in the cold winter months or a warm hug from your grandmother.  The Marsala sauce is nicely balanced without having an overwhelming flavor of alcohol or being overly sweet.  It is the perfect cream coverall for this dish.  The beef itself is also superbly done.  Both tender and flavorful indicating that they take time to slow cook it to get it just right.  In fact, it would not surprise me to find out if the beef were cooked in Marsala wine and that cooking liquid was then reserved and used to make the sauce.  As for the tortellini, well, lets just say they know how to cook pasta.  It was nice and al dente.
   My choice for the evening was something I had not had here before.  I decided to try the veal piccata for the first time.  I was a little apprehensive at first because one, veal is something that very easily can be done wrong, and two, the piccata sauce did not have any capers as it normally does.  Instead, the dish was made with sun dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts.  The whole thing was also served on a bed of capellini (angel hair) pasta.  As it turns out, I had nothing to worry about.  The veal was cooked to perfection, keeping its tenderness while not turning chewy or tough.  The sauce was magnificently done.  It had all the hints of the white wine while drawing acidity from the lemon juice, tomatoes and artichokes without ever becoming too tart.  The pasta once again was expertly cooked.  Angle hair past is one of those finicky pastas that you have to treat with kid gloves.  Cook it just a bit too long and it falls to pieces.  Not the case here.
    Another great thing about Little Napoli is the wine selection.  It is vast and it is varied.  It has something for everyone and a wide spectrum of price points.  Having arrived at the tail end of happy hour (from 2-7 pm), my wife and I both choose the house shiraz which was a new selection.  I had previously order the house wine and had never been disappointed, especially considering the cost.  Now can I say this was the best wine I have ever had?  No.  But was it fairly good?  Yes, especially if you let it breath from a moment.
   As much as I enjoy Little Napoli, there are a few points of contention I have with it.  First of all, the small salads which are served before the entrees are really just uninspired.  The consist of basically one cucumber slice, one tomato wedge, one ring of a white onion, and bunch of lettuce drenched in vinegar with a bit of seasoning.  You can't really call it a vinaigrette because you would need oil for it to be considered one.  If there was any oil, you could have fooled me.  I enjoy vinegar, but this was just too much.
  Another problem with Little Napoli is the service.  It is not that it is bad necessarily.  The problem lies in that it can be piece meal and confusing at times.  When we walked in, my wife and I were seated by one server who also gave us menus, asked if we had been helped by another, and had our order taken by a third.  When the third waiter asked for our orders, my wife ordered her wine and I ordered our appetizer since I had not made up my mind about what to get yet and also thinking that our original server would take our orders for our entrees.  When our appetizer came out is when we finally gave our entree orders and my wine order, to which our server seemed surprised about. Maybe this was just something caused by the restaurant being not quite so fully, maybe not.  After the point where the staff decided who would be attending us, the service was just fine.
   So, that is just one of my dining experiences at Little Napoli on Westheimer.  This place is well worth looking into for a nice casual evening of Italian dinning or maybe something a little nicer without going into full blown "nice restaurant" category.

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