Houston Hospitality Veteran Debuts New River Oaks Italian Restaurant — Updated

Pasta and wine at Dante's River Oaks

Restaurateur Brian Doke of patio bar Heights & Co. (formerly of Savoir) is debuting a new Italian restaurant in what was recently Concura at 4340 Westheimer, a sedate, garden-like space just off of Mid Lane. Dante’s River Oaks is opening on Tuesday, May 16 with chef Ilias Gugole guiding the menu.

Update, 5/4/22, 2:20 p.m.: Heights & Co. is hosting a preview of Gugole’s menu on May 10 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $70 per person and can be reserved online

“The combination of a charming and quaint interior coupled with an airy patio for dining al fresco makes for a wonderful dining experience,” said Doke via a press release. “I am so excited to launch this endeavor and really look forward to showcasing our Italian dishes.”

Gugole is an Italian native who attended culinary school in Verona, and his résumé includes working at restaurants that included Caffè Vittorio Emanuele before emigrating to the United States. He just moved to Houston last year to take the role at Dante’s. 

Dante’s dishes include appetizers such as charcuterie and cheese boards, tartare (in both beef and tuna varieties), Olives Ascolana (breaded and deep-fried, meat-stuffed olives) and Mediterranean-Style Octopus with arugula, celery, olives, cherry tomatoes and lemon dressing. There are three salads each named after a region of Italy, such as the Rome with lettuce, walnuts, mushrooms, Parmesan dressing and artichokes.

Pappardelle Bolognese and wine at Dante's River Oaks
Pappardelle Bolognese and wine on the patio at Dante’s River Oaks. Photo by Bear Media Co.

Of course, it wouldn’t be an Italian restaurant without pasta, and some of the selections are Rigatoni Caico e Pepe, Tagliatelle Truffle & Mushrooms and Pappardelle Bolognese. There are four meaty entrées: ribeye with mustard vinaigrette and seasonal veggies, duck breast with carrot cream, cherry tomatoes, arugula and cherry wine sauce, roasted salmon filet with arugula, fennel and dill dressing and the catch of the day with “Mediterranean sauce” — tomato sauce, capers, olives and dried oregano — and green beans.

Aperol spritz and gin and tonic at Dante's River Oaks
Aperol spritz and gin and tonic at Dante’s River Oaks. Photo by Bear Media Co.

Doke will guide the wine list based in part on his years of experience as a fan and collector of Italian wines. For cocktails, beverage director Evin Haines is offering classics such as the Aperol spritz — one of which comes complimentary with lunch — and a variety of gin and tonics, and signature, warm-weather drinks like Bergamot Margarita and Italian Paloma. Haines also is developing cocktail pairing recommendations for 

The former Concura space has had some remodeling to give it a brighter feel, including additional greenery on the 30-seat patio and white walls with dark accents. It already sported an open kitchen, and starting on June 1, a monthly chef’s tasting menu will be offered at the bar. 

Dante’s is serving lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays. On Fridays and Saturdays, dinner is extended to 10:30 p.m. Reservations can be made via Resy. 

Comments (3)

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  • June 8, 2023 at 8:10 pmAshley

    There are so many false things in this article. The Italian chef was not brought in by the new owner, he was hired last year by the previous Italian owners of concura. And was hired way before the “takeover”. The whole concept (menu, regional Italian cuisines, decor) was all Alessio and his wife, the new owner has nothing to do with the wine list or cocktails the former owner was a sommelier.

    All this new owner did was fire all the old staff, paint a couple walls and change the name, to attract a different clientele, hence putting in river oaks in the name of the restaurant.

    Plus, the Italian chef who is in this article resigned because of the lack of authenticity of the changes in the menu.

    Reply
    • June 8, 2023 at 9:29 pmPhaedra Cook

      Hi Ashley. Thanks for bringing these allegations to our attention. You clearly had some sort of behind-the-scenes knowledge that we’ weren’t privy to.

      I will bring your comments to the attention of the restaurant publicist, as we take being provided with factual information very seriously. Once we’ve gone over this information, we’ll make any needed corrections to this article.

      Reply
    • June 14, 2023 at 3:55 pmPhaedra Cook

      Dear Ashley,

      I spoke with the representative who worked with Concura and now with Dante’s. As you noted, Alessio was a sommelier. As such, Dante’s inherited his wine collection. I’ve been told that the menu is about 90% different from the prior one.

      As far as prior staff being let go: when someone buys a business, it’s their prerogative to decide whether to retain or let go of people. It depends on what they believe is in the best interests of the business, and it’s not uncommon for some new owners to bring in trusted or brand-new personnel to part with the old ways or identify of the prior business. No matter what the reason, that’s a tough pill to swallow for the old staff, and after more than a decade of covering the restaurant scene, I have seen this scenario handled in some really clunky and inconsiderate ways. I don’t know how this particular situation was handled, but it’s a sensitive issue. My perception — rightly or wrongly — is that Concura’s owners lacked experience in how to navigate Houston’s food scene, and possibly in the ins and outs of restaurant ownership. The requirements of successfully operating one in the U.S. is different than in Italy.

      As far as the chef goes, the article reads, “with chef Ilias Gugole guiding the menu.” It doesn’t say anything about how that chef was retained or when.

      I suspect we have a mutual friend in Chef Angelo, who I think the world of and got to know during his time at Roma. I really want to see his talents showcased at a different restaurant, and I hope he gets that opportunity.

      Reply