Grotto Italian Restaurant, 9595 Six Pines, The Woodlands, TX (Market Street)
Price: $$$ / $$$$$
When in North Houston we always make an effort to stop by the Grotto for lunch. We’ve been coming here since 2014, if my memory serves me correctly, and I can’t remember a bad experience, either in the food served or the service. When I think about it that’s an achievement that applies to almost no other place I can think of with the exception of a few extreme, pricey, high-end establishments.
The Grotto, with 7 locations in Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, and Texas, is one of the 60-some different Landry’s specialty restaurants. The Grotto, serving upscale and standard Italian fare, delivers a diverse menu emphasizing quality cuisine and attention to the details. The restaurant occupies a cavernous open chamber of tile, wood, and plaster in subdued but pleasant colors and stylish decor. When busy this open area can reach into some fairly high decibel levels. The walls have various poems and quotes concerning Italian food and eating that I have only been able to partially decode with my limited vocabulary in the language. Overall the spirit of the interior is one of understated charm and impeccable cleanliness.
We have always had great service at the Grotto with the exception of parking, which is the fault of The Woodlands, Market Street town square shopping district; there simply is not enough parking in the area to accommodate all the shops and shoppers. We have solved this problem in 2 different ways depending on how lazy I am. Either we use the adjacent Woodlands Mall parking lot and walk the less than 2 blocks to the restaurant or drive up to the front entrance and make use of the valet parking service. Seating is always cheerful and prompt. We have never had a reservation for lunch and had to wait for a table only once, but we just had a drink at the bar, passed a few moments in irrelevant conversation and in no time the hostess showed us to our table. Once seated we are promptly served with water and a bottomless assortment of spicy and plain breads along with a very nice olive oil concoction of herbs and spices. The waiter has always been attentive in all our visits, quickly taking our drink orders and following up at appropriate intervals to take additional requests or just inquire about the service and or meal. The manager will usually stop by for a quick chat which is always a nice touch.
Drinks are always a meal prerequisite with us and the Grotto provides ample supplies of everything to satisfy our whims. Beers to martinis, wine to mojitos, your thirst can be satiated in multiple venues but we usually just partake in wine and beer. They have my standard Italian beers of Moretti and Peroni and an adequate selection of wines by the glass. They have a much more extensive selection of wine available by the bottle. For this visit we had a Baracchi O’Lillo Toscana IGT Super Tuscan, possibly a young 2016 vintage, that was very good. It was a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sangiovese; brimming with full-bodied black fruits and leaving a lasting finish. I would rate this wine 90+, and for $10 a glass, a steal.
We started off our meal with an appetizer of their meatballs priced at $10. A pair of fist-sized monstrosities filled with herbs and breading. Very flavorful but way too much if you are also going to have a meal. These spheres of opulence would be a perfect complement for an after-work drink or two. In the past we have also tried their $14 Scampi Grotto: shrimp scampi, that is very good and definitely less filing than the meatballs.
For our entrees I ordered my usual, Meatzza Pizza for $17. The ingredients have changed over the years; with and without bacon, with and without mushrooms; the current version consists of pepperoni, Italian sausage, and mushrooms all atop a wonderful thin, crisp crust cooked up in an open-fire pizza oven situated in the middle of the bar. In my mind, close to a perfect pizza, onions instead of mushrooms would be perfect, but too large for one person. We ended up taking half the pizza home with us. My wife had the Ravioli di Mare for $18. A delicious serving of seafood ravioli, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, and shrimp abounding in a wonderfully creamy and smooth white wine sauce.
We usually end our luncheon fare with something sweet but due to the excessive intake of the prior dishes we had to take a pass, but their ever-changing desert cart always has something irresistible. Mezzanotte, tiramisu, cheesecake, cookies, strawberry cassata among other seductive treats. Starting with desert would be an acceptable choice.
The Woodlands Grotto is a fine place, a great place for lunch or dinner.