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The first great new Houston restaurant of 2014 is here: "Simple" Italian place wows with its promise

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11 Coltivare restaurant Houston January 2014
Owners Morgan Weber and Ryan Pera stand in Coltivare's garden.  Photo by Eric Sandler
13 Coltivare restaurant Houston January 2014
Look for these windows facing White Oak street.  Photo by Eric Sandler
14 Coltivare restaurant Houston January 2014
This dish utilizes charred raddichio and sardines.  Photo by Eric Sandler
16 Coltivare restaurant Houston January 2014
Crispy chicken with pickled grapes was one of the highlights of a media tasting.  Photo by Eric Sandler
Coltivare restaurant Houston January 2014
One of the salads consists of pickled butternut squash, Brussels sprouts and walnuts.  Photo by Eric Sandler
Coltivare restaurant Houston January 2014
Housemade fettuuccine with gulf shrimp and orange zest had balanced flavors and a delicate sauce.  Photo by Eric Sandler
8 Coltivare restaurant Houston January 2014
A variety of fruit and vegetables are being grown in the 3,000 square foot garden.  Photo by Eric Sandler
7 Coltivare restaurant Houston January 2014
The tables are accented with blue mason jars that hold the silverware.  Photo by Eric Sandler
5 Coltivare restaurant Houston January 2014
All of Coltivare's pizzas are cooked in this wood burning oven.  Photo by Eric Sandler
3 Coltivare restaurant Houston January 2014
Chefs working in the open kitchen.  Photo by Eric Sandler
2 Coltivare restaurant Houston January 2014
Morgan Weber prepares a cocktail. Photo by Eric Sandler
1 Coltivare restaurant Houston January 2014
The 11th & Hudson is inspired by a trip to New York Weber and Pera took and uses Cynar amaro as its base. Photo by Eric Sandler
11 Coltivare restaurant Houston January 2014
13 Coltivare restaurant Houston January 2014
14 Coltivare restaurant Houston January 2014
16 Coltivare restaurant Houston January 2014
Coltivare restaurant Houston January 2014
Coltivare restaurant Houston January 2014
8 Coltivare restaurant Houston January 2014
7 Coltivare restaurant Houston January 2014
5 Coltivare restaurant Houston January 2014
3 Coltivare restaurant Houston January 2014
2 Coltivare restaurant Houston January 2014
1 Coltivare restaurant Houston January 2014

After months of construction, permitting delays and hassles, Revival Market partners Ryan Pera and Morgan Weber are finally ready to open their Italian restaurant, Coltivare, this Wednesday. Located just down the street from Revival on White Oak, Coltivare promises to showcase the local ingredients that Revival is known for with a simple, well-prepared, Italian-inspired cuisine.

The first source of those local ingredients will be the restaurant's 3,000 square foot garden. Weber says the restaurant's opening was delayed by six or seven months as they negotiated with the City of Houston for approval not to utilize the space as parking. While the delay took an emotional toll, the results speak for themselves.

During a media preview, Pera highlighted the wide variety of plants Coltivare has under cultivation, including blackberries, olives, carrots and lettuce. Herbs from the garden already appear in dishes on the restaurant's menu, and that process will accelerate over time.

 Coltivare is the first major opening of 2014 and will likely be one of the places people are talking about at year's end. 

Inside, the space has a rustic charm thanks to the extensive use of reclaimed wood throughout the dining room. "We're a neighborhood restaurant, not trying to be fancy in any way," Pera says.

Towards that end, Coltivare won't take reservations. With only 56 seats inside and another 30 or so in the patio, there could be a wait, especially on weekends. If the kitchen, led by Pera and chef de cuisine Vincent Huynh, can produce at the level it did during the tasting, the wait will be worth it.

Among the dishes that night, the highlights were the wood grilled chicken with pickled grapes and the pizza produced in the wood burning oven. The chicken had a crispy exterior and juicy interior with a slightly smoky flavor thanks to being cooked in a wood burning broilers. The pizza utilizes a crust that Pera and Huynh spent months developing.

Although Neapolitan styles are trendy, Pera decided to go another direction. Coltivare's dough is "more structured (like) artisanal style bread" than Neapolitan pizza are. It's also cooked at a lower temperature of 715 degrees and topped with a variety of seasonal vegetables and cured meats: Everything from Meyer lemon to bone marrow and stinging nettles.

A Hot Houston Restaurant 

In addition to the pizzas and large meat dishes, Coltivare will serve a variety of cured meat (mostly sourced from Revival), housemade pastas, snacks and small plates. At the tasting, the kitchen produced a classic take on cacio e pepe pasta that showcased the way four ingredients combine to deliver maximum flavor. Bottarga, made from 250 pounds of tuna egg sacks that the restaurant cured in house, will show up on various dishes until it runs out. 

Pera's particularly proud of the wood burning broiler used to prepare the chicken and the daily special butcher's cut. "To our knowledge, we're the first in Texas, definitely the first in Houston" to use the broiler, Pera says, but Coltivare is in good company. "Heston Bluementhal has one at The Fat Duck," Pera notes. 

Sourced from Spain, the broiler is capable of cooking at 1,000 degrees. "That's incredibly hot," Pera says. That heat means the broiler cooks quickly, and its size makes it more useful than a wood-burning grill.  

Weber has created a cocktail list based around Italian Amaro and wants to have "one of the largest lists" of the spirit in the country. Jeb Stuart, formerly of the Oak Forest wine bar Plonk! Bistro, will serve as general manager and sommelier. He's put together a 60 bottle list.

Pera thinks customers will embrace the wine selections, because "this food will pair really well with friendly, affordable, easy drinking wine."

To sum up, the proprietors of a Houston grocery store known for selling high-quality ingredients have launched a restaurant to serve those ingredients in a style that highlights them. Coltivare is the first major opening of 2014 and will likely be one of the places people are talking about at year's end.

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