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The Food at Coltivare Is Almost Worth the Wait

New Heights restaurant has a gardens but doesn't have reservations.

The restaurant itself has quickly become an industry hangout as well, due in part to the owners, Weber and Pera, but mostly to the food, which showcases Houston produce and Houston sensibilities with an Italian slant.

But even though the industry and food critics have largely embraced it, I've had my issues with the restaurant. I was disappointed recently to discover that the kitchen has been attacking some of the dishes with perhaps too much enthusiasm. A salad of wood-grilled leeks with pancetta, Parmesan and a poached duck egg sprinkled with oregano suffered from an overabundance of salt, and I felt my tongue tingling (and not in a good way) with each bite of the aggressively salted salad.

Mussels stewed in garum, an ancient Greek and Roman fermented fish sauce, and blended with capers and garlic achieve an ideal texture — neither chewy nor gritty — but they, too, suffered from a heavy hand with the salt shaker. Pancetta, Parmesan, capers and garum are already salty to start with, and perhaps the recipes need some tweaking to take that into account. Or maybe the restaurant is counting on selling more cocktails, as I found myself very thirsty throughout the meal.

The wood-burning pizza oven cooks pies that are fluffy on the inside and crisp and slightly smoky on the outside.
Troy Fields
The wood-burning pizza oven cooks pies that are fluffy on the inside and crisp and slightly smoky on the outside.

Location Info

Map

Coltivare Pizza & Garden

3320 White Oak Drive
Houston, TX 77007

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Heights

Details

Hours: Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m.; Friday, 5 to 11 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m.; closed Tuesday.

Leek salad $9
Sautéed backyard greens $6
Mussels $10
Pepperoni pizza $14
Yukon potato pizza $14
Spaghetti $12
Fettuccine $14
Whole roasted fish $34
Pork roast $30



Go behind the scenes of this week's review in our slideshow, "Coltivare: A Closer Look."


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Still, Coltivare shines for me where the pizzas and pastas are concerned (save for a bafflingly undercooked bowl of duck ravioli) thanks to the restraint with which they're devised. Nothing is superfluous, and everything contributes to the dish as a whole, particularly on a Yukon potato and oyster mushroom pie, softened with funky taleggio cheese, then brightened with a hit of rosemary.

Fettuccine with gulf shrimp is set apart from any other fettuccine and seafood dish I've ever had by the mixture of chile oil and orange zest that makes the plate tantalizingly almost sweet — the orange tricks your mind initially before your tongue adjusts to the smoky chile and the bitterness of the orange zest, then revels in the bright parsley and soothing shrimp and bread crumbs. As with the spaghetti, the pizzas, and the small dishes made with backyard herbs and greens, it's an ideal blend of adventure and simplicity.

I rarely order the proper amount of food at Coltivare. It's always far more than my dining companions or I can conquer, and even so, I generally end up missing the entrées altogether. It's a shame, because the whole wood-roasted fish is a winner, regardless of the accompaniments, which change regularly. It's presented on a large platter, posed upright as if it swam straight into the oven and wound up getting cooked in place. As with most of the menu, the fish selection depends on the fresh catch of the day.

A pork roast dotted with clams and served atop a bed of polenta and crumbled sausage has a wonderful smoky flavor, but the clams feel extraneous, as they largely take on the flavor of the sausage, which itself might be a bit much when paired with the pork. In this instance — and there are very few of them — the desire to incorporate unnecessary ingredients seems to have trumped the chefs' usual discipline.

And so I return again and again to the simple riff on cacio e pepe and anything from the verdant garden. And in spite of the fact that not all of ­Coltivare's dishes are where I'd like them just yet, I continue to wait in line — sometimes up to two hours — for another negroni cocktail and another pizza with that unusually fluffy crust. I wait for the opportunity to dine among fellow food lovers and to share an evening with the shrubs and vines rapidly reaching toward the sky in the now lush backyard.

Coltivare is still new, and it's quite an impressive spot for its youth. I can't say what other chefs, writers and diners have and proclaim that the restaurant is one of the best things to happen in Houston dining recently. I have no doubt that it could get there. But until then, I'll keep ­waiting.

kaitlin.steinberg@houstonpress.com

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11 comments
NoTimeforWhining
NoTimeforWhining

I have never waited more than a half hour. You people do not have enough to do. celebrate creativity and small business or just sit in your own bitter bile. 

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard topcommenter

The spaghetti dish is correctly called "cacio y pepe."  Did they really not call it this on the menu?

lisaitsyourbday
lisaitsyourbday

"And then I wonder what the hell to do with myself for the next hour and a half in a largely residential neighborhood devoid of nearby places to hang out and pass the time."


Are you unable to walk 1 block down the street? Onion Creek, City Oven, Christian's, BB's, Woodrow's??? You're in The Heights, not the burbs.

adambevo
adambevo

Bored? On White Oak? Seriously? What an ignorant statement.


Walk 3 minutes to get to Onion Creek.  Go about 3 minutes further than that to get to Christian's, City Oven, Public House, Jimmy's Ice House, BBs, and Little Woodrow's.  This is why I don't mind the long wait at Coltivare; I just take a 5-minute stroll to go grab a drink.

beingmarkh
beingmarkh

"Largely residential neighborhood devoid of places to hang out"?  Did you not notice Onion Creek, the Public House, Christian's Tailgate, BB's, or Little Woodrow's?  It's White Oak, for cryin' out loud, home of the White Linen Night and the first street to participate in the Open Streets initiative. There are nothing *but* places to hang out there.


Go have your cocktails at any of the bars listed above, and Coltivare will text you to let you know when your table's ready, and wait for you to arrive.  (They'll wait longer if you text them back to say you're on your way.)  If you do that, you won't feel as if you've waited at all.


But honestly...nowhere to hang out on White Oak?  Really?

gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

Sounds precisely like Revival Market, when they first opened things were very good now it's gotten mediocre to downright lousy, which is a shame used to be my favorite spot for a BLT or for some local sweet corn. Prices are through the roof and the quality has fallen off tremendously, clearly they have a problem with consistency.

 I have thus far ignored the hype after the bad taste and several ruined/downright bad lunches which I my took chef buddy to at Revival (leaving me looking like a fool for ever having faith in them). Wrote them about my experiences, and it fell on deaf ears no response whatsoever. So needless to say I won't be a customer of theirs, clearly success went to their heads. 

 
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