Shades of blue and white are reflected throughout the interior of Azzurro, a new concept from the local restaurateur Enrique Orioli meant to transport visitors to the Amalfi coast and experience the tastes of Italy.

“That’s the beauty of Italian cuisine. You know, you let the fresh ingredients speak for themselves, and that’s what we’re trying to highlight here,” said owner Enrique Orioli.

Orioli’s grandparents met in South America after emigrating from Italy. His grandfather opened up a hotel along the Venezuelan coast that served traditional Italian cuisine at its restaurant. The recipes crafted by Enrique’s grandmother Elda Orioli were complemented by the ease of access to fresh seafood provided by the coast, he said.

“I was around that for a very long time. I grew up around it, and that’s why, you know, crudo (raw food) has a very special place in my heart because it brings back a lot of memories of me growing up and around the coast and ... my grandmother making all these recipes,” Enrique said.

Keeping it fresh

The dishes at Azzurro are crafted around the fresh seafood concept, from scallops to cod, mussels, octopus and squid ink, which Enrique said is a key traditional ingredient.

“When we first started [menu] development, it was very clear we needed to have at least one or two squid ink dishes,” said Matthew Wollenburg, director of operations for Azzurro. “Because that is so representative of the Italian palate.”

All of the dishes have been built off Elda’s recipes, and Enrique said his family still returns to their roots in northern Italy at least once a year to stay in touch with the cuisine.

“My family has been going to the restaurants around the coasts for so many years. So they go in the kitchen, they share stories with the chef ... so a lot of ideas, recipes, were inspired directly from what’s being served in restaurants up the coast of Italy,” Enrique said.

With this location, which opened March 15 on The Woodlands Waterway, Enrique said he wants visitors to feel like they are dining off the Amalfi coast.

“The key to it is to taste the freshness. To illustrate this, there always has to be a showpiece on the dish. We want that to be simple and beautiful and clean,” Wollenburg said.

By bringing together the ambiance and flavors of Italy and the coastal influences from South America, Enrique said his family wants to share the life experiences they’ve had with Azzurro customers.

“We definitely want them to see the passion. We’re very passionate about what we do; we give it 200%,” said Orioli. “It’s more than just a restaurant; it’s a story that we’re sharing with our guests.”

Azzurro Italian Coastal Cuisine
  • 1950 Hughes Landing Blvd., Ste. 1900, The Woodlands
  • 281-310-6662
  • Hours: Mon.-Thu. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.