Wednesday, August 29, 2012

BRIO Tuscan Grille Upper Kirby

Ah Tuscany!  Makes me think of Diane Lane (Under the Tuscan Sun), Olive Garden's major re-iteration they started a few years ago, and a great style of grilled Italian Food.  I was invited to have dinner at Brio in Upper Kirby--it's newest location besides the ones at City Centre and The Woodlands--and found a nice creative batch of Tuscan style grilled dishes.  Their regular dinner menu includes all kinds of appetizers, bruschetta, steaks and grilled specialties, like Chicken under the Brick.  (From what I have heard, it tastes better than it sounds I assure you!).  Brio is a high end, limited run chain based in Ohio, FYI.

But first, a few notes on the Upper Kirby location per their release:

Known for its selection of wood-grilled and oven-roasted steaks, chops, fresh fish and made-to-order pastas, BRIO (meaning “lively” or “full of life”) is a casual, white-tablecloth restaurant serving authentic, northern Italian cuisine. The more than 10,000-square-foot restaurant, designed by RSA Architects, will feature a Tuscan-style design reminiscent of an Italian villa. Interior features will include: hardwood Cypress flooring; arched colonnades; hand-crafted Italian mosaics; sizable wrought-iron chandeliers; and Arabescato marble-imported from Italy. BRIO will also feature a and indoor/outdoor 3,000 square foot terrace complete with seating for up to 88, and contemporary sliding glass windows. In addition, three private dining areas will be available for groups of up to 50.
Antipasto Bruschetta at Brio Upper Kirby
The pictures don't do it justice--it was full of flavour
The description alone sounds wonderful--and way better than an Olive Garden Redux, to be sure!

Brio Tuscan Grill's new location in Houston is situated in the Upper Kirby district right across from Whole Foods on W Alabama and Kirby in the complex that used to house Pesce and Border's Books. The property has been rebuilt and retrofitted into a high end grille that tries to capture the essence of Tuscany with white marble and plaster accents.  The bar area has a nice solarium style feel to it and there are some bar exclusive appetizers that look to be very tasty.   I was invited to try an appetizer, any main dish on the menu and a dessert. Not wanting to overindulge I started with the antipasto bruschetta--new to the menu.  While I waited for the appy, I snacked on some of the house bread--very crusty, soft inside and satisfying.

Note to nitpickers:  I had to take pictures using a Blackberry without the benefit of natural lighting.  They looked better in real life, I assure.  Also, my grades are on the flavour, not the plating.  While I realize a well plated dish is preferred by a lot of foodies, sometimes things can be a little messy (like the Antipasto Bruschetta) and taste good, so I personally have no problem with it.  Everyone has their own tastes and preferences, and I respect differences of opinion.  

The Antipasto Bruschetta was tasty to nosh on. Very savory, a little salty, with bold olive and tomato flavor. Kalamatta Olives on it remind me of a NOLA muffaletta; pepperoncinis have a spicy & sour kick to them. The fresh mozzarella cheese is chewy and mild.  All flavours combine together quite well.   Grade: A+

Tuscan Grilled Pork Chops at Brio
After much debate I chose the Tuscan grilled pork chops with mashed potatoes and roasted veggies. My server, Gino. highly recommended them and as a newbie to Brio, I deferred to his inside knowledge. I also enjoyed a Moretti Lager with my pork chops.

The Tuscan Grilled Pork Chops were very juicy, had an herbal savory marinade flavour; little hint of garlic and olive oil; they were not dry, not overcooked and were a wonderfully sumptuous meal.  Overall a good call by Gino. As for the sides: th veggies and potatoes were warm, well seasoned--garlic and herbs--and a good complement to the pork. Grade: A+

I also decided to try some Italian Beers (distributed by Heinekin, FYI) and found them quite good with dinner:

Gino--a real character and
a Great Server at Brio
Moretti Italian Lager: Woody lagery nose, malty bitter front note, twagy middle, slightly biter finish; a solid lager beer. Grade: A

Moretti La Rossa: A Double Bock per the barkeep; About the shade of Shiner Bock; mild nose; mellow sour top note; semi sour wood middle; bite at the finish; a fine Bock beer; Reminds me of how Shiner Bock used to taste 20 years ago. Grade: A+

For dessert, I indulged in a Chocolate Torte w/ Vanilla bean gelato: very good--smooth, dense, warm, not too sweet, served with a few fresh raspberries and chocolate sauce.  A real treat, in a portion size that was just right--not too much or too little. Grade: A

I had their house Cappuccino with dessert and that cappuccino was near perfection.    Grade:A+

The service is attentive but not overly so. Management is visible and backing up the staff quite well. Gino took good care of me & was very considerate. Even took care of crusty bread crumbs. Good and thorough.

Chocolate Torte and Cappuccino
I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to Katherine Oreillana Ross, General Manager Erica Gibson, Executive Chef Mike Pawlowski and my server Gino for taking good care of me, being very considerate and patient with me, and for giving me a wonderful dinner and dining experience overall.  Brio is the kind of dinner you'd take your special lady to on an important date, and believe me, that is a good thing to say about ANY restaurant.

My next visit I'll be able to do a full report card. As this was a comped meal, I can only rate the food. They had some decent traffic tonight after only 2 weeks open--not 100% full, but not empty by a long shot.  I predict if they keep up the service at current levels and maintain this level of food quality, you will need a reservation for dinner and it will be standing room only like La Strada was back in the 1990s.

BRIO has 3 locations in the Houston area.  I went to the location in the Upper Kirby District at:

3029 Kirby Dr.
(713) 528-8200
Sun-Thu 11 AM to 10 PM
Fri-Sat 11 AM to 11 PM

And remember to Eat Happy, Y'all!!!
Mangiare felici tutti voi!!!

Brio Tuscan Grille on Urbanspoon

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