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[Austin] Italian restaurant round-up


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After Chinese food, Italian is my second favorite. I haven't done much reading on the subject or visited Italy, so I can't speak with much authority, but I do know what I like to eat.

Vespaio - Best overall. Contemporary, some experimental dishes like risotto with Wagyu beef, but nothing fusion-y at all. Varied and changing antipasti selection, highlight of the meal. Wood-fired pizzas big enough for two, priced at ~$14. Desserts are so-so. Ideal meal for two is three or four antipasti and a pizza. Crowded but very nice bar. Brick interiors, wooden chairs, dark, a bit noisy.

Siena - Second best overall. Tuscan cuisine, very "safe" traditional dishes, upscale. Gigantic and spacious restaurant, one of the most romantic in town. Brick interiors, heavy linen and silverwear. The drive over 2222 is always breathtaking, try going around sunset.

Asti - Third best overall. Best desserts in town. Contemporary fare, similar to Vespaio, but not as varied or as well executed. Excellent desserts, all very Italian. Chocolate cannoli and tiramisu both the best I've ever had. Gelato from La Dolce Vita next door. I've gone several times and skipped straight to dessert. Contemporary, reasonably lit interior. Best graphic design work in town with their logo and menus.

La Traviata - Memory is vague, but food was pretty good. Tiny, very dark interior.

Carmelo's - Upscale, gigantic, expensive. Lackluster food. Large dessert selection, but not very Italian -- i.e. indistinguishable from a dessert menu at an upscale steakhouse.

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Sounds like you've got it right. At Siena ask Chef Harvey or Chef Philip to due something special for you. Give them Phil's regards. They will remember the kid who cut himself on his first day. He didn't take their advise and get out while he could --he's still cooking.

The Philip Mahl Community teaching kitchen is now open. Check it out. "Philip Mahl Memorial Kitchen" on Facebook. Website coming soon.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Last week, I checked out Vespaio Enoteca, their more casual lunch spot that opened next door. Prices are slightly lower, more homestyle fare like pork shoulder stew and haricots verts "salad" tossed with soppressata and cheese. The number of wood-fired pizza varieties has doubled. They also sell some salamis and other cold cuts, but nothing that you can't get at Central Market. Overall, the Enoteca does not add much value to Vespaio other than an expanded menu and being open for lunch instead of just dinner.

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  • 2 weeks later...
What about Andiamo? I heard that place is pretty good.

Dunno. Haven't heard the same buzz you have I guess. I might check it out some time. Or anyone that does, they should report back.

There was a thread on this topic this summer: http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showto...9881&hl=Andiamo

Definitely an oversight to miss out on trying Andiamo, even if it's an unassuming place in a strip mall.

An odd alien wench

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Find people in Austin who remember Casaraghi's (it was classic, Big Night, southern Italian, but not by way of New York); or come up to Dallas and try Arcodoro/Pommodoro (Sardinian).

I agree wholeheartedly with Asti as a choice, but I just do not get Siena ... it is surely huge and expensively appointed, but I have never been touched by what was on the plate.

It becomes more and more difficult to understand why Italian is so hard to do well ... and why so many try to make rocket science out of a thing of the garden and the heart.

Vespaio now strikes me as more California than Italy. Have they mellowed out on the attitude?

theabroma

Sharon Peters aka "theabroma"

The lunatics have overtaken the asylum

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Vespaio now strikes me as more California than Italy.  Have they mellowed out on the attitude?

i ate there for the first time a few weeks ago, and i didn't notice any attitiude. hostess was nice. our server was actually a little too friendly, more tgi fridays than nice italian restaurant.

dexygus
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i ate there for the first time a few weeks ago, and i didn't notice any attitiude.  hostess was nice.  our server was actually a little too friendly, more tgi fridays than nice italian restaurant.

Was it the 28-ish woman with the curly hair? The thin blonde waitresses are very professional and much more to my liking. Anyway, service varies so much from visit to visit I try to not let it taint my opinion of a restaurant too much. As for attitude, I get the feeling that theabroma is referring to style of cuisine, which I am inclined to agree with. It's definitely not what you would find in Italy. But it's not bad like fusion or watered down for American tastes can be.

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Was it the 28-ish woman with the curly hair? The thin blonde waitresses are very professional and much more to my liking.

Hello??? This is sounding more like a review of Le Grand Bouffe or Fellini's Satyricon. It makes me wonder how/where they serve the dipping oils these days. Admittedly, I would prefer not to have to dine while being served by Lord Voldemort - even if it IS Ralph Fiennes under all that Max Factor, but am I part of a dying breed that still focuses on The Plate? Just wondering.

Anyway, service varies so much from visit to visit I try to not let it taint my opinion of a restaurant too much. As for attitude, I get the feeling that theabroma is referring to style of cuisine, which I am inclined to agree with. It's definitely not what you would find in Italy. But it's not bad like fusion or watered down for American tastes can be.

Nope. Not the style of cuisine. It says Italian, but mostly in this whole country that is either Frank Sinatra style or California. It was, indeed, the attitude of the staff I was referring to. An early dinner - barbaric! 5:30pm w/a plane to catch. Couldn't seat us because we did not have rezzies. There was not one customer, ni uno, in the entire place. Checked w/a friend who at there later in the eveing, and it was the same routine. Have heard similar complaints voiced by other, reasonable, and food savvy people in Austin.

Sorry. Although I do agree with you that in most cases to take a restaurant's offerings and efforts apart based on picky reactions to waitstaff (ie: barring egregious lapses, etc.) is not fair, this seemed to be arrogance with the intent of adding cachet to the level of food served. The only people I have ever seen who could do that and deliver something so utterly stunning that you decided not to cane them to death on the spot were maitre d's and captains in NYC French restaurants of the 60;s and 70'. Outside of that, I regard it as an affectation which forebodes a big cuidado for the kitchen;s offerings.

Regards,

Theabroma ... who used to be blonde and thin, but is now platinum and zaftig.

Sharon Peters aka "theabroma"

The lunatics have overtaken the asylum

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  • 4 months later...

A few months ago I went to Enoteca Vespaio for brunch. It was awesome, one of the best brunches in town. I wish I could remember more about the meal but I recall that the crepes and eclair were highlights.

Taverna is the newest player on the map. Dale Rice just gave it a good review but I am always skeptical of his opinions. From the review I take it that it would be most similar to Enoteca: casual, simple dishes. Anyone who goes, please report.

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Kent,

I've been to Taverna a few times for lunch and have yet to be impressed. The best thing about it, is the outdoor seating, but everything else was unremarkable.

On my last visit, I had their chopped salad with chicken. It was rather plain, and some of the ingredients listed on the menu (hearts of palm, avocado) seemed to have been forgotten. The chicken was a breast that had been stuffed, rolled, and boiled, which made it look pretty unappealing.

On another visit, I had an arugula pizza with some prosciutto, and the crust was quite undercooked and greasy.

The rest of the lunch menu seems very heavy. Pastas and risottos are not really my thing for a midday meal, so I can't comment on those. Taverna's always been packed when I've been there, so others must like it. Perhaps someone else has had a better experience.

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The rest of the lunch menu seems very heavy.  Pastas and risottos are not really my thing for a midday meal, so I can't comment on those.  Taverna's always been packed when I've been there, so others must like it.  Perhaps someone else has had a better experience.

I've only been there once, but liked it. I had a good risotto, correctly cooked (though a little drier than I prefer), with a generous portion of cheese and not overwhelmed by the truffle oil. The portion was small enough that I don't think most people would be troubled by heaviness. My colleague had a pizza, which he also liked.

Andrew

Andrew Riggsby

ariggsby@mail.utexas.edu

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  • 1 month later...

I'd have to recommend It's Italian in north Austin on Bratton & Merriltown. (it's just 1 light north of Wells Branch).

It's in a small strip mall.....but don't let that fool you! The pizza crust is thin and sausage and meatballs are AMAZING!

ENJOY!

Think before you drink.......I think I'll have another!
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I recently discovered that Siena has a very affordable lunch menu: $12-15 entrees compared to $20-30 for dinner. Now that I live right across the highway from it I've been going way too often!

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I had a wonderful dinner at Asti on Friday night. We shared the baby bella mushrooms stuffed with parmesan, goat cheese, and ricotta, topped with bread crumbs and truffle oil. Really nice. Deep flavor.

My entree was the linguni with clams, and a sausage and tomato ragu. One of the most popular menu items for a reason. My aunt had grilled trout on lemon risotto. Simple and delicous.

For dessert, we shared the plum crumble and the gelato of the day which was vanila bean with tyme and lemon curd. Really refreshing and complex. I was underwhelmed with the crumble. It was tasty, but it could have been warmed up a bit more, and the topping was extremely dense and heavy.

We shared a bottle of wine which I can't remember the name of, but came recommened by our server, and it was very nice. I went and looked for it again (I remember what the lable looked like) at Central Market, but I can't find it. :sad:

I really love Asti. I feel like for the high quality of food, the prices are really reasonable. It's a great place for a nice dinner out.

-Sounds awfully rich!

-It is! That's why I serve it with ice cream to cut the sweetness!

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  • 2 weeks later...

We went to Vespaio for brunch on Sunday and had a great meal. I had the breakfast Panino with truffled eggs (and the truffle butter was a major player), prosciutto, and arugula. A few others at our table had the various breakfast bruschettas and enjoyed them, and my dad had a lethal polenta side dish with his eggs.

The place was empty though! There was a line out the door for South Congress(?) or some other brunch place a few doors up.

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Austin Chronicle reviews Taverna.

Overall, I found that while the food is fine at Taverna, the prices are rather high for the amount of food served, while the atmosphere of the tightly packed dining room does not allow for a lingering dinner. But on a sunny afternoon sipping wine at one of their sidewalk tables, you might just feel transported far away from Downtown Austin.
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  • 2 months later...

Siena has consistently the best bread in Austin. They have high enough turnover that they always have something fresh out of the oven.

Vespaio also has a nice variety of breads -- and second best in the city in my opinion -- but they are not always as fresh as Siena.

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