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Restaurants / Openings

New River Oaks Italian Restaurant Will Make Simple Dishes Sing — No Pretentiousness Allowed!

Exclusive Details on the New Mina Ristorante

BY // 02.13.19

Italian pop icon Mina was many things. The versatile songstress was a television variety show staple and empowered woman, famed for her three-octave vocal range. And now the 1960s idol is the inspiration for an all-new, intimate and casual restaurant in River Oaks.

“Parole, parole” was one of her most popular songs — “My dear, what’s happening this evening. I look at you, and it’s like the first time.” That was the all-time favorite Mina song of the father of the new restaurant’s co-owner and chef, Monica Fallone. And it couldn’t be more perfect for the occasion.

You see, Mina Ristorante is a new concept for Fallone and her husband Luis Mancera, but this isn’t their first culinary venture. They’re transforming their gastro market Borgo Food Station into Mina Ristorante. Starting in April, foodies will look at the space at 3641 Alabama like it’s the first time.

“We’re making it casual and as light as possible. We want to create simplicity for customers to enjoy Italian comfort meals with no pretension. A classic Italian place, like a trattoria atmosphere,” Mancera tells PaperCity in the couple’s first full interview about the new plans.

Borgo will shutter temporarily this month before a four-week renovation. It’s set to reopen the first week of April. Fallone will dream up a tasting menu for the first 15 or so days.

But there will be plenty that’s familiar at this ready-to-eat restaurant turned casual neighborhood eatery. Fallone will carry over Borgo menu favorites to the new menu, like traditional spaghetti meatballs and chicken Milanese parmigiano.

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“I think it’s important to keep the recipes simple,” Fallone says. “If you keep it simple, you can taste the real flavors of all the ingredients you have in your dish. That’s why I love comfort food. We’ll have elevated comfort food based in tradition and based in our roots.”

You could call it traditional Italian with a twist.

“The dishes that are signature here will be included in the menu. But we’re also designing several recipes that are traditional but they have a twist in presentation or cooking method,” Fallone says. “When you work in a restaurant, first of all you must have passion for food. Second, you have to have imagination and develop your imagination because that’s the only way you can create new things, new flavors that perfectly match the ingredients.”

On this elevated comfort food menu, that means intriguing updates such as fresh burrata with baby tomatoes and a surprising gazpacho dressing in the place of traditional olive oil and basil.

“It’s another vision of that dish,” Fallone notes.

Mina Ristorante’s Slow Food Ways

There will be plenty of homemade pastas, but not all how you’d expect. In the place of the traditional cacio e pepe, you’ll find cece e pepe. The ingredients will be the classical favorites, crushed black pepper and pecorino. But there’s a Mina twist — chickpea puree.

One thing all recipes will have in common, regardless of whether they’re Borgo mainstays or innovative Mina dishes, will be their commitment to using locally sourced ingredients.

Fallone’s devotion to supporting local farmers and only using the finest fresh resources stems from her childhood. Her father was an early proponent of the Slow Food organization, a movement that originated in northwest Italy.

Started in the mid-1980s, Slow Food is dedicated to traditional cooking, local food and the preservation of regional cuisine. Now, it’s spread across the globe.

“I learned that from my father. It’s super important, supporting local farmers, local ingredients and controlling waste,” Fallone says.

When she worked at her family restaurant in Italy, Fallone and her father would tour the country by car, discovering new seeds and ingredients. “That is our idea of what you have to do in this kind of business,” she adds.

She’s taking the same tack with the wine list, an abbreviated but robust selection of 35 labels, largely organic and biodynamic.

“We’ll have affordable prices. I want people to enjoy the food with a nice glass of wine,” Fallone says.

Il bocca al lupo!

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