OYou could say it took a proverbial village for prolific restaurateur Benjamin Berg to launch his latest restaurant in Houston. Trattoria Sofia is located up high, but it would be at home in a small market town outside of Palermo, or in a remote hamlet high in the hills of Tuscany where one can stop at a trattoria anytime. for a simple and rustic kitchen.
Quickly becoming a formidable force in the restaurant world, Berg (founder of Berg Hospitality Group) is the owner and idea man behind Houston hotspots B&B Butchers & Restaurant, BB Lemon, BB Italia, The Annie Cafe & Bar, Turner’s and Trattoria Sofia, named after his eldest daughter.
Shelby Hodge first wrote on Trattoria Sofia for PaperCity when it opens in November. Read this full story here.
To consult on the project, Berg brought in experts in their respective fields. He reached out to former Houston baker and executive chef Magnus Hansson, now based in New York, to advise him on the menu and bring authenticity to the dishes. It’s no surprise that Hansson – former owner of Manna Bread Company of Sugar Land – also created Sofia’s homemade bread program. Masterful mixologist Alba Huerta, owner of Houston’s famous Julep drink spot, has taken to crafting cocktails showcasing Italian liquors, from amaretto to amaro. Culinary veteran of more than twenty years, LJ Wiley, has been hired as executive chef.
Sam Governale (operating partner of The Annie Cafe & Bar and Turner’s) led the design charge. A longtime contributor to all things aesthetic in Berg’s restaurants, architect Issac Preminger gave meaning to the design of the space, which had been ravaged by fire.
In the cozy and comfortable interior of Trattoria Sofia, curvaceous banquettes are surrounded by small two-top tables with walnut woodwork and dark beams. Overhead, shape-cut stacked corrugated cardboard pendant lights hang above two huge trees in the center of the room. Made with preserved trunks of wood, the custom-made trees were modeled after the manna ash native to Sicily.
Just outside the iron-paned windows is a charming dining alcove, surrounded by vine-covered brick and stucco walls. The garden is surmounted by a pergola which supports a beautiful olive tree whose branches will grow enviably above.
What to order at Trattoria Sofia
Start your meal with the Crostini di Gamberi Arrabiata, perfectly spiced crispy prawns coated in tomato sauce and laid on a creamy bed of smoked labneh – a tangy Middle Eastern soft cheese made from strained yoghurt, coated on slices of toast ($16). Salsa Di Ceci E Zucca is a sweet pumpkin and chickpea dip with toasted ciabatta spears for dipping and brightened up with toasted pumpkin seeds and Calabrian chiles ($14).
Luckily, there’s no Caesar salad in sight. Instead, Trattoria Sofia gives us the Cavolo Nero, a simple but well-executed Tuscan coleslaw, its leaves made tender by massaging each with EVOO and salt until they wilt before eating. be tossed with Parmigiano Reggiano, smoked chili and garlic vinaigrette, toasted breadcrumbs and fresh basil and mint leaves that land like sparks of fresh flavor ($14).
Speaking of fresh mint: there’s nothing I’d rather pair with Huerte’s Pimm and Gin-Based Modena Cup ($13) than Wiley’s simple plate of roasted nuts with sprigs of fresh spearmint. , spiced honey and chunks of Parmigiano ($14).
The Polpo Arrosto is on the menu: octopus brined in red wine lightly braised then bathed in a Romanesco-style roasted tomato sauce ($28). Don’t miss the pizzas, especially the prosciutto variety, its thin crust topped with elegantly melty fontina and taleggio cheeses, finished with a hint of black pepper and fresh lemon zest ($22).
The pastas – there are only four on the dinner menu – are all homemade. Bucatini Alla Pesto Siciliano is a long, hollow tubular pastry made with a special die that cradles the brightly flavored Sicilian pesto made with roasted pistachios, fresh basil, mint and lemon with the heat of a pepperoncini, topped with a dollop of whipped ricotta ($26).
Secondi selections include Pollo Alla Parmigiana ($26), Vitello Alla Milanese ($48) and 14-ounce rib eye (Costata di Mazo Al Gorgonzola Dolce, $82), as well as roasted swordfish (Pesce Spada Alla Siciliana , $44).
The dessert puts a twist on tiramisu, with the traditional coffee-soaked ladyfingers replaced by buttery, crumbled sesame cookies and an espresso-glazed semifreddo in place of mascarpone crème fraîche ($16). This is delicious.
Trattoria Sofia, 911 West 11th St., (713) 804-0429.