When naming the new Rossini Caffè Italiano in River Oaks, proprietor Paolo Fronza was unaware that its name might evoke the Lone Ranger for many customers, if there is any association made at all. It was, after all, composer Gioachino Rossini’s dramatic “William Tell Overture” that made for the indelible theme of the popular Lone Ranger television show that ran for decades in syndication. If not the masked man, the name might otherwise suggest tournedos Rossini, the famed and decadent foie gras and black truffle-laden steak dish that was created in the composer’s honor by a Parisian chef in the 19th century and lived on in grand French and “Continental” restaurants until recent times.
Though there is nothing as dramatic, or breathtakingly expensive, as tournedos Rossini to be found at this namesake restaurant, it has charms as casual, contemporary café – somewhat like what is called a bar in Italy – with house-made desserts and tasty breakfast bites, paninis, salads, and even a relatively light Roman-style lasagna made from the recipe of partner Matteo Alessandri’s mother. And, Rossini offers excellent espresso drinks, of course. There is a reason that Caffè Italiano (“Italian coffee”) is in the name. A morning cappuccino or the like might be a draw for many. Rossini will soon be using Attibassi coffee from Bologna, for which Fronza and Alessandri are excited.
From the kitchen, its clean-tasting fare has a very strong Italian accent, and everything is made in-house except for the bread, which comes of the excellent Kraftsmen Baking in the Heights. Those products are used for the familiar pressed panini sandwiches featuring items like prosciutto di Parma, bresaola, tuna, and mozzarella with tomatoes and pesto. Sandwiches come with a side salad, pasta or quinoa, making for a fairly sized lunch, and are priced between $11.50 and $13. The four entrée-sized salads are similarly priced.
Comfortably set street-level in the brand new office tower on San Felipe just west of Shepherd whose construction drew the ire of the surrounding neighborhood, it has, nonetheless, been popular among the nearby residents in the very brief time it has been open along with expatriate Italians. Many of whom have been patrons at Fellini Caffè in the Village that Fronza helped found. He has since sold his stake in that, but also operates the MFA Café in the Museum of Fine Arts, which is very similar to Rossini, though the menus of each differ a little. Rossini is smaller, too, seating about two dozen inside another eight or so on tables on the sidewalk.
Rossini has just four wines now – the café currently closes at 4:00 each afternoon – but Fronza plans to expand the number in the future to possibly up to twenty interesting Italian bottles, and maybe a few big Californians to satiate the tastes of its neighbors, and to be open for wine tastings and other wine-related events. Brunch, American-style, is also in the works, and Rossini should be serving that soon on Saturdays and Sundays. To note, parking is on the street and also in the garage for free, though you have to buzz the security guard for access when pulling up.
2229 San Felipe (between Shepherd and Kirby), 77019, (832) 548-1006