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PaperCity May 2024 Houston

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R estaurateur Ben Berg is on a roll. After a flurry of glittering openings in 2023, with eight more expected in 2024, the CEO and founder of Berg Hospitality Group (B&B Butchers & Restaurant, B.B. Lemon, The Annie Café & Bar, Turner's, Trattoria Sofia, Emilia's Havana, Benny Chows, and Annabelle Brasserie, among others) has partnered with The Bastion Collection, operators of Le Jardinier at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, to reimagine the former French eatery La Table on Post Oak Boulevard. The lower level of the two-story building has been rebranded as Tavola, serving Italian fare; a new French concept is expected to open upstairs sometime in 2024. The intimate space, which seats 118, was designed by the operators in collaboration with Gail McCleese of Sensitori. The dining room is styled in shades of apricot and golden tones of rose with warm blond woods and fluted marble wainscoting. Sunny afternoons invite dining in the glass-walled seating area adjacent to the main dining room, where cane-back chairs are cushioned with vibrant, green-striped upholstery. Behind the range is Milanese executive chef Luca Di Benedetto, late of the Giorgio Armani Group and Nobu Milano. He's a protégé of award-winning Italian chef Gualtiero Marchesi, who's considered by many to be the father of modern Italian cooking. Marchesi refined the idea of total cuisine, wherein each pristine ingredient plays a vital role, and the artful presentation is essential to one's enjoyment of the dish. Taking a page from his mentor, Di Benedetto d u t i f u l l y i m p o r t s ingredients integral to the authenticity of the cuisine, from dried pastas, cured meats, flours, and olive oils to the half- wheel of 24-month-aged Parmigiano Reggiano d i s p l a y e d u n d e r a gleaming Christofle THE NEW TAVOLA RESTAURANT MAKES AN ARTFUL ARRIVAL. By Laurann Claridge. Photography Brian Kennedy. A MODERN ITALIAN silver guéridon. Affable general manager Valerio Lombardozzi, who once called La Table home, is back, overseeing the seasoned service staff. When dining after dark, I recommend starting with the warm, soft loaf of focaccia, risen a lucky seven times before being studded with caramelized onions and cherry tomatoes, accompanied by an olive spread ($14). Oysters Rockefeller, move over — there's a new dish in our midst. Oyster Carbonara features a half-dozen of the delectable mollusks, topped with a rich sauce made with eggs, black pepper, pecorino Romano, and lardons of cured pork ($24). Di Benedetto's pastas are playful compositions, perfectly portioned and elegantly plated. Don't miss his clever take on cacio e pepe, a Roman classic that here takes the form of handmade, pillowy- soft agnolotti; each diminutive bite is filled with creamy, peppery Pecorino Romano cheese sauce and sits atop a purée of smoked artichoke, sprinkled with ribbons of fried artichoke leaves ($32). The lasagnetta Bolognese is a seven-layer spinach pasta with authentic ragú, beef brisket, pancetta, and pork butt, all artfully sheathed with tomato sauce and squiggles of Parmigiana fondue ($28). Secondi courses include Ligurian-style branzino filets atop a shallow pool of basil fish fumet sauce with a scattering of potatoes, cherry tomatoes, olives, and pine nuts ($38). The veal Milanese is a mighty chop that's breaded and pan-fried with clarified butter in the traditional way, then topped with a lemon emulsion and a bouquet of dressed arugula ($58). Tavola, 1800 Post Oak Blvd, Above: Pollo Diavola style with free-range chicken, Calabrian chiles, rosemary, and lemon, carved table-side at Tavola. Left: Tavola. 32

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