Houston’s Restaurant of Love — Amore Keeps Building a Name For Itself Thanks to a Husband and Wife Team
What You Should Order at This Italian Food Haven Set Amid the South Shepherd Drive BustleBY Laurann Claridge // 06.19.22
Amore's Bistecca alla Fiorentina is a simply seasoned and grilled porterhouse cut that arrives sliced off the bone with the filet separated from the strip, sautéed garlic-tinged spinach and roasted Yukon Gold potatoes by its side. (Photo by Laurann Claridge)
Christina & Chef Alfredo Mojica in their new Amore Italian Restaurant, which recently opened on S. Shepherd Drive between Alabama and Richmond. (Photo by Shelby Hodge)
Amore Italian Restaurant chef Alfredo Mojica is well known to Houston diners accustomed to fine food. (Photo by Shelby Hodge)
Lasagnetti is a delicate dish made with wide pasta ribbons tossed with branzino, pine nuts, and Romano beans in a light white wine sauce ($20). (Photo by Laurann Claridge)
Spaghetti Harry’s Bar, inspired by the famed dish the couple enjoyed in Venice, in which strands of linguine cradle chunks of lobster meat enrobed in a brandy-spiked Pomodoro sauce redolent of lobster stock ($38). (Photo by Laurann Claridge)
The pizza here is the thin-crusted Neapolitan sort. The pizzaiolo pulls blistered-bottom pies out of the golden-tiled oven, such as a taleggio pear variety topped with arugula, fresh Bosc pear slices, and a drizzle of truffle oil ($19). (Photo by Laurann Claridge)
Potato croquettes crowned with Jamon serrano poised on a pool of truffle cream. (Photo by Laurann Claridge)
When you know, you know. Christina Sulien knew deep inside that it was amore when, at the age of 22, she met Alfredo Mojica. In fact, she told her mother that night, “I’m going to marry him.” The pair worked at Houston’s Da Marco restaurant — she as a hostess, and the handsome Mojica as the restaurant’s chef.
A veteran of the Italian restaurant world in Houston, Mojica has spent decades in the business, first in the employ of Tony Vallone, then working for Vallone prodigy Marco Wiles, signing on to help Wiles launch his eponymous restaurant. Mojica was awed by the beautiful girl at the front desk, but he was married.
Fast forward seven years, one divorce (his) and a wrenching breakup (hers) later, and they saw one another again at the very restaurant where they had first met. Sulien was dining with her best friend when the shy chef greeted her tableside. Before she left that evening, he slipped her his number and mentioned that he was no longer married. Love struck — followed by marriage, two children and Amore, the aptly named Houston restaurant that they opened back in January as PaperCity‘s Shelby Hodge first reported.
Talk about a restaurant love story. Cue crooner Dean Martin.
Spurred on during the pandemic to make a career change and open a restaurant, the Mojicas completely renovated a former sandwich spot on Shepherd Drive, which is now fronted with a messy road construction project. Fortunately, the dump trucks and jackhammers outside their door haven’t deterred the legions of new fans filling this bright white dining room, a simple and elegant space designed by Christina Mojica herself with herringbone-patterned flooring, a gray-veined marble-topped service bar and linen-covered chairs pulled up to tables cloaked with starched white tablecloths.
Chef Alfredo is particular about his ingredients and insists on importing seafood such as Dover sole and branzino from Europe, along with cheeses like burrata straight from the best source in Italy, and simmering his own stocks and fish fumes, all to create — in the chef’s own words — “quality classic fare that’s never trendy and never served in tiny portions.”
The Food of Amore
Start your repast with a glass of cool bubbles and the rich yet delicate potato croquettes crowned with jamon serrano poised on a pool of truffle cream. The wine list bridges the New World with the Old, and diners who want to dust off a special bottle are also invited to do so at Amore (naturally, with a small customary corkage fee).
Move on to enjoy a crisp, cool celery salad tossed with garbanzos, olives and shaved pecorino in a light vinaigrette ($10). Not to be missed is the grilled octopus, glazed with a reduction of orange and lemon juice enriched with olive oil, sided by a tangle of arugula ($19). Don’t pass up the crudos, especially the prawn carpaccio, in which fresh Patagonian prawns are pounded paper thin to create a paillard of raw shrimp drizzled with Meyer lemon juice, honey and truffle-scented sea salt, with a scattering of toasted walnuts for crunch ($14). Traditional tuna carpaccio is enlivened with perfectly ripe slices of avocado, baby oak and Meyer lemon spritz ($18).
Primi pastas include Spaghetti Harry’s Bar, inspired by the famed dish the couple enjoyed in Venice, in which strands of linguine cradle chunks of lobster meat enrobed in a brandy-spiked Pomodoro sauce redolent of lobster stock ($38). Lasagnetti is a delicate dish made with wide pasta ribbons tossed with branzino, pine nuts and Romano beans in a light white wine sauce ($20).
Classic risotto Milanese makes quite the statement at Amore. Here it is called Risotto Dorato, the creamy saffron-seasoned rice, cooked to a perfect al dente, is topped with seared scallops papered with a sheet of edible pure gold leaf and two rose petals ($32).
Care for fresh black truffles? Mojica has created seven dishes inspired by the pricey fungi, including an unctuous cheese and cream enrobed tagliolini topped with generous truffle shavings ($42).
The pizza here is the thin-crusted Neapolitan sort. The pizzaiolo pulls blistered-bottom pies out of the golden-tiled oven, such as a taleggio pear variety topped with arugula, fresh Bosc pear slices and a drizzle of truffle oil ($19). There is also a Calabrese-style pizza with mozzarella fior di latte, Calabrese salami and fresh basil ($14).
Tempting entrees include the cheekily named Thanksgiving Duck, inspired by the Americana flavors of the beloved holiday, in which seared duck magret is painted with a cranberry-orange cognac reduction, sprinkled with fennel pollen, and served with creamy parmesan potatoes ($29). Carnivores, please share the Bistecca alla Fiorentina (market price) with the table. The simply seasoned and grilled (enormous) porterhouse cut arrives sliced off the bone with the filet separated from the strip, sautéed garlic-tinged spinach and roasted Yukon Gold potatoes by its side.
Amore’s desserts include baked Alaska, panna cotta and the dark chocolate cake with chocolate ganache and vanilla gelato ($10 each).
Amore is located at 3310 S. Shepherd Drive (713) 485-0033. It is open Sundays and Tuesday through Thursdays from 11 am to 10 pm and Friday and Saturdays from 11 am to 11 pm.