John Marion Carrabba makes a very big name for himself with his Galleria-area Italian eatery
When you grow up a Carrabba in Houston and learn the ropes of the business in the family-owned restaurant of that very name, you pick up enough about food to last you a lifetime. Piatto, logically, is Italian for plate – which to some is just something to serve food on but, in the way of romance languages and romance itself, might be considered an entire approach to food, wine and, this being Italian cuisine, life. In an Italian restaurant, the word “piatto” is as much about the ceramic delivery system as an artist’s palette is a board you can put paint on.
With Piatto came a fresh approach to everything John Marion Carrabba had learned about cooking from the Carrabbas and Mandolas who had taught him so much about great taste, consistency and personalized service.
The list of hot appetizers at Piatto brings on one fabulous signature item and a host of delights and surprises for any table willing to venture forth. The big must-have is the batter-fried asparagus, which in true Gulf Coast Sicilian-American fashion takes something that tastes healthy, namely asparagus, and turns it into something that tastes good. Never mind what batter-frying, topping with lump crabmeat and dousing with lemon butter sauce does to the health profile of this lucky stalk. This is cooking based on the concept: Who’s counting? Taking a journey from this signature item might start a meal off with fried calamari given extra zing by tangy pepperoncini, so-called Italian ceviche in vodka lime sauce or Jessica’s ravioli. The latter is made with “toasted cheese,” which may or may not be what makes it “St. Louis-style,” and hustled out with a side of Piatto’s fresh-tasting pomodoro sauce.
Before you get serious about meat or fish, or more realistically in lieu thereof, you might go Tuscan for a bit with Piatto’s extra-hearty white bean soup, or enjoy one of John Marion’s more interesting salads – beefsteak tomatoes with crabmeat or shrimp remoulade spooned over crisp romaine. Pastas show up here in abundance, including all the standards done well. Our slightly-out-there favorites, though, are the penne melanzane (hint: whenever there’s a Carrabba or a Mandola in the kitchen, order anything with eggplant) and something dubbed pasta vento. This last one almost careens out of control, what with grilled chicken, artichoke hearts, Greek kalamata olives – Sicily is always more Greek than Italian – and a whole bunch of other stuff.
Still, it all works at Piatto. At John Marion Carrabba’s Piatto, let the overeating begin!