First Look at Sapori

Categories: On the Menu

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The vitello tonnato is back.
It looks like Chef Alberto Baffoni might have finally landed in a spot suited perfectly for his talents after years of bouncing around, most recently at the ill-fated Bohemia, after leaving his initial Houston post at Simposio (which is also now closed): Saprori Ristorante Italiano.

No longer is Baffoni restricted to cooking an odd mishmash of Russian and other Eastern European cuisines; Sapori has brought him back around to his old roots, dishing up well-executed Northern Italian standards as well as a few unexpected treats, as I found recently during Sapori's Sunday brunch.

The old metallic palm trees from Isla Ixtapa -- the restaurant that formerly occupied the space -- are still in the dining room. They're a bit odd in contrast to the rest of the jewel-toned Italian decor, but thoughts of this clash vanished as my parents and I sat in the breeze from the restaurant's wide-open French doors, the creamy ring of Baffoni's vitello tonnato ($10) a sight for sore eyes as it landed on our table.

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We ate it with gusto. The classic summertime dish was appropriately light and tangy, from the capers, to the pale shivers of lemon, all the way down to the slightly salty sauce. The clear, bright flavors more than made up for my overly sweet Bloody Mary and piqued my hopes for the rest of brunch.

My mother had found the Benedict al Salmone ($15) on the brunch menu (which is full of little treats like a Valentina omelet with prosciutto, asparagus and fontina cheese; uova alla moda with vegetable strudel and spaghetti), and she lit upon it straight away. My father and I were more swayed by the lunch menu, however, and ordered a scaloppine di pollo ($15) and the bistecca panini ($13).

I have never been more disappointed not to have ordered a "boring old dish" (the thought in my head when my dad placed his order) than I was when he received the star of the meal. It was tender chicken that cut quickly with a fork, barely blanketed with a rich yet restrained sauce, sunny with lemon and luscious with butter. If Baffoni can make an old standby like this sing, you know the man can do just about anything.

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My mother's Eggs Benedict benefited from the salty smoked salmon, partnering up nicely with the tangy Hollandaise. And I was pleasantly surprised to find that her fruit bowl contained fruit other than bland, colorless bits of melon: orange slices, strawberries, pineapple, blueberries, grapefruit -- this was an actual fruit bowl.

My panini was equally wealthy with quality ingredients: peppery arugula, spicy horseradish, fat Roma tomatoes and medium-rare rib-eye that oozed into the rosemary-scented focaccia bread. And there was more than enough for me to eat in one sitting; the other half went home to serve as dinner.

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Although we were all disappointed with the undersalted bread pudding, it was the only other low point of a solid meal highlighted by a visit from Baffoni himself, just like old times. The chef is well-known for visiting each table in his restaurant, the same jaunty, floppy maroon hat on his head as usual. Only this time, we were the only table for Baffoni to visit.

There was no one else in Sapori throughout our meal aside from Baffoni and our cheerful waitress. Baffoni indicated that it was because he'd just started serving brunch, but I wondered if the place simply hadn't been advertising itself very well. I dearly hope that it does, and that more people in West Houston will take notice of the excellent Italian food -- not Italian-American, mind you, but the real stuff -- right in their backyard.

On the other hand, Sapori is in the same small strip center as favorites The Burger Guys and Edomae Sushi -- both of which draw people from all over the city -- so perhaps there's promise for this location yet. Baffoni is in his prime here, a return to form from days past at Simposio. In an ideal world, that in and of itself should secure its future. Here's to hope.



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Location Info

Sapori Ristorante Italiano - CLOSED

12225 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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19 comments
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stwilhelm
stwilhelm

I can't wait to go! I have missed Alberto's skills and look forward to tasting them again!

Jennilangusto
Jennilangusto

I wish he'd taken the La Strada spot that now houses Caffe Bello; my neighborhood would then be perfect!

ribalding
ribalding

Thanks for the rec. Wife and I had a great meal. Sic 'em Bears.

Tina
Tina

My Son, Daughter-in Law an myself had an amazing meal here on Saturday. The Calamari appitizer was so tender and the homemade tarter sauce was delicious. (We don't even like tarter sauce and we ate every bit.) We tried 3 different entrees' and sampled each others. Everything was delicious. The orange Creme Brulee' and the Cappucino that we finished with was the best we'd ever had. We don't usually go out for Italian food because I am Italian and very picky about how Italian food is prepared. This is truely authentic Italian food. The service was excellent. We will be back. Tina

Rileylifeof
Rileylifeof

wonderful stuff....So happy Alberto's back!

Btalkinglss
Btalkinglss

THANKS for the tip Katharine! I tried Sapori today and thought it was one of the top restaurants I've encountered lately. Small, friendly, personal and chef-driven, Sapori is a place I can get used to here in Royal Oaks. (you're right: The vitello tonnato was delicious and looked better than your phone depicted!)

Fiorello82
Fiorello82

I remember when Alberto Baffoni opened Simposio and Marco WIles opened Da Marco, not too far from each other. It was a Battle Royale between the 2 best Italian joints in the city. I welcome Alberto back, even though he's farther out now.

Cirronharedresser
Cirronharedresser

If you live downtown and need an excuse to drive that far out, there is Phoenicia's giant food market a block away. Stock-up on oils, cheeses, sausages...etc whatever you like from across the Mediterranean basin, and Eurasia.

You can also catch a flamboyant Russian floor show at Imperia in the same center as Phoenicia, while having dessert and coffee or digestif.

But, honestly, you'll be happy just finding Sapori and settling in for a great meal.

John Kiely
John Kiely

Grazie...Alberto Baffoni's Strozzapreti alla Ferrendelli is the best pasta dish I've had in this city. I hope he brings those "priest stranglers" back.

tastybits
tastybits

I stopped by Sapori today. Very nice meal. Vitello tonnato is as good as ever and risotto ai fruti di mare was very well prepared. Based on my one visit, this is a better Italian restaurant than countless others in Houston. Definitely put this on your list. Prices seemed very reasonable.

AlbertNNN
AlbertNNN

frutti, Misha, that's 'frutti di Mare'

Emiliromagna
Emiliromagna

Zero visibility and buzz for this place, and Baffoni is far more talented than the chefs at 99% of Italian restaurants around town. Marketing, it goes without saying, has always been his weak point.Wish him well!

symon batalli
symon batalli

he's probably also more talented than 99% of the celebrity chefs in Houston, period.

Yoinks!
Yoinks!

Where's the vitello tonnato? Is it under the vomit?

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I'd like to defend the vitello tonnato's honor by saying that my iPhone's camera absolutely did not do the dish justice.

Jibsail88
Jibsail88

I've heard that Sapori meats sweat in Italian, is that true?

Fiorello82
Fiorello82

you may be confused with odori, which is a sweating of the veggies, usually carrots, celery, onion, garlic, parsley...as a prelude to a sauce or braise....

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I'm going to assume that what you were asking for was a translation of the word "sapori," and not confirmation of whether the meat that Sapori serves sweats in Italian. (How does one sweat in Italian anyway?) So, loosely translated, it means "flavor."

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