Restaurant Review: Coltivare

Since its origin in Italy, pizza has become a major part of American cuisine. There are countless restaurants around the country that serve it every day in various styles from New York to Deep Dish or classic Neopolitan and the best option is liable to change based on who you ask. The one fact that everybody can agree on is that the crust is the heart of every pizza. A pizza without a good crust is hardly worth having, luckily bad crust is not something you will encounter at Coltivare. This upscale Heights pizzeria makes their dough on site using an intricate process that takes three full days to complete. Their business model is rather unique in that they don’t keep a consistent menu year round. Instead, they periodically release a new menu featuring the current seasonal fruits and vegetables. Not only does their rotating menu keep the experience fresh for customers over time, it also facilitates their use of locally grown ingredients, some of which are even harvested from their on site garden. Upon learning about Coltivare, I simply had to make a trip over to see if the experience would live up to all the hype.

Experience & Ambience

From the outside, Coltivare is a relatively nondescript brick building with a subtle sign on the window and the current menu posted by the door. If you’re just walking down the street you might miss it, but inside is a quaint little pizzeria with a unique outlook on food. The restaurant is only open for dinner with typical hours from 5-10 and with the seating being so limited, it is best to make a reservation ahead of time through their website. There are a small number of tables available for walk-ins, but they are on a first come first serve basis. If a new menu was just released, you may even encounter a line at the door just waiting for the opening. Needless to say, it’s a popular choice amongst Heights pizza fanatics. Upon arrival you will be seated by one of the hosts, and the waitstaff will shortly come to take your order, or answer any questions about the menu. The actual atmosphere of the restaurant is best described as rustic-formal, with many patrons as well as the servers being nicely dressed providing a contrast to the simple rustic interior. The building is mostly decorated using simple stained wood with certain modern elements such as a window into the kitchen. In addition to the indoor area there is an outdoor patio space where people may dine, and even more exclusive seating in the garden where they also grow many of the plants used at the restaurant.

Prices & Rating

On average the price of a dish is much higher than the majority of Houston restaurants with a typical entrée costing between 17 and 30 dollars. It is not uncommon for Italian establishments to be a bit on the pricier side and the pizza options, which are the staple dish, are large enough to split between two people. This makes sharing a pizza a relatively inexpensive fine dining experience with a net cost of only 10-15 dollars per person. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with the atmosphere, there are a few factors that detract from the customer’s comfort and therefore the experience overall. The lighting is a bit overly dark inside the restaurant, but more significantly, each table comes equipped with a sliding drawer to house silverware. While these drawers are an interesting gimmick that builds on the rustic vibe, in practice they are somewhat cumbersome to have on your side of the table as they tend to get in the way when moving your legs. Furthermore, since the interior is on the smaller side and the tables are close together, it has a tendency to get very loud on crowded nights. Although the patio and garden areas are a bit quieter, it is not an ideal location to converse. White these inconveniences should not go unnoticed, the overall quality and uniqueness of the food does make up for them in a significant way. The rotating menu keeps the experience fresh with each visit, and allows for the use of many locally sourced ingredients including that which is harvested from their own garden. The dishes they create are far from your everyday Italian food, each dish possesses its own individual flavor profile with a surprising amount of depth, not to mention their homemade pizza dough which does not disappoint. Overall, even though I don’t consider the atmosphere ideal, the food is impressive enough for Coltivare to still win my recommendation.

What To Order?

These wood-fired pizzas are the restaurant’s specialty dish. Their pizza dough alone takes 3 days to make due to their intricate process. The key to their crust is to start with a poolish, which is similar to a sourdough starter that is made from commercial yeast instead of the naturally occurring variety. They allow the poolish to go through a fermentation process before adding in the rest of the ingredients. The formed dough is then put through a special machine that rotates a bowl around a centric pillar in order to slowly knead the dough. It is kept cold throughout this process so that the dough doesn’t over proof, and has more kneading time to develop gluten. The result of this 3 day process and their incredible pizza oven is a soft, lightly sweet, and poofy crust that is ready to be topped with fresh local ingredients and crisped to perfection. There are a number of preconfigured pizzas to choose from, and extra toppings are available on request.

The menu will typically feature a few different options for pasta ranging from traditional dishes to a more modern style. I have been particularly surprised and impressed by the depth and balance of flavor in their modern adaptations of Italian classics like gnocchi ripieni or the uncommon linguine nero. The freshness of the herbs and vegetables from local vendors and their garden really shines through in the pasta dishes.

In addition to pizzas and pastas, Coltivare offers a few specialty entrées that can include anything from locally caught gulf coast red snapper, to lamb steak with fresh spring vegetables from their garden. These decadent cuts of meat or fish make for a hearty meal with interesting pairings that you won’t find everyday.

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