By Joanna O’Leary
Most 13-year-olds are primarily concerned with navigating schoolyard dramas, scoring a date to the dance, and convincing their parents to extend curfew. The 13-year-old Carlo Alberto Olivieri was obsessed with learning how to cook the perfect pizza.
Born in Bardolino, Italy, a small town just north of Verona, Olivieri honed his peerless pie-making skills by working in a pizzeria throughout his teens, and then further developed his culinary prowess by attending culinary school. In Italy, Olivieri not only discovered his love (and talent) for cooking but also the love of his life, Christian. The couple has been married for one year and together for more than 12, and they now call Houston home.
Olivieri’s second home, however, is the newly opened restaurant Enoteca Rossa, where he has been serving as chef as well as studying diligently under executive chef and master salumiere Roberto Crescini. Born in Gavardo, Italy, Crescini began his culinary training at the Medici Institute of Culinary Professionals, and then for the next 10 years apprenticed under three master chefs before opening his own restaurant. At Enoteca Rossa, Crescini strives to deliver traditional, classic Italian cuisine: “We use only the freshest of produce and proteins,” he explains, “in order to allow each component to express its individual flavors and characteristics.” Alongside Chef Roberto, Olivieri has made his own enviable contribution to the restaurant’s wonderful repertoire of Northern Italian dishes: a signature pizza that looks and tastes like nothing you have ever encountered. But more on that later.
Located in historic Bellaire, Enoteca Rossa won early raves from patrons for its well-executed antipasti, primi, and secondi dishes, as well as its attentive, never-officious service. One recent balmy evening, I stepped into the restaurant’s dining room, pleasantly crowded even for a Tuesday, and was struck with the presence of a most intimidating burnt-orange tiled dome, which I later learned was the “Ferrari” of pizza ovens. Such an investment, as well as Enoteca Rossa’s strict dedication to using only the finest ingredients (many of which are flown in from Italy) is evidence of their serious commitment to authenticity.
One sees this commitment both in their tools and ingredients, and in their finished products. Standout antipasti selections include the burrata pugliese, a creamy oversized orb dressed with a tomato confit, and the bruschetta alla Spoletina, unctuous toasts topped with earthy chopped mushrooms, black truffle, and fresh pecorino. Fruits of the sea come in the form of the perfectly grilled octopus, whose subtly spiced tentacles are easily sliced for sharing. Finally, the simply titled salumi is also not to be overlooked, as the sophisticated cured meat wreaks pleasant havoc on your palate. All of the aforementioned were well balanced with a crisp glass of Zardetto Prosecco, a welcome recommendation from our waiter.
Resist the urge to fill up on these dishes, as your next course should be Enoteca Rossa’s signature pizza, whose unique preparation requires the adroit skills of Olivieri. Generous scoops of ricotta laced with truffle oil and cherry tomatoes are portioned into each quarter of a circle of fluffy dough. Then Olivieri deftly folds the pizza into quarters such that it assumes a pinwheel shape. Following a brief bake in the oven, the pie is drizzled with balsamic vinegar and crowned with burrata. The collaboration of sweet acidity, dairy richness, and interspersed refreshing vegetable notes is singularly delicious, and almost completely distracts you from the fact that the dough itself is remarkably fragrant. Although pie is never my dessert of choice on my birthday, this coming September 6, I will be requesting this pizza. Should Olivieri not be on hand to construct his amazing creation when you visit Enoteca Rossa, the margherita or divola pizzas (with tomato, mozzarella, and najuda, a spicy salami from Calabria) are most satisfying substitutions.
In the realm of carbohydrates, second prize goes to the decadent house-made pumpkin-stuffed cappelletti, paired with prawns and bathed in a buttery New Orleans-style cream sauce. It should be noted that others in my party were also quite smitten with the fettuccine studded with tender chunks of Texas lamb in a light vegetable gravy.
For your meat course at Enoteca Rossa, order a second helping of the salumi. (Just kidding—but seriously, it’s that good.) I was very impressed with a well-seasoned steak ordered by my companion, though truth be told, I would have requested a slightly rarer preparation.
What’s more to love about Enoteca Rossa? They also serve breakfast and lunch, so you needn’t just wax nostalgic about last night’s supper. Experience another dimension of chefs Roberto and Carlo’s culinary talents with a morning or mid-afternoon snack of panini and expresso. Or, in my case, just more salumi.
4566 Bissonnet St.
Joanna O’Leary is a freelance food and travel writer based in Houston. Her exploits are chronicled on brideyoleary.com.