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One of Houston’s Most Overlooked Restaurant Dishes Makes This Italian Mainstay a Worthy Visit

Don’t Sleep on the Shanks

BY // 02.18.18

The urge to cook lamb shanks overcomes me on a regular basis, and when it does, nothing suffices until I am browning five or six of them in a large Dutch oven and gathering the ingredients for a sugo. Lamb shanks make for a fine day of cooking, they fill your kitchen with some sensory arousing aromas, and when, several hours after you browned them, you plate them with polenta or pasta or collard greens or whatever you want and put the first tendrils of meat in your mouth, you’ll be happy.

I was made happy this week because of lamb shanks, but the cooking was not mine.

The bowl of meat and pasta and olives and cheese and olive oil came from the kitchen at Divino, a confident and comfortable Italian mainstay on West Alabama in Houston. I was dining alone at the bar, and had intended to stop at the chicken liver pâté, which I had ordered to accompany my wine (a glass of Carignano del Sulcis Riserva “Rocca Rubia”), but the richness of the liver was too much for me in one session, so I pushed it away after enjoying about a quarter of it — and I heartily recommend that you order the pâté if you are at Divino… just make sure to share it.

The bartender had told me about the off-menu specials, and the pappardelle had sounded promising, plus, lamb shanks. I sipped the wine and waited, thinking that it would go well with the dish. And it did. Superbly so. (I am hereby urging owner Patrick McCray to add this dish to the menu, because I am certain it would appeal to many.)

The tender yet toothsome pasta was cooked as it should have been — its texture was pleasing in a number of ways, primarily because it was not at all doughy — the cook had drizzled a fine amount of olive oil over the whole, and the bright olives (I believe they were Cerignola or Castelvetrano) supplied a acidity that pleased and made the lamb sing. (I am accustomed to using black olives in my lamb shank dishes, which are also good, but will use these next time I cook.)

Divino’s lamb shank, bright green olives, and luscious pappardelle: This is a dish worth savoring.

To the lamb. I’ll state with firmness that it was done well, properly, with good technique. Shanks are not the most difficult things to make, but I have had my share of tough ones. This lamb was nothing of the sort, but it was tender and possessed that quality that gives one all the satisfaction of “fattiness” with none of the heavy, unpleasant fat.

Think barbacoa. Then gather a bit of each component on your fork — the cheese, the pasta, the olives, the lamb — and experience a brief bit of beatitude.

Now, here’s what I am cooking on Sunday, and if you like lamb shanks, I’ll vouch for this recipe. It’s from Tom Colicchio, and it goes all the way back to 1996 and was featured in Food & Wine. Instead of pasta, you’ll use cannellini beans, and there’s leeks and onion and carrot and arugula. Make it. I’ve done so perhaps 30 times, and I never tire of it.

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The Breakfast (or Brunch) Wonder Dish
Vitello Tonnato Done Right

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