Culture / Restaurants

Dallas’ Restaurant King Makes Himself Home in Houston

New Italian Spot Brings Fresh Pasta to the River Oaks Crowd

BY Laurann Claridge // 08.02.16
photography Joy Zhang

Restaurateur Alberto Lombardi is at it again. The restaurateur oversees the development of myriad culinary eateries under the umbrella of his corporate entity, Lombardi Family Concepts, which operates Penne Pomodoro, Bistro 31, Kai Asian Bistro, Romagna Mia, and Toulouse in Dallas. The latter also opened in Houston’s River Oaks District this spring, and now Lombardi has opened Taverna just a few doors down.

Facing bustling Westheimer Road, the Northern Italian-inspired concept is set in an expansive, burnt-umber-hued space with soaring coffered ceilings, crisp black millwork, and large windows that bathe the room in light by day. The restaurant is managed by GM Randy Allison, and the chef is Bruno Amato, fresh from the California-based chain Il Fornaio (he moved to Houston to open Taverna).

Lombardi and company say that risotto is their specialty, but Amato makes his own stuffed pastas daily — ravioli maremmani filled with Swiss chard, spinach and ricotta ($17.50) and cappelleti romangnoli topped with a Bolognese sauce that’s distinguished by the addition of sausage, a hallmark of meat sauces that hail from the Romagna area ($18.95).

I was delighted to see my favorite Italian cocktail, the Aperol Fizz, on the menu. But unlike the Prosecco and Aperol drink customarily served over ice, this one is shaken with an egg white, simple syrup, and lemon juice, strained and served in a coup — a delicious sweet-and-sour change-up.

Start with an antipasti such as a burrata salad, the rich, cream-filled cheese layered with compressed melons and tomatoes ($14.50) — top it with prosciutto for a few dollars more.

Charred octopus with pine nuts, olives, and a garlic-heavy eggplant confit ($17.95) delights, while pastas and pizzas dominate the mains — along with standards at dinner such as veal Marsala ($24.50), chicken piccata ($20.50) and sea bass ($26.95). Desserts, $9 each, include a Nutella tiramisu and cannoli.

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