new italian in river oaks
Festive new Italian restaurant serves up fresh fare, made-from-scratch pastas, and upscale vibe in River Oaks
River Oaks has a new destination for pizza, pasta, and other festive Italian fare. Zanti Cucina Italiana is now open in the River Oaks Shopping Center (1958 W Gray St.).
Founded in The Woodlands in 2019 by owner Santiago Peláez and executive chef Stefano Ferrero, the new River Oaks location represents an evolution of the concept that’s been upgraded for to suit its ritzy address. The almost 9,000-square-foot restaurant features design elements imported from Italy, including tiles and chandeliers.
Peláez describes The Woodlands location as a more family friendly trattoria where customers in shorts can sit at the bar and watch sports or families can come for lasagna and chicken parmesan. River Oaks will be a more upscale ristorante with white tablecloths, a more extensive wine list, and a charcuterie bar.
“I used to go to Brasserie 19. I always loved that old feeling and the people in River Oaks,” Peláez tells CultureMap. “I think it made a lot more sense for the food we offer, the kind of service we like.”
Just as the design has been upgraded, Ferrero has changed the menu. Look for dishes such as black truffle beef tartare, Neapolitan-style pizza, and freshly made pastas. Entree choices include lamb osso bucco, salt-crusted branzino, and a selection of steaks and chops. Peláez cites the chef’s Italian heritage as a major influence on the menu.
“We tried to source as much as we could from Italy,” Peláez says. “We do the pasta from scratch every day. All our sauces are made from scratch. We tried to bring as many ingredients from Italy: flour, tomatoes, proteins, cheeses, charcuterie.”
“That passion [for cooking] he’s had since he was a little kid. I can see it in the food and how he transmits it to the people who work for us,” he adds.
Zanti opens at a time of transition for River Oaks Shopping Center. Brasserie 19 recently came under the sole ownership of Charles Clark. It has been reported that La Griglia, the Landry’s-owned Italian restaurant founded by legendary Houston restaurateur Tony Vallone, will soon relocate from the center. In the months to come, Hudson House, a lively oyster bar concept from Dallas, will open next to Brasserie 19. Peláez acknowledges he’s entering a dynamic market with lots of great restaurants, but he feels confident about Zanti’s prospects.
“I think the competition is good,” he says. “My uncle used to tell me a lack of competition generates incompetence."
Zanti opens for dinner nightly at 4 pm. It will serve lunch Thursday-Sunday beginning at 11 am.