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Sorriso’s Enzo Fargione wants to change the way The Woodlands eats Italian

February 5, 2019

The towering foyer of the newest restaurant in Waterway Square houses a new way to dine for many customers in The Woodlands.

Chef Enzo Fargione’s first foray into the township’s culinary scene — Sorriso Modern Italian Kitchen and its partner lounge and pool bar, Como Social Club — officially opened on Jan. 31.

But, the winding road that led Fargione to the banks of The Woodlands Waterway began in San Diego, California, where a then-17-year-old Fargione moved after completing culinary school in his native Turin, Italy.

Fargione didn’t last long in San Diego — four months after arriving and dissatisfied with what he said were inauthentic Italian offerings there — Fargione moved to the thin fine dining scene in Washington, D.C.

In 1986, he said, there were only three high-end Italian restaurants in Washington D.C.: Vincenzo, Cantina D’Italia and Galileo, where Fargione studied under renowned chef Roberto Donna.

“I got real busy, real fast,” Fargione said of his early years in Washington, D.C.

In his three decades in the nation’s capital, Fargione headed acclaimed restaurants Barolo, Teatro Goldoni, Elisir and Osteria Elisir — all lauded in the press and loved by the often-finicky D.C. fine dining crowd, he said.

Eventually, Fargione said, it was time to move on, so he headed to Naples and West Palm Beach in Florida for three years. In March 2018, officials with the Howard Hughes Corporation approached him with the idea to build a new concept from the ground up at the Westin at The Woodlands, replacing the ailing restaurant that was there, the Current and SideBar restaurants that occupied the space where Sorriso now resides.

“First, I need to learn what the area offers,” Fargione said. “To see what the expectations of the residents of The Woodlands are — where the palate is.”

After a diet-busting week exploring the eateries throughout the township, Fargione said he discovered what those palates sought: often-enormous portions at a steakhouse or Tex-Mex restaurant that seemed to be on every corner.

“That translated to me as value,” Fargione said. “You need to offer value.”

Looking to break the cycle of big meals on big plates that seemed so prevalent, Fargione said he devised a wider menu featuring smaller, shareable plates — at a reasonable price — that would draw in repeat customers.

Officials with the Howard Hughes Corporation gave Fargione almost complete creative control over the menu — which features braised veal ossobucco, Tuscan chicken liver paté and charred octopus — and the design of the two spaces. Inside Sorriso was a neutral, metal- and wood-accented interior that is complemented by the sleek chaises and a slightly more playful atmosphere at the Como Social Club.

The vibe is different by design upstairs at Como Social Club, where Fargione also serves as executive chef. With lighter food offerings and a heavier emphasis on the expansive cocktail menu, the pool and the cabanas perched above the Waterway offers a new experience for the bar crowd in The Woodlands.

As often as possible, cooks at Sorriso use only the freshest, in-house ingredients. Hand-crushed San Marzano tomatoes are used for ragù and pomodoro on pasta and as the base for the margherita and salumeria pizzas. Cooks create house-made pasta and pizza dough and utilize imported Pecorino cheese. The cocktails at Sorriso and Como feature a limoncello of Fargione’s own creation.

Much effort goes into the staging and plating of the meal before the first bite of food touches the customer’s tongue — but taste is the prime goal of his creations, he said.

The end goal is the customer leaving through the big, red door of Sorriso and wanting to come back.

“If you remember one thing only with enthusiasm — it could be the food, it could be the service — then, my job is done,” Fargione said.

mrincon@chron.com

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