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What to Order at Enoteca Vespaio?

Dallas hounds stopping by Austin for lunch on our way back from Houston. We wanted to try Vespaio, but it's not open for lunch, so we'll try Enoteca instead.

We'll definitely look at specials, but based on the following menu, we're looking at specialties and pasta. What are your recommendations?
http://www.foodhawk.com/austin_restau...

I like cream sauce--too bad many dishes come with arrabiata...

Thanks!

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  1. I like this place, but there are also many things that I don't like about it. I’m the first to admit that I'm very particular about my Italian food.

    Here are some recommendations:

    Appetizers: Supplì

    Pizza: prosciutto; lardo; or funghi and taleggio [You might want to try the last two only if you're feeling adventurous.]

    Pastas: In my opinion, a lot of their basic sauces are problematic (often overspiced), but people love the "porchetta" and polenta, when it's available.

    Antipasti/Contorni/Insalati: The smoked meats and charcuterie are your best bets. The vegetable dishes (like the eggplant caponata) often look better than they taste.

    Desserts: Desserts can be underwhelming as well. The tart shells are particularly bad. Other than that, one is probably as good as any other.

    See also:

    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/310934

    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/334867

    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/92817

    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/93112

    Best,
    MPH

    16 Replies
    1. re: MPH

      On the subject of their salads... I really like their caesar salad. Delicious and not over-dressing'd, with a couple long anchovies. Best caesar salad in town, in my opinion. I'm not a fan of their take on Nicoise, although I'm not sure who does a better job in Austin. My wife loves the Misticanza; it is definitely a capable and healthy choice.

      Also note: the staff of Vespaio claims that Enoteca and Vespaio share only one class of recipes -- salads. So when you eat an Enoteca salad, you eat a Vespaio salad (and vice versa).

      The mussels + fries are really good, or, used to be, and excellent to split amongst a table of friends. The last two or three times I've shared this dish, the mussels have been merely passable. I'm not enough of a rabid seafood fan that I'll give them a pass just for the pleasure of eating them, and I'm extremely sensitive to their freshness. Basically, there has either been a slip in mussel quality or a couple unlucky bad days.

      I think their bolognese is pretty steady; you can sub noodles on any of their pasta dishes. This means you can turn the parpadelle into a spaghetti bolognese for when you have a spaghetti craving. Sometimes they're sparse w/ the sauce.

      I'm a huge fan of excellent gnocchi. With a heavy heart, I must report that their gnocchi is good but not great.

      If you've got a long wait (they don't take reservations), I recommend starting things up with some prosecco from the bar (or even better, a vodka martini w/ a twist, no vermouth): there you can also order a couple minor snacks to survive the gap between now and dinner. I recommend the chickpea, tuna confit & faro olives; also, their cheese plates are erratic (although sometimes quite nice), and their desserts are pretty unimpressive. Best of the lot is probably their mousse. Their tiramisu is worse than forgettable, being unacceptably dry and almost unpleasant.

      The crown jewel of Enoteca is the proscuitto pizza, something I would have never tried w/o MPH's advice. A little strange for the uninitiated, but overall quite accessible and so good that I crave it from time to time. The funghi and taleggio is also delicious, but definitely *not* accessible. The lardo pizza is good. Most of their other pizzas are just "OK"; notably, their sauasage pizzas leave me cold.

      Lastly, the paninis are fun, and good for a quick to-go bite, but probably not good enough to be the centerpiece of a out-of-towner's dinner. Strangely enough, the proscuitto panini (which features a filling identical to the proscuitto pizza's topping) doesn't do it for me: somehow, within the slices of panini bread, something is missing or falls flat. My favorite panini is their amusing (yet delicious!) attempt at a muffuletta, definitely a "kitcken sink"-style sandwich.

      1. re: tom in austin

        One more thing: they rotate through a bunch of specials (special salads, soups, and main courses) on a little card on every table. These specials can be *extremely* good. I've also had a few that were just so-so. Your mileage may vary.

        1. re: tom in austin

          Tom, I love gnocchi so much that I often order it there, even though I have to admit it's not great (but I do think it IS good, like you said). Are there any Italian places in Austin that have GREAT gnocchi? I've tried it at Andiamo (not good) and at Mandola's (reminded me of Chef-Boy-R-Dee, if they made gnocchi!)

          1. re: catarata

            Vespaio offers a gnocchi special most the time (different from week to week) that is usually really, really good. Not as good as what I've had in other cities, but pretty darn good. Enoteca is 2nd best in town. Third place isn't close.

            If you find delicious gnocchi anywhere in or around Austin, please post immediately, and receive my praise and thanks.

        2. re: MPH

          Thanks, both of you! I'm so glad I asked before we went!!

          I had read all relevant 2006 reviews, but somehow I had missed MPH's review from Feb/06. I think we'll pass this place.

          I don't want to eat Italian unless it's NYC-quality (impossible?) or at least close. I'm a huge fan of gnocchi myself and very picky on mussles. Based on your reviews, we might even pass Vespaio. We tried Carmelo's last year and weren't impressed at all. We're fairly new to TX and aren't happy with most European restaurants here.

          Moving on to Plan B.

          1. re: kuidaore

            Oh my! Carmelo's is utterly terrible by comparison to Vespaio! I've never been to NYC, but Vespaio rarely disappoints!

            1. re: tom in austin

              We wanted to try Enoteca to gauge Vespaio, but if the recipes aren't shared (how about the sauce?), maybe no point. BTW, the best gnocchi I had in my life was in Genoa.

            2. re: kuidaore

              NYC or even SF quality I have yet to encounter in Austin. Enoteca is the only casual Italian I like here....Vespaio itself really didn't do it for me, and Carmelo's was so completely awful I don't even consider it an option. I don't think Austin is a destination for Italian.

              1. re: saticoy

                We're so lucky on the sushi and Thai fronts, we can't have every cuisine be a winner. All things considered, Vespaio is pretty delicious.

                1. re: tom in austin

                  Tom, our Plan B is Musashino :-) From their website, the food looks pretty authentic. A reviewer on another board complained about "the rice soaked in vinegar"--that sounds like REAL SUSHI! Most sushi in this country (or outside of Japan) is not sufficiently vinegared to qualify to be sushi. Sushi literally means "vinegared rice"--if not vinegared, it ain't sushi!!! (I'm a native).

                  We have a backup in case Musashino doesn't work--Din Ho (we love their food). We don't like fusion whether it's Japanese or Indian, so Uchi isn't an option for us. This is also on our list.
                  http://austin.citysearch.com/review/3...

                  Thanks, everyone!

                  1. re: kuidaore

                    I love Din Ho. Mmmm, Din Ho.

                    Musashino is probably the best "authentic" sushi place in Austin. I'm not really sure, since I've never been to Japan. But the fish quality is usually awesome. (As is the price, but that goes with the territory.)

                    I think your dislike of fusion is interesting. Tex-Mex is "fusion"; what is your opinion of it?

                    1. re: tom in austin

                      No, I don't even like non-Tex-Mex Americanized Mexican. The food I had in Mexico (City) is very different (less greasy) from what you find here. There's a pretty good family-owned hole-in-the-wall Mexican place in Dallas(Richardson) where our neighbor who used to live in Mexico City frequents. He's a foodie and well traveled--we follow his recommendations.

                      We visit Austin every few months and usually stay in north Austin. So we'll definitely try European Bistro in PF. The reviews look great. If you like German food, you got to go there!

                      1. re: kuidaore

                        I freaking love German food; hit this place and let me know what you think.

                        Have you been to the Walburg Mercantile? If so, what is your take on their German food? (Compare to Der Lindenbaum in Fburg, if you've been.)

                        1. re: kuidaore

                          The European Bistro kinda sucks. Went there ONCE about 3-4 years ago and left with no desire to go back. They shoudl be good, but miss the mark. I can't even remember why is was so bad...seems like it would have been good knowing that the two owners are European and all, but hey, i know plenty of American's who could open absolutely awful American restaurants in Europe, so, birthright is not exactly a qualification for great food. Go ahead and try it though, maybe I just don't understand food.

                          On the other hand, not to sound like a broken record ( i still have over 3000 that are not broken)...but I had lunch at Asia Cafe yesterday and today and dinner there tonight. The food seems to just be getting better. the Sichuan smoked duck was moist and smoky and yummy, the dumplings better than ever, the twice cooked pork was the best I've had there and the chicken in spicy sauce i had today was pretty nice, flecked with sichuan peppercorns, and oddly, bits of asparagus, and tons of garlic slices...slices, not minced...and i ate them all, mr. dracula, so stay away.

                          Now, speaking of dracula, for European, the Romanian place on Anderson Sq. called Drakula might just be a winner...anybody tried it???could be the sleeper we are all looking for...

                          in the meantime, i'll be dreaming of nice, oily sichuan food!!!! hot damn!

                    2. re: tom in austin

                      Hey t-i-a, just to explain...I come from a place where you have a winner in almost every cuisine - Burmese and Ethiopian included. When I first moved here in 1999, I was extremely naive about Austin, and assumed that a city as cool as this was going to have chow as cool as I was accustomed to. I made some assumptions that bit me in the butt...the first week I was here I asked someone where Chinatown was...assuming every city in America had one, I guess. I was met with blank stares...until someone directed me to Chinatown, the restaurant (actually, not bad - as I read somewhere on here recently).

                      Then there is Italian...I mean, it is simple...coastal regions got most of the European immigrants during the big influx, and SF, Seattle, LA, Boston, NY.... they all have an Italian community that I took for granted...if the immigrants didn't settle here, then you can't have 50 year old gems and the cutting edge upstarts (grandkids?) they attract...and if the population's taste doesn't support it, more and better doesn't come. When I went to the Italian places around here, I was appalled, aghast, and despondent (hi, sambamaster). Vespaio made me sad for a week. Mezzaluna made me wish I had one against my jugular. I had a decent meal at Andiamo, but so many elements of what I was looking for were missing, I haven't been back. Enoteca Vespaio seems to have gotten a really good handle on so many things... I do enjoy it - most of the food, the ambiance...but it is like Saccone's pizza... a fairly delicious "make-do" until I get back to what Italian is to me.

                      And I really respect and appreciate you as a 'hound, so take this with the utmost respect...but sushi here is adequate. I LOVE LOVE LOVE Uchi, but I see this more as a destination restaurant with good sushi than a sushi place. Musashino is great, but high end. Sushi Niichi is good, Tokyo on Bee Caves is good...but the great corner 15 seat sushi bar with properly vinegared rice and impeccable fish with complimentary edamame and surprising chef's choices...not really to be found, at least in my search.

                      Thai - well, I love Little Thailand (gotta go back soon) and Madam Mam's and I like Thai Passion and don't let's forget Vietnamese...lots of things at Le Soleil and Sunflower and Tam's are as good or better as any I have had wherever I have gone...these, I reckon due to the recent immigration patterns to Central Texas, are our glories.

                      To close this with Chinese...after some disappointing experiences and experiments (to be discussed when I have more time and energy) I will just say that at the moment, there are only three serviceable Chinese restaurants in the greater Austin area.

                      I'm excited to learn more about German food after the plea here - seems like with the whole German influx here in the 1840s-1880s this might be the "ethnic" cuisine that is the focus of the region's post-colonial era.

                      Whoops - wrote a big 'un...sleepy now!

                      1. re: saticoy

                        Heh! No offense taken, saticoy. Austin has Uchi and Musashino, as you say, which are both really great. Several cheaper places aren't great but pretty good -- Mikado and Sushi Sake -- and I've got four sushi places to pick from. I wish there were more, but especially given how great Uchi is, I feel lucky.

                        A different problem that Austin has is the lack of good restaurants in far South Austin. North Austin is littered with great places. Oh, how I miss living in central Austin! Sushi is especially mediocre down here. Any tips on this front will be greatly appreciated.

                        As for German food, when you find good German in Austin, it'll be complete news to me. Austin is surrounded by towns with rich German history, especially Fredericksburg, but the city of Austin itself seems to have been left behind. Scholz does not qualify.

                        I think of the lack of good German food in Austin proper to be akin to the lack of great BBQ in Austin, only moreso. People might credit us with having great BBQ (or good German), but only because our city is relatively close to a bunch of small-town places that are really delicious.

              2. Very nice choice. I probably end up eating here more than any restaurant in Austin. But I will strongly second the advice above - there are definately things to avoid. Suppli is consistently great. Also love the mussels with fries, worth it for the grilled bread for dipping alone. They mainly hit on the fries, but they do miss sometimes. Get them with aoli and mustard which can also enhance the mussels.

                Nicoise salad is my favorite salad, the tuna is very good. I usually skp the pastas as they are over sauced and if you've had the Suppli you've had the arrabiata where it is a great foil to the rice balls.

                Pizza is prosciutto first by a good margin (for the egg factor), lardo second.

                Charcuterie is a very good way to go, both salumis and pates are wonderful. The other stuff is fine, but I only get them if I want a little something to accompany the meats as a meal.

                I've only had the saltimbocca from their entrees. It was very good as I recall. Panni favorites is prosciutto (its similar to the pizza, so I'm far more likely to get the pizza). Many of the other sandwiches I'd skip.

                You are right on to check the specials. They are creative and more times than not it is where at least a portion of my meal will come from. Even pasta, maybe because they are often in lighter sauces, are far more likely to be a hit on the specials.

                Last, they have an interesting and affordable wine list that we enjoy because we are able to sample and learn about wines we're less familar with.

                Enjoy

                1. I think the best things there are the suppli, any of the salads (which are properly lightly dressed), and the pizzas, which are the best in Austin (but alas not on par with the NYC greats). I've had the moule frites a couple of times, once great with fresh mussels and crisp fries. The second time, the fries will still great, but the mussels weren't even passable. The pastas I've had weren't memorable.

                  You might also consider La Traviata. Most of the secondi are pretty boring, though people seem to like the duck confit. But they have some great pastas on their menu. My favorites are the funghi, the spicy lamb meatballs, and the carbonara.

                  1. there is NO good Italian in Austin. Sorry.

                    For something totally out of the mainstream, for Asian, try the very decent Sichuan at Asia Cafe. Was there today and the twice cooked pork is even better than the other 15 times i've had it...they have finally eliminated the celery and are using scallions...still not the normal leeks, but closer...
                    this place is the best Chinese in Austin, and not like anything else. No, it ain't Flushing's Spicy and Tasty, nor mid-town's Grand Sichuan International...but it soars above other places around here...Houston's Sichuan Cuisine is a bit better, wider choices, but it's in Houston!
                    Many posts about it on this board...

                    1. i was at enoteca last night. we went with the reliable starters... calamari, suppli, salad. never disappoints. i had their spaghetti carbonara for the first time which was tasty and nice small crispy chunks of pancetta; i would order it again. my friend ordered the funghi tagliatelle, with truffle oil and cream sauce (you mentioned you like cream). she loved it. in the past they have undercooked their pasta , making it TOO al dente, but last night it was perfect. i prefer la traviata's bolognese over enoteca's. ended sharing the marscarpone cheese cake (my staple dessert), some chocolate layered thing that was not very good, port, coffee. i can't get over how affordable it is for the quality of food you get at enoteca. siena in north austin may have the best fresh pasta dishes in town. again, though, i still prefer la traviata's bolognese.

                      i still think musashino is tops for traditional sushi, so i heartily support your plan B however they are not really open for lunch. there is a small sushi bar upstairs at chinatown you can get sushi from (or just order from chinatown's menu), but it's not the same experience as dining in musashino's space. i also love din ho, but if you really want a chinese treat, i'd go to pao's mandarin house out in lakeway instead. you might just try chinatown too since you were considering musashino. i think it's often overlooked as a destination for good chinese food in austin.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: yimay

                        To pile on: My wife and I went to Enoteca Vespaio last night. We started by splitting the misticanza salad. She ordered the proscuitto pizza and I ordered the hanger steak. We've all gone on and on about all those items except the steak. I'd simply add that the hanger steak was excellent and the fries that accompanied were really good as well. The steak temperature was ideal, and the steak's preparation was delicious and rich -- a rich chianti sauce that wasn't far off from brown gravy. In fact, if there was one imperfect thing about this dish, it was the richness -- as small of a cut as this beef was, I was overfull by the end and was nearly unable to help my wife with her pizza (already a bit too big for one person).

                        Enoteca continues to cement itself as one of Austin's best spots. If you treat this place as your "Monday through Thursday" place, you'll be doing quite nicely.

                        1. re: tom in austin

                          We went on Thursday and it was excellent as usual. I adore the prosciutto pizza although it's another very rich dish and too much even for two of us to split. They have a wonderful ceasar salad. The suppli are usually pretty good. We've never had a bad meal there.

                          And my five-year-old gives raves to the spaghetti (although you can't really mess up pasta with olive oil). I give raves to the servers who actually ask my child what she wants (rather than asking me) and bring that first!