For more than a year, Houston’s cafe society has been holding its breath in anticipation of the scheduled September reopening of Tony’s (1801 Post Oak Boulevard). Not only has the interior been lavishly remodeled to suggest a restaurant on the Italian Riviera, but owner Tony Vallone and chef Mark Cox have made extensive dining excursions to France, Italy, and New York to sample the best food around. Their collaboration has inspired many new dishes, including this creamy halibut on a bed of green lentils and crisp diced vegetables. A silken purée of fresh asparagus melds the flavors together, while a dash of balsamic vinegar adds verve.


1 cup green lentils
cheesecloth, 6 inches square
12 parsley stems
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
2 whole cloves
salt to taste
4 cups chicken stock

Rinse lentils, removing pebbles. Cover with water and simmer 5 minutes. Meanwhile, make a cheesecloth bag to wrap up next 4 ingredients. Drain lentils, cover with stock, add herb bag and salt. Simmer 25 minutes. Remove from heat. Reserve liquid.

Asparagus Essence

1 1/2 pounds fresh asparagus spears
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons cornstarch
salt and white pepper to taste

Reserve 12 asparagus tips for garnish. Purée remaining asparagus and chicken stock in a food processor for 1 minute. Strain. Put asparagus essence in a pan and bring to a simmer. Dissolve cornstarch in small amount of water. Add enough to asparagus to thicken slightly. Remove from heat.

Fried Vegetable Garnish

1/2 each carrot, yellow squash, and zucchini
vegetable oil for frying, heated to 350 degrees

Julienne vegetables, then fry, stirring constantly, for 4 to 5 minutes or until crisp.


4 four-ounce halibut filets
salt and white pepper to taste
olive oil for sautéing
juice of 2 lemons

Season halibut with salt and pepper. Sauté skin-side down in oil until dark golden brown. Turn and finish sautéing. Remove from heat. Spoon on lemon juice.

Diced Vegetables

1 each carrot, fennel bulb, and yellow onion
2 celery ribs
1 cup reserved liquid from lentils; add more chicken stock if necessary
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Cut vegetables into 1/4-inch cubes. Cover with reserved liquid and simmer 15 to 20 minutes, until tender. Just before serving, melt butter in saucepan, add lentils, vegetables, and parsley, and heat through.

To serve, drizzle filets with asparagus essence and vinegar. Serves 4.