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Nov 29, 2008 06:54 PM

Asti, over-rated or misunderstood?

I just returned from a confusing meal at Asti, and I wonder if it really deserves to be on top 10 lists in Austin. My confusion stems from the fact that I started off with a wonderful mixed green salad with a shallot vinagrette, but it was followed by a linguini with white clam sauce that tasted more like an Olive Garden alfredo with clams on the side. What gives? Was I wrong to expect a light sauce that allowed the flavor of the clams to dominate versus the creamy blob of pasta I received? Am I confusing linguini and white clam sauce with linguini alla vongole, a dish that I have made myself many times and is near and dear to my heart?

For a $75 meal for two people, I expected much more from Asti.

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  1. Yeah, gosh, I know what you mean--I've eaten there many times, but in all candour I must say that the good experiences far outweigh the bad. First: their fried calamari is the best I've ever had, even in comparison with some that I had in Venice and San Francisco. That said, I'm no world traveler--but that appetizer is *always* spot on. I don't know why, but I'm always also dissapointed by their pasta dishes, in part because I can make better or just as good at home (I am experienced at making pasta from scratch). The one caveat to that is if there's a great ingredient, and one of them is their house-made sausage, which every time I've tried it that sausage just blows me away. I've been behind the scenes there (I know owner Emmitt Fox a little bit, long story that) and seen how they make it, seen their work stations, seen their walk-in, and as a veteran working in various kinds of restaurants in this town, that is one of the cleanest most efficiently run kitchens I've ever seen.

    Here's some hints--look out for their specials. Sometimes they do something really outstanding like one time they were doing a slow-cooked boar dish--absolutely world class. Sometimes thay have a duck confit or something similar, again excellent. The one time I had Osso Bucco (they probably are serving it now given the season) I was really seriously impressed despite the fact this is a pretty easy dish for me to make at home.

    Also, keep in mind, the heart and soul of Asti is Northern Italian cuisine, and pasta's more a southern thing. Still, everyone expects pasta (and pizza which they usually do there) at an Italian restaurant. Sometimes Asti has really rare ingredients--one time Emmitt pulled out a batch of rosemary flavored Lardo (whipped pork lard meant to mimic butter) which was just amazing.

    Personally, I think Asti's still a great restaurant, but not up to the high bar of Uchi--not many places are up to *that* level!

    1. Funny, I was there last night myself. I hadn't been but once, maybe 3 years ago. Last night (my blowout before starting Weight Watchers today), I had the soup, which I thought was fantastic, however I do wish there'd been less chickpeas and a bit more broth. It was light, with sauteed leeks and a very light broth that had a nice flavor. Then I had the roasted beet salad with robiolo and fried frisse and hazelnuts. Overall it was tasty, but it needed more acid. There were also too many beets in relation to the other ingredients, which might not have been a big deal had there been more acid somewhere, or more cheese relative to the beets.

      Since I knew I wanted the soup *and* the salad, I went with a pizza because I knew it would keep the best if I took it home. I went with the white pizza with fried sage and prosciutto and it was perfect. My friend had the pizza with mushrooms and caramelized onions with the house made sausage. It was good, but we both liked mine better.

      We had a bottle of wine, which I can't remember the name of but that was very good. And our total for two people (he also had the white bean dip) came to $100. We had one of those certificates for $25 off so that worked out really well.

      All in all, I'll be back. I'd forgotten about Asti and am glad we chose it last night.

      (I'm cross posting this to yelp because I'm totally lazy.)

      1. Asti is in our regular rotation and we consider it one of the better casual dinner spots in Austin. Food, ambiance and service are really quite good. Probably a half notch below Vespaio, but very good nonetheless. Resv on weekend helpful.

        1. I've always liked Asti, but I never get the pasta there. I agree that the calamari is a must. One time it was over salted, but I always sit at the bar (love to watch them cook) and they immediately re-made it for us. Last time I was there they served a salad with a poached egg on top. It was wonderful! The Chefs there are always so friendly. They've even given us small, new apps to try, just for fun.

          I love it that Emmit makes the rounds when he's there. It's such a great neighborhood place. The waiters have always been spot on with good wine recommendations. My kids always like the breadsticks they offer as soon as they walk in the door too.

          My favorite dessert is that espresso shot poured over vanilla bean gelato...MMMMM.

          3 Replies
          1. re: chispa_c

            Sorry to be the grouse here, but imo Asti has just never had it. We used to go there on a fairly regular basis but eventually discovered that they just could not pull it off. It's amazing to me that they seemed to be right on the mark with Fino but not with Asti. One thing that perplexed me as why they could never have a sparkling wine, such as Prosecco. It is cheap, it is good and it is Italian. Haven't been back there in over 5 or 6 years. Too many other good places to spend your money. I think the place exists primarily because the neighborhood people support it due to convenience and not cuisine. Same is to be said of Chez Zee, where I ate the other day. Food, mainly average to slighty below, but the place was packekd for lunch.

            1. re: singlemalt

              I think you've got to mark this one up to different palettes--personally I think Fino is a swing and a miss, though I haven't returned there in a while--most of my friends agree with me, one of whom I took to Asti after trying Fino, which she completely converted to--still, it's not like Asti's mind-blowingly good, just very good at the things they do well, IMHO...