Chef Chat Part 2: Raul Garcia and Federico Cavatore of Cavatore's

In this week's Chef Chat series, we're catching up with Raul Garcia and Federico Cavatore of Cavatore's Italian Restaurant in the Heights. Yesterday we had a lesson in the restaurant's 27-year-old-history, and today we'll discuss what's new on the menu, a few of their signature dishes, and the notion of comfort food and its role in Italian cuisine.

EOW: Over the last few years, America has seen a big resurgence in comfort food, and I've always considered Italian food comfort food. What are your thoughts about that?

Raul Garcia: Italian food has been rated the number one food in popularity in the U.S. To be honest with you, as a rule, a lot of restaurants don't last very long, but here, it goes back to consistency. This is the food we serve at home, where we're comfortable, and we basically live in this restaurant. You know the restaurant business starts at eight in the morning and goes to midnight. We're here all day, so you want to eat what you cook at home. We try to bring that here to the restaurant. So most of the customers come for that. It is comfort food; it's what you enjoy at home.

EOW: A lot of private parties here and family events are held here. What's on the menu that you would suggest to the private parties?

Feredico Cavatore: It's Northern Italian food, where all the recipes have been handed down from my great grandmother, and what we normally do for private parties is set up a set menu, give them a choice of family-style appetizers and entrees for the table. For a large group, I'd recommend the lasagna, everyone's favorite, and the Fettucine Alfredo with chicken. And one thing we're known for in Houston is our Caesar salad, made here in front of the table. We've been doing that since 1984.

EOW: Whose recipe was that?

FC: My great-grandmother Olga's, and over the years it's stayed the same 'cause people love it that way. It's a secret family recipe, and we have customers that come week after week and try to figure it out.

EOW: Is there anything new on the menu that you can tell us about?

RG: We do have a new kids' menu available. You will be given a choice of milk or juice, mini lasagna, spaghetti with mini-meatballs, chicken strips, and chicken tenders.

EOW: What's one dish on the menu that everyone should come here to try?

FC: Besides the Caesar salad, everyone should come try our lasagna. It's been a huge hit since day one. We have a large diverse menu from pastas to chicken to veal and fish. Over the years, we have determined which ones are big sellers that will stay on the new menus, or the ones that aren't doing as well we just remove and don't look back.

EOW: So what do you think is the strangest request you guys have had?

RG: Strangest request I've ever had......I've seen it all here. I've been here 18 years, and nothing comes as a surprise anymore. And there's not something that we won't ever do.

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