The main dining room at Tony's before lunch service.
Saffron risotto, peas, and oh-so-succlent oxtail.
When thinking of comfort food, different things come to different minds. Some long for a hamburger, while others gravitate to meatloaf. Macaroni and cheese and chili are also dear to many.
I, however, crave oxtail when I want comfort.
Yes, oxtail, the often misunderstood cut of meat that time transforms into something just short of miraculous. Rich, rustic, meaty… comforting. It begins with a good browning, then journeys on a long braising.
I found a wonderful oxtail dish about a week ago at Tony’s, and it has entered the pantheon of great plates featuring the humble meat. It’s called Nebbiolo Braised Oxtail Alla Vaccinara, and if you’ve not been to this Italian restaurant in Houston’s Greenway district, this menu item is more than enough reason to change that. (For those of you who have been to Tony’s lately but have not ordered this dish, do so: It’s that good.)
The cooking of the oxtail here is exemplary. It’s served on a bed of saffron risotto — in itself a marvelous thing, moist and tender, with a touch of crispness — and then topped with a smattering of fresh peas. The first time the dish was placed in front of me, its scent overwhelmed me, in the most pleasurable way: This is boldness personified, though not without a touch of self-confident elegance.
I inhaled deeply, then gathered a forkful of the meat and tasted. It was in Umbria that I last had a taste of oxtail so satisfying. The meat had fallen apart, almost liquified, and was the very epitome of succulent. If it was served alone here, sans the risotto and peas, you would not be disappointed.
But the whole is greater than the parts alone, so let’s keep the oxtail’s companions, shall we? The risotto is graced with an ever so subtle saffron touch, and the peas are blanched with care, supremely green. They pop in the mouth. A bite containing all of this dish’s components will make you sigh. And at $36, it’s more reasonable than airfare to Rome or Nebbio.
For those of you wondering about the name, Alla Vaccinara, it refers to the act of paying a butcher in part with offal, or quinto quarto:
In the cuisine of modern Rome quinto quarto (literally the “fifth quarter”) is the offal of butchered animals. The name makes sense on more than one level: because offal amounts to about a fourth of the weight of the carcass; because the importance of offal in Roman cooking is at least as great as any of the outer quarters, fore and hind; and because in the past slaughterhouse workers were partly paid in kind with a share of the offal.
Until modern time the division of the cattle in Rome was made following this simple scheme: the first “quarto” was dedicated to be sold to the Nobles, the second one was for the clergy, the third one for the Bourgeoisie and eventually the fourth “quarto” was for the soldiers. The proletariat could afford only the entrails. (Wikipedia)
No matter your state in life, you deserve to experience this dish.