Dark wood and flaxen-hued walls surround the scents and savors of wood-fired pizzas, creative pastas, and locally sourced steaks at Café Eccell. Disks of dough hand-forged daily, such as the rustic italian-sausage pizza ($15) or margherita pizza ($13), emerge from the wood-fired oven with a smoky flavor and encyclopedic knowledge of campfire songs. Opportunities for fork-finagling can be found in the seafood linguine, which suffuses shrimp and salmon with tomato-garlic butter on a bed of saffron linguine ($19), and in the 12-ounce USDA Prime rib eye, fetched from local purveyor Ruffino Meats and draped in herb butter ($25). Paying homage to the traditional garb worn on their annual apricot hunts, strawberries disguise themselves in an apricot glaze and hide out in an almond-lace cookie shell lined with Belgian chocolate in Café Eccell’s strawberry tart ($7).
It would be more than fair to say that Alfonso Gonzalez is of local renown?the owner and executive chef of La Riviera Restaurant won the Chef of the Year award from the Brazos Valley chapter of the Texas Chefs Association three years in a row, and he now reigns as their director.
With more than 30 years of experience, it's not surprising that Gonzalez uses only top-notch ingredients such as Angus beef, local produce, and fresh-caught seafood. He's also comfortable enough to dabble in an international lineup of culinary styles, stacking his menu with everything from chicken carbonara to Caribbean jerk tilapia, so named because it makes fun of other fish. The diversity of his food is matched by the wine list, which includes varietals from California, Oregon, and abroad.
For 30 years, Cenare's sconce-lit walls and elegant menu have entranced diners, inviting them to linger luxuriously over plates of pasta, tiramisu, and creamy espresso cups. Fresh, daily made bread greets guests with a firm, crunchy handshake, moisturized to taste with imported olive oil. While kitchen magicians arrange 15 layers of beef, mozzarella, and ricotta cheese for the homemade lasagna ($10.99), noshers may savor stuffed mushroom cap starters, drizzled with a Creole mustard sauce ($6.95). The tortellini alla diavola accessorizes a saucy ensemble of chicken, ham, fresh mushrooms, and chipotle cream with cheese-filled pasta rings ($12.95), while the secret ingredients of the spaghetti al telefono are discoverable only through long, whispered games of telephone ($7.95). Gluten-free pasta is also available.