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Coltivare, Chef Ryan Pera's Local and Seasonal Italian with Pizza - on White Oak Drive in The Heights


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Fantastic dinner last night at Coltivare in The Heights neighborhood.  The Heights is a historic neighborhood North of downtown that has been described as a "small town in the city," and "Houston's 1st suburb," having been founded in the late 1800s.  When one wanders around amidst the Craftsmen bungalows and Victorian homes up there, it is certainly easy to forget you're in the belly of the sprawling beast that is Houston.

Coltivare opened about 2 and a half years ago to pretty universal acclaim, and is still listed in the Top 10 restaurants in Houston by the Chronicle.  Last night around 7:30 the place was packed, and we were quoted an hour to hour and a half wait time.  They take your number and text when your table is ready.  There is an outdoor area for waiting with waiter service for cocktails, wine, and beer, but being new to the area, we strolled down White Oak to browse a record store, and grab a beer at the nearby Onion Creek.  Just under an hour later, our table was ready.

My impression of Cotivare from reading around was of a pizzeria that used seasonal ingredients and fresh vegetables from their onsite garden (kind of like Roberta's in Brooklyn).  Our experience last night proves it is much more.

The menu is broken into several sections (Snacks, Salumi, Salads, Small Plates, Pizza, Pasta, and Entrees).  With the number of options in the snack/small plate section, you could definitely put together a great meal without even looking at pizzas or mains.  We started with 2 snacks and a selection from the salumi section.  Carrots with Carrot Top Pesto was exactly that.  A bowl of raw sliced heirloom carrot sticks from the garden with a dish of spicy pesto for dipping.  Simple and delicious.  Arancini were fist-sized, perfectly fried, and oozing with cheese.  These were served with a fresh pea salsa verde that cut through the richness well with a brightness and slight earthiness from the peas.  Bruschetta came with a schmear of Nduja, topped with greens from the garden (arugula I think), and drizzled with local honey.  These were absolutely delicious, and something I would order over and over.

Next was a golden beet agnolotti with an assortment of vegetables all cooked to a perfect crisp tender.  The fresh pasta was delicious, and while fresh, retained just a bit of chewiness that complimented the vegetables.  As my wife said "If all vegetables could be so lucky to be cooked so well."  The pizza completely blew me away.  Brussels sprouts, butternut squash puree (in lieu of a tomato sauce), pancetta, pickled shallots, red chiles, and delicious, face-melting Taleggio cheese.  The crust on the pizza was unlike any crust I am used to.  It was crispy throughout, but soft.  Very little chew.  The cornicione almost looked like brioche as opposed to the blistered, leopard spots of a Neapolitan pie.  I don't know if my description is doing it justice, but it was amazing.  Maybe it's a sign of the bounty of great Neapolitan pizza in NY and DC, but I am glad they are putting out something different at Coltivare that can really stand out.

We had a great 2011 Scarzello Barbera D'Alba with all of the above.  There was a great looking cocktail menu (all at $11) that we didn't explore this time.

Although we were stuffed, we soldiered on and finished with an Olive Oil Cake with bourbon, Luxardo gastrique, and grapefruit.  This was a delicious riff on the Old Fashioned cocktail that came together as advertised.

We will be back, and I would urge folks visiting Houston to check it out next time you're there.

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