Hunger is the consistent reason for people to connect around food. Whether a business meeting, family gathering or a nice place to meet up with your friends before the party is started, the food and drinks must be A1. Food needs to satiate your palate and the necessity for heavily poured cocktails is a must. Finding a place that provides both can prove to be difficult in a city where eating establishments are plentiful.
I was introduced to Zanti by a former sparring partner now restaurant manager, Malachi, and I wasn’t oversold. Approaching the restaurant was a bit misleading. You see an amazingly manicured Kroger that makes one question if the grocery prices are slightly higher to accommodate the beautification of the store. Additionally, the appearance of the Beverly Hills rejuvenation center directly across the street. Complimentary valet was available, and my sister and I were chivalrously escorted out of our car in heels higher than normal, of course. We were then greeted by the doorwoman with a smile and admiration for our ensembles. As the heavy and towering doors were opened for us, we got a strong whiff of flavor and vibes.
Initially, I felt we would have been in a situation similar to Jack from Titanic at that iconic dinner with Rose “making each day count” (iykyk). Jack was overwhelmed with feeling nervous, out of place and wondering which fork he should use for the salad. That feeling was immediately alleviated by the ambiance and staff. We sat down in the bar dining area where chandeliers were an elegant balance to the live music that complemented the nosegasm we both had. We were in the perfect juxtaposition of the NBA playoffs, a jazzy version of a Bruno Mars song being played and the giant woodfire pizza oven burning with slow intensity.
Curious if this was only how we felt or a general consensus amongst other patrons, and it appeared as such. I took what I believed to be an inconspicuous stroll around the restaurant, but being over 6 feet in heels I was everything to the contrary. I was the same height as some of the tallest people in the restaurant, yet ironically and beautifully, everyone paid attention to their company and dishes. What I saw was food being consumed with slight urgency due to satisfaction then laughter proceeded with happy claps and toasts. The patio area was a perfect blend of both the main and bar area. Late springtime in Houston can be a mix of summer, fall and/or slight tsunami, but that night was perfect. Potted foliage scattered throughout the ceiling to compliment the light music heard through the walls of the bar dining area.
The air was uncharacteristically fresh with a light sense of adult playfulness. I headed to the bathroom to freshen up before dinner was ordered and chic romance are the only words that come to mind. The entrance of the facilities presented a stone masquerade-like mask dimly lit with passionate, dark colors. The bathroom gives the allusion of a baroque era design with great, subtle detail. The bathroom was designed with what appeared to be European postcards. The hopeless romantic in me imagined these were the long-lost postcards to and from lovers in Europe during a time when social media wasn’t invented, and Zanti just so happened to find them. The gold, exaggerated mirror steals the show amongst the marble countertops with custom embroidered napkins and textured, mirrored walls to pay tribute to the balanced sophistication of the dining areas.
I headed back to my seat where a purse rack was thoughtfully placed at our table. Our waitress greeted us and promptly got our drink orders. Going to new restaurants, I tend to like to get my old faithfuls to experience how diverse they can be in different establishments. I requested a margarita and, for the first time since I was a child, I had ravioli. Beef ravioli with a red wine reduction, to be exact, that melted on my fork. Every inch of each bite was crafted by their culinary staff including home pasta and stock. My margarita had a bit of a twist to it. It was delicately prepared with fresh ingredients and with a heavy pour of libations. Anyone can throw together a margarita, but not everyone can make a great one. I was pleasantly surprised and nursing it so I could safely drive home. My sister ordered the Piadina Napoletana pizza that has completely ruined commercial pizza for me. The crust was perfect in texture, the protein mastered crispy outside with a moist and juicy center, all while the fresh arugula and extra olive oil brought everything together with mozzarella, naturally.
Anything other than Zanti pizza is now deemed peasant pizza. Respectfully.
Mid-dinner we were approached by a few managers to chat. Each manager gave us a pleasant conversation without the knowledge of my review to come. It appeared that the exchange was simply custom as each person dining experienced the same. A few laughs and discussion on the meal preparations led me to believe they purely wanted to make sure our experience was pleasing instead of begrudgingly gathering data for their KPIs (key performance indicators). It was the kind of conversation you have with a stranger that wants nothing from you. They were funny, interested, and present. The desire to ensure happiness was apparent and appreciated.
In a city where quality dining sometimes is abandoned by ambiance, or ambiance supersedes flavor, Zanti has it all. Delicious food, sparkling staff and management, and a restaurant where every angle is selfie ready. Zanti is a love letter to the European/Italian tradition of gathering around food. They meticulously yet effortlessly bring tradition and modern customs together and bridge the gap between the silence that comes from a good meal, and the ruckus of a good table conversation with laughter. Houston is saturated with restaurants, but Zanti undoubtedly is traditionally a la mode.
P.S. If there is a reason to celebrate, order their not-on-the-menu celebration cake. You’re welcome.