New River Oaks Italian Restaurant Brings a Chef With Michelin Guide Bonafides to a Familiar Space — Your First Look at Dante’s
A Houston Hospitality Veteran Opens His Dream SpotBY Laurann Claridge // 05.19.23
Casarecce pesto created by Italian-born chef Ilas Gugole makes an impression at Dante's River Oaks.. (Photo by Bear Media Co.)
Get a look inside the new Dante's River Oaks, a modern Italian restaurant on Mid Lane. (Photo by Bear Media Co.)
Pappardelle bolognese is one of a half dozen pasta dishes served at the new Dante's River Oaks. (Photo by Bear Media Co.)
Cocktail pairings by beverage director Evin Haines include gin and tonics flavored with figs, as well as sage and juniper. (Photo by Bear Media Co.)
Main dishes include proteins like salmon with a side of arugula and fennel topped with house dill dressing. (Photo by Bear Media Co.)
Truffle season brings tagliatelle tossed with wild mushrooms and a shaving of said truffle ($27). (Photo by Bear Media Co.)
Mangia, mangia! There’s a new Italian neighborhood restaurant in Houston, just inside the loop. Poised on the tree-lined street Mid Lane, Dante’s River Oaks is in the space that previously housed the Italian restaurant called Concura.
Dante’s is owned by restauranteur Brian Doke, who came up in the Houston hospitality business working for shy of a decade as the general manager before he was promoted to the director of operations at Tiny Boxwoods and its sister restaurant Tiny’s No. 5.
A couple of years ago, Doke made the move across town to The Heights. There he launched the wine-focused restaurant called Savoir as well as the Patton’s steakhouse inside it. He eventually sold his interest in both businesses and went off on his own last year to create the pretty patio bar dubbed Heights & Co. Now this thirtysomething has swung open the doors of his latest endeavor Dante’s River Oaks, an intimate modern Italian boite.
A fan of Concura, formerly owned by the husband and wife team Alessio Ricci and Jessica Biondi, Doke has been buying wine from the Italian-born Ricci for years. When Ricci and Biondi quietly announced they would close their restaurant and move back home to Italy, Doke didn’t want to let one of his favorite haunts shutter. Hatching a plan, he took over the space, hired a new chef and refreshed its interiors.
“The combination of a charming and quaint interior coupled with an airy patio for dining al fresco makes for a wonderful dining experience,” Doke says.
Inside Dante’s, black cafe chairs are pulled up to ebony-colored, marble-topped tables, with cane-back chairs lining the bar and an open kitchen that beckons curious diners to pull up a seat and watch as Italian-born chef Ilas Gugole takes center stage behind the range.
Before making his way to stateside, chef Gugole attended culinary school in Verona and spent a decade honing his skills throughout his homeland. Most notably, he worked at Ristorante Caffè Vittorio Emanuele, which is listed in the Michelin Guide. He moved to Houston last year and has been perfecting his modern take on Italian traditional recipes for Dante’s ever since.
The Dante’s Menu
Standouts on the menu include apertivos like a fresh snapper carpaccio ($17), dressed with a catalana sauce (think an iteration of romesco sauce), a drizzle of olive oil and black salt, as well as olive all’ascolana ($14), orbs of ground pork, beef and green queen olives rolled in panko bread crumbs and fried adorned with dollops of sundried tomato aioli. In addition, you’ll find comfort food like tomato and meatballs ($14) with spears of crip bread chips and sharable cheese and charcuterie boards ($25).
Pastas include a half dozen options from a pappardelle Bolognese ($22) to casarecce pesto, squiggly noodles enrobed in verdant basil pesto with a handful of toasted pine nuts atop. Fans of black pepper laced cacio e pepe ($22) will find it at Dante’s tossed with rigatoni, while truffle season brings tagliatelle tossed with wild mushrooms and a shaving of said truffle ($27).
Protein-focused mains include a grilled ribeye with mustard vinaigrette ($48), duck with a carrot cream sauce and red wine reduction ($46), and a catch of the day (market price), which when I visited meant a generous grilled filet of sea bass.
End your meal with a deconstructed tiramisu ($14) where espresso-dipped lady fingers balance atop a pool of sweetened mascarpone surrounded by chocolate crumbs or dip your spoon into a scoop of rose gelato ($8) studded with dark chocolate shards and pistachios.
Dante’s River Oaks is located at 4340 Westheimer Road. suite number 150 on Mid Lane. The restaurant is open for lunch, happy hour and dinner Tuesdays through Saturdays. Lunch is served from 11 am to 3 pm those days, with happy hour running from 3 pm to 5 pm, and dinner going from 5 pm 10 10 pm Tuesdays through Thursdays and 5 pm to 10:30 pm Fridays and Saturdays.