A Chef's Journey... From Salerno on the Amalfi Coast of Italy to Sardinia and back to the Amalfi Coast!
Born and reared in Solerno on Italy’s beautiful Amalfi Coast. Chef Giancarlo Ferrara was immersed, as a child, in his fourth generation cheese makers family’s love of and contribution to the foods and cuisines of the area. He attended Centro Professionale Albergiero cooking school in Salerno, then furthered his training at Scuola Arte Culinaria Etoile. Upon completion of his studies and apprenticeships, he built upon his experience at various of the finest resorts and restaurants in Italy (receiving such awards as finalist in Barilla’s Prima d’Italia contest and winning the honor of Best Restaurant in Veneto from the Veronelli Guide in 1998).
Chef Giancarlo and Lisa Ferrara
In 2002, Giancarlo joined Arcodoro in Houston as executive chef and quickly became well-known in Houston for preparing the cuisines of Sardinia for eager Houstonians who raved about his expertise and creations from that area. He represented Arcodoro at the prestigious James Beard House in 2003 and won the “People’s Choice” award at the 4th annual Risotto Festival.
Not a sports bar... but a good place to watch NBC Nightly News
while enjoying a cocktail!
After 11 years with Arcodoro, Giancarlo is now fulfilling his dream of opening his own restaurant. He has come full-circle to the cuisines of his homeland of the Amalfi Coast of Italy with his new eatery, Amalfi Ristorante Italiano & Bar.
The Wine Room Doubles as a Private Dining Room
So, with that in mind, noting that the new restaurant had opened in my neighborhood in Briargrove Center, I dropped in for lunch with a friend (more dishes to taste and write about if I liked it… which I did). Also, it is important to note that the Amalfi Coast of Italy and Sardinia have important similarities… the main daily occupations of the citizens are dining, drinking, relaxing and enjoying life… hence, Amalfi Ristorante Italiano & Bar seems to be an oasis of casual relaxation, wine and (in my opinion) great food. So, we weren’t pushed along with each course bumping the previous one out of the way.
We started with a daily special, which was Salmone Maritato Agli Agrumi. Giancarlo smokes Scottish salmon in-house, then marinates it with sea salt, lemon, orange zest and raw sugar. It’s topped with a julienne of carrots, zucchini, micro greens, an orange-infused dressing (and some strategically placed salmon roe). I know that it looks like it was delicious, but it was better than that.
Tartar di Mezzancolle e Caviacole
Our server suggested a Mediterranean red shrimp tartar, Tartar di Mezzancolle e Caviacole, as a second antipasti. It was at once gorgeous and tasty and photogenic (important!). The shrimp were marinated in lemon-infused olive oil, chives, basil and pepperoncino, then served over a zucchini carpaccio with Servuga caviar and a shrimp dressing.
Ravioli di Zucca Aragosta e Tartufo
This house-made ravioli, Ravioli di Zucca Aragosta e Tartufo, was filled with creamy butternut squash then topped with LOBSTER and a black truffle sauce. The pasta was perfect and I am qualified enough to say that the truffle sauce, while it may have been made with truffle oil... it was house-made from black truffles. It was a sophisticated presentation of rustic ingredients with a musky, sexy aroma... really nice!
My dining companion ordered a custom-built pizza... that's not a problem here, as they even have a granite counter for customer-involved pizza crafting. There are specialty pizzas on the menu, such as Margherita, Prosciutto di Parma, Salame, Funghi (etc., etc.), but from what I could see, if they have it, they will put it on a pizza for you. It was delicious with a perfect crust and I noticed that they also have Calzones and Focaccia on the menu.
Ossobuco al Taurasi con Risotto al Timo e Burrata
The king is in the house! My rule has always been that if there is Osso Buco on the menu, I look no further. Of course, it has to be prepared by a chef who knows how to do it. When the dish arrived, braised in Taurasi wine with thyme risotto, it had the marrow fork already inserted in the bone, indicating that Chef Giancarlo knew why I order Osso Buco and what I wanted to do first. Tender, rich and juicy with creamy marrow, this veal dish is as good as I've had in Houston. The aromatic aroma of it wafting behind the server, as he glided through the tables, drew the admiration and comments from a table-full of "ladies who lunch" next to us (one of whom came over to our table to gaze at it).
Trilogia di Nocciola
Dessert was a creative and decadent Trilogia di Nocciola (Is "decadent" overused in dessert reviews? Certainly it is.). It's like Hazelnut three ways. A warm cake, creamy smooth and melted in the center... a panna cotta... and a smooth gelato. There was even a macaron perched on the plate. Our server suggested a Frangelico Cappuccino to be paired with it and it worked beautifully.
We found Amalfi Ristorante Italiano & Bar to be comfortable, unhurried and elegantly casual. All of the dishes we ordered were delicious and I, for one, recommend it without reservations. But I recommend reservations (today).
Amalfi Ristorante Italiano & Bar
Houston, Texas 77057