Devouring Houston: Exploring Houston One Bite at a time

Houston has so many incredible food establishments...from sumptuously designed restaurants to fun storefronts selling gourmet cookies. From Mexican Food Carts to the Best BBQ in the World. And...I want to expore it one bite at a time.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Alto Pizzeria

I'm a fan of Ava Kitchen and Whiskey Bar (the sister restarurant downstairs).  Alto Pizzeria, the newest addition to the Schiller Del Grande Restaurant Group, finally opened a few weeks ago (a couple of months after Ava).  While Ava is a little more buttoned up, Alto is more casual.  The decor is similar in both places, but again, Alto is a touch more laid back (in a very nice way, no dive atmosphere here).

Bar at Alto Pizzeria

My first impression (aside from liking the place visually) was that the service was S-L-O-W (also very loud and a tad warm in temperature).   It took a very long while for anyone to come on over and say hello, let alone bring us water.  It was busy?  New kinks to work out?  But just as I want to cut them a break, I feel again like they just don't seem to care:  Alto has 4 bubbles by the glass listed on their wine menu.   I ordered the $10 Proscecco (cheapest glass on the list and I like Prosecco).  They were out of that bottle.  Next price point upwards was a $16 Tattinger.  That's fine, but I asked our server since they were out of the $10 glass, if I could have a similar $10 glass of something else -- even $12 or so.  I mean $6 more per glass when they were out of their listed glass is a big jump.  The answer:  No.  Apparently, he even asked his manager who said, "no, unless I wanted to have a sweet Prosecco."  Well, no I don't want a sweet Prosecco.  I wanted a dry one.  No big deal, I moved on and enjoyed my $16 glass.  However, I'm pretty annoyed at that exchange.  Apparently, making the customer happy isn't part of their mantra.

Dining Room at Alto

Service is already off to an iffy start.  But what about the food?  The menu isn't extraordinary long, but full of great options from a vegetable platter to fried squid to open face meatball sandwich to pizza, of course.   Our table started with the Artichoke "Fonduta" with Fontina and Pecorino ($12).   Traditional Fonduta is an Italian style fondue made of Fontina cheese and served over toast or polenta.  Alto's funduta not so much a fondue or dip as a creamy sauce poured over artichokes.  But, very good!  The artichokes were very tender.  The sauce had a tasty kick of something.  The bread served with the funduta was soft, fresh, and warm.

Artichoke Funduta with Fontina and Pecorino

Next, we sampled two pizzas: Margherita with fresh mozzarella, tomato, and basil ($12) and the Chicken with artichokes, fontina, and pine nut pesto ($14).   We like the Margherita a great deal.  The tomatoes were whole cherry tomatoes, not sliced larger tomatoes (like a Roma).  And, they had a great baked, roasted essence that bursted with flavor when I bit into them.  The pizza crust was chewy, yet crispy and thin.  Excellent.  Very delicious. 

Margherita Pizza

The Chicken Pizza with artichokes?  Hmmmm...not so much.  This pizza was a direct contrast to the excellent flavor combination of the Margherita  The chicken pizza flavors not only didn't compliment each other, they worked against each other.   Fontina and artichoke do work well together (see the Fonduta above), but not on this pizza.  And, pesto as the sauce is usually an great addition.  But not on this pizza.   Too salty?  Too lemon-y?  Odd flavors we couldn't pin point, but knew were not working for our palattes. 

Chicken Pizza with artichokes, fontina and pine nut pesto

Next up, a pasta:  Fettuccine with chicken, leeks, steamed garlic, lemon zest, and fontina (apparently, Alto likes their fontina!).  ($13).  The pasta grew on us the more we ate.  The cream sauce thickened with time and the flavors became more balanced.  The chicken was moist and tender (though, the pieces should've, could've been bigger).  The pasta was a light dish.  I'd order it again. 

Fettuccine with chicken, leeks, steamed garlic, lemon zest & fontina

Finally, our sweet finish.  Not many dessert options on the Alto menu, but the Sourdough Doughnuts (served with Nutella) called my name.  Whether you call these doughnuts or beignets, these fried dough balls rolled in sugar were soft and warm.  Thick sour dough that sunk our teeth into.   The Nutella was a great addition for dipping these babies.  And, at only $5, the dessert was a generous portion. 

Sourdough Doughnuts with Nutella

So to sum up:  I have mixed thoughts on Alto.  Our server was friendly and nice, but service was slow the entire night.  I'm still a little annoyed they couldn't substitue another similar priced-point sparkling wine for me or at least care to try.  But most of the food was pleasant.  And, I do like the atmosphere.  You can check it out and let me know what you think! 

Alto Pizzeria
2800 Kirby (at Westheimer)
Houston, Texas 77098


  1. You summed the night up perfectly. I think the funky taste in the chicken pesto pizza was Persian Lime Juice and Fenugreek- seriously, it reminded me of a dish that I have had Kasra Persian Grill.

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