Restaurants / Openings

Houston’s New See and Be Seen Restaurant Is a River Oaks District Success — Your First Taste Look at Bari Ristorante

This Italian Spot Has Some Significant Chef Power Along With All That Buzz

BY // 06.08.23
photography Debora Smail

Located a stone’s throw from The Galleria and nestled among the well-heeled River Oaks and Tanglewood neighborhoods, luxury shopping and restaurant ground zero River Oaks District attracts a moneyed crowd that dresses for dinner and often aims to see and be seen, moving restlessly from habitat to habitat. The glitterati’s latest roost is Bari Ristorante, which slipped into Tom Ford’s former store space.

Operated by longtime restaurateurs Thomas Nally and Pedro Teyuca and backed by private investors from Mexico City and the United States, Bari Ristorante evokes classic Italian dishes from North to South, from the cosmopolitan cities of Milan and Rome to the Southern port of Bari. Reserve a table for lunch, dinner, or weekend brunch, and you’ll find the proverbial ladies who lunch air-kissing their way through the expansive space with soaring ceilings, cozy saffron-colored upholstered chairs and massive chandeliers with a playful MacKenzie-Childs aesthetic.

Walls of Himalayan-sea-salt tiles are backlit to emit a soft orange glow, while outside on the newly expanded patio, you can dine al fresco on Houston’s rare temperate days and nights.

Aperitivos include standbys with a bit of twist — and we’re not referring to lemon. The Bellini invented at the famed Harry’s Bar in Venice is tinged pink care of cranberry puree added to the bubbly prosecco and peach nectar ($13). The Negroni has the requisite gin and sweet vermouth, but the Campari is coffee flavored and finished with chocolate bitters ($16). The ample wine list delivers Italian notables, with a predominance of French sparklers and a scattering of California names.

For those who come for the food, keen eyes will recognize the man heading the exhibition-style kitchen: Renato De Pirro, a Certified Master Italian Chef who has been in the restaurant business throughout Italy (including his native Tuscany) and the United States. That includes four years helming the range at the intimate restaurant Ristorante Cavour at Houston’s Hotel Granduca.

At Bari Ristorante, De Pirro leads a scratch kitchen, importing ingredients such as Italian flour for the pasta and pizzas, as well as tomatoes and cheese from Naples to bring authenticity to the menu.

Tagliatele Pomodoro laced with fresh basil leaves. It's one of the pasta selections at the new Bari Ristorante. (Photo by Debora Smail)
Tagliatele Pomodoro laced with fresh basil leaves. It’s one of the pasta selections at the new Bari Ristorante. (Photo by Debora Smail)

Popular starters at the dinner hour include carpaccio di Manzo created with Piedmontese beef tenderloin ($26), Insulate caprese ($19), minestrone ($10) and zuppa di Pomodoro, a roasted tomato and basil soup with herb-coated croutons ($10). The pizzas all have a pleasant chewy pull and range from the simple Margherita ($20) to the Bari topped with grilled chicken, tomato concassé, black olives and bell peppers ($24) and the spicy Calabrese with Calabrian soppressata and nduja, a soft, spreadable pork salume ($22).

The pastas rank among the Top 10 most popular versions exported from Italy, from tagliatelle carbonara with guanciale and pecorino romano ($24) to pappardelle Bolognese ($28). Spaghetti Pomodoro is elevated with rich burrata cheese and fresh basil leaves ($27), while ravioli Maremmani is stuffed with homemade ricotta and spinach, finished with brown butter and sage ($24).

Portata principale options include veal scaloppine ($34) and filet mignon with a Barolo demi-glace ($48), as well as risotto made with either wild mushrooms and creamy mascarpone ($26) or clams, mussels, prawns and scallops ($39). I enjoyed the grilled Ora King salmon with braised leeks and spinach napped in a thyme lemon caper sauce ($26).

When I visited, soon after Bari Ristorante’s opening, the menu was a bit edited, but the options are expanding to include tableside service spectacles with dishes such as salt-roasted branzino and Dover sole, along with pasta finished in a parmesan reggiano cheese wheel.

Bari Ristorante is located in River Oaks District at 4444 Westheimer Road. It is open 11 am to 10 pm Sundays and Mondays, 11 am to 11 pm Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and 11 am to 1 am Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Brunch is served Saturdays and Sundays from 11 am to 3 pm.

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