The Heights’ new Italian restaurant draws on real experts – How Ben Berg turned to the best for Trattoria Sofia

IIt seems it took a proverbial village for restaurateur Benjamin Berg to launch his latest restaurant in Houston, Trattoria Sofia in The Heights. Perhaps inspired by a small market town outside sunny Palermo or a secluded hamlet high in the lush hills of Tuscany where you can swing into a trattoria for lunch, dinner or some time in between and feast on simple and rustic dishes.

Quickly becoming a formidable force in the Texas restaurant world, Berg is the owner and creator of ideas who created the hotspots of Houston B & B Butchers, B & B Lemon, B & B Italia, as well as those without B & B before their nicknames like the reinvented Cafe Annie, now known as The Annie, Turner’s and now this new place, named after her eldest daughter.

To evoke Trattoria Sofia, Berg – to his credit – called on experts considered in their respective fields to consult on the project.

He reached out to former Houstonian, baker and chef Magnus Hansson, now based in New York City, to advise him on the menu and help bring authenticity to the dishes. And – unsurprisingly – as the former owner of Manna Bread Company, Hansson also created the Trattoria Sofia homemade bread program. Masterful mixologist Alba Huerta, owner of Houston’s famed beverage heaven Julep, has taken the plunge with craft cocktails that showcase Italian liquors from Amaretto to Amaro. Talented chef LJ Wiley was hired as executive chef, while architect Issac Preminger, a longtime contributor to all things aesthetic in Berg’s restaurants, gave the design of a space that was once a meaning. ravaged by fire.

The picturesque patio of Trattoria Sofia features a large olive tree that will eventually grow above the pergula. (Photo Michelle Watson)

Cozy and comfortable, the interior of Trattoria Sofia features several curvaceous banquettes surrounded by small two-top tables with warm accents of walnut woodwork and dark beams. Pendant lights made of pierced corrugated cardboard hang above two enormous faux mango trees that have taken root in the center of the room. A chili red Berkel slicer stands front and center. The Rolls Royce of meat slicers, mind you, its presence shows a certain respectability to this new restaurant anchored by a semi-open kitchen.

Just outside the wrought-iron windows is a charming dining alcove, surrounded by vine-covered brick and stucco walls. The garden-like frame is topped by a pergola that supports a beautiful olive tree whose tender branches will enviably grow above it.

What to eat at Trattoria Sofia

Start your meal with a crostini di gamberi arrabiata ($ 16), a perfectly spiced crispy shrimp coated in a tomato sauce and set on a creamy bed of smoked labneh (a tangy soft cheese from the Middle East made from strained yogurt) smeared on the toast slices of bread. The salsa di cette e zucca ($ 14) also caught my eye. A mild pumpkin-chickpea dip – meant to be scooped up by the toasted ciabatta wedges on the side – is spiced up with the crunch of toasted pumpkin seeds, chickpeas and a warm touch of Calabrian peppers.

Fortunately, there is no Caesar salad in sight. Instead, Trattoria Sofia expands the idea of ​​what a salad starter can be and gives us a simple but well-executed Tuscan coleslaw (cavolo nero, $ 14). Its leaves are made tender by the laborious task of massaging them each with EVOO and salt until they have just wilted. Kale leaves are tossed with splits of Parmigiano-Reggiano, a smoked chili and garlic vinaigrette, topped with toasted breadcrumbs for crunch and fresh basil and mint leaves that land like fresh sparks of flavor. on the palate.

Speaking of fresh mint, there’s nothing I would love to pair with Alba Huerta’s Pimm’s and Modena Cup Gin ($ 13) than Wiley’s simple plate of Toasted Nuts with sprigs of fresh mint. , spicy honey and pieces of Parmesan ($ 14).)

Trattoria Sofia’s Polpo Arrosto ($ 28) is an octopus cured in red wine, gently braised so as not to become stiff, bathed in a Romanesco-roasted tomato sauce. Don’t miss the thin and crispy pizzas, especially the prosciutto variety ($ 22). Its rind is topped with elegantly melting Fontina and Taleggio cheeses with a touch of black pepper and fresh lemon zest on the finish.

A range of pizzas served at Trattoria Sofia
A selection of pizzas prepared at the new Trattoria Sofia. (Photo Jenn Duncan)

The pasta – there are only four on the dinner menu – are all homemade. No ordinary noodles, their bucatini alla pesto Siciliano ($ 26) is a sort of long, hollow tube made with a special 3½-millimeter die that rocks the crisp Sicilian pesto. Made with roasted pistachios, fresh basil, mint and lemon with the heat of pepperoncini, all topped with a dollop of whipped ricotta.

Sicilian famous dish, casarecce alla norma ($ 22), is a roll-shaped dough filled with curved edges and a subtle groove in the middle that supports the weight of pieces of eggplant fried in a mixed spicy tomato sauce. with shaved ricotta salata.

Casarecce All Norma Pasta at Trattoria Sofia
Sicilian’s famous dish, casarecce alla norma ($ 22), is a roll-shaped dough that supports the weight of pieces of fried eggplant in a spicy tomato sauce mixed with shaved ricotta salata. (Photo Jenn Duncan)

Secondi selections include pollo all parmigiana ($ 26), vitello alla milanese ($ 48) and 14-ounce rib eye, Costata di mazo al gorgonzola dolce ($ 82) as well as swordfish or Pan-fried monkfish, pesce spada alla siciliana ($ 44) and respectively coda di rospo di salsa verde ($ 42).

The dessert brings a touch of tiramisu ($ 16). Traditional coffee-soaked boudoirs are replaced with crumbled sesame and butter cookies, and a fresh espresso-tipped semifreddo replaces the mascarpone custard. Delicious.

Trattoria Sofia, 911 West 11th Street, Houston, (713) 804-0429.

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