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help needed

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hungryinaustin May 4, 2009 09:45 PM

Hello Chowhounders,

I am an occasional visitor to this board, so please forgive me if this question has been asked before - as i suspect it must have been. I am Italian. I grew up outside Genoa, and have lived in the U.S. for 20 years now. I love Texas barbecue, but oftentimes what passes as Italian food in Austin makes me want to kill myself.

I have just come back from Taverna on 2nd Street where I had possibly the worst risotto of my life, and definitely the worst risotto frutti di mare of my life. Rice was overcooked to the texture of orzo - then it tasted like someone had tipped a can of queso into it - so if there was any saffron in it - how could one know? The cheesiness was extreme, and in my experience, Italians who put cheese on everything don't put cheese on fish. The waiter asked how it was so I told him, saying that I was hungry and would eat it anyway. He whisked it away from me and brought back another plate 5 minutes or so later. It was exactly the same, and since the waiter was sweet and I did not have the heart to send it back again, and had no reason for believing the third plate would be any different from the first two, I smiled, said it was fine, and managed to eat most of it. I have lived in Austin for 6 plus years now and have decided to give up on Italian food, but thought I would try this board in case there may be a place that I have missed. Provided I can find the right ingredients, I can make most of what I love at home, but sometimes I just don't feel like cooking, and making pasta from scratch is time-consuming and I have to be in the mood.

These are the places I have tried more than once and found indifferent or poor or actively hated:

Sagra, Vespaio, Carmelo's, Siena, Romeo's, The Treehouse, La Traviata, Frank and Angies, Brick Oven, Spaghetti Warehouse ( the horror, the horror), Mezzaluna (ditto), Cannoli Joe's, Olive Garden - though I once had surprisingly good gnocchi there, Johnny Carino, Buca di Peppo, Bellissimo.

These are places that I have tried more than once and found okay - though none unqualified delicious:

Asti ( often not Italian enough, but usually fresh and good), Enoteca Vespaio (I love their prosciutto, egg and truffle oil panini - other-wise meh, but much prefer it to the yuppie parody of an Italian restaurant next door). I like the bucatini amatriciana at Primizie but that is about it. I once had an excellent fennel salad at Andiamo's, and Mandola's is mostly okay though half the time they don't have half the meats named on the board above their deli counter, which I am starting to realize is simply decoration. Nearly every time I go there, I am told the guanciale is coming on Tuesday plus no salted anchovies - just those little oily things in cans. Also, is there anywhere in Austin where one can buy broccoli rabe?

I like good regional Italian food - love nearly all regions from Sicily to Veneto. In other cities in the U.S., where I have lived - I loved Via Emilia on North Clark St and Mia Francesca in Little Italy in Chicago, Bar Pitti on 6th Ave in NYC, and Cucina Capone's on Melrose in L.A. Don't know if these places still exist. I totally took them for granted. None of them were/are particularly fancy. I know Austin is a much more smaller city with its own culinary charms. I don't need Babbo or The River Cafe, but I am hoping there might be a place that makes its own pasta and mozzarella, would have squid ink risotto on the menu once in a while, does a good osso buco in the winter etc. . .

I think I have been thorough in my search. I have driven my Austin friends crazy, but maybe I have missed something . . .

Or do I just have to suck it up and drive to Houston, which, at least, has good, if not great Italian food, whenever the cravings strike?

Any help, if there is help to be had, greatly appreciated.

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    ieathereforeiam RE: hungryinaustin May 5, 2009 01:37 AM

    it's tough here, man. I once got so offended at Treehouse that I...anyway.

    North and Mulberry have both had decent risottos and some other consistent items.

    4 Replies
    1. re: ieathereforeiam
      amykragan RE: ieathereforeiam May 5, 2009 06:41 AM

      I've gotten broccoli rabe at Central Market and Whole Foods before

      1. re: amykragan
        Homero RE: amykragan May 5, 2009 09:26 AM

        The Central Market on Lamar also carries Guanciale and white anchovies, as well as salt packed anchovies.

        1. re: amykragan
          bookgrrl72 RE: amykragan May 5, 2009 10:48 AM

          I've gotten broccoli rabe at the Sunset Valley farmer's market; I think it's nearly out of season, though.

          1. re: bookgrrl72
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            hungryinaustin RE: bookgrrl72 May 5, 2009 07:10 PM

            Thanks everyone.

            I will try North and Mulberry, and go hunting at Central Market and Sunset Valley farmer's market this weekend. And I found fresh fava beans at Fiesta the other day!

            And ieathereforeiam, whatever you did at Treehouse, I have no doubt it was warranted.

            Anyone know where I can buy bottarga in Austin?

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        Ashforth RE: hungryinaustin May 7, 2009 04:41 PM

        You could try Carrabbas on 183. It doesn't measure up to the original one in Houston, but since you've been to both Olive Garden and Spaghetti Warehouse, you've had worse!

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          stephanieh RE: hungryinaustin May 7, 2009 06:13 PM

          I noticed Ciola's missing from your list. They're out in Lakeway. I haven't been in a long time, but their food was was at least as good the places you mentioned liking... which is the best you can hope for here.

          Also missing is Reale's, but my experience has been that the pizza is pretty good, but the pasta is nothing special.

          One place I've liked for a more mom and pop type experience vs the finer dining... Gino's up in Round Rock on Mays St. Their sauces are the best I've had in Austin.

          Ashforth mentioned Carrabba's, and I can vouch for their fettuccine alfredo. It's better than you'll expect from a chain.

          I used to eat Italian food out at least twice a week, but since moving here, I usually fix pasta at home.

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            stephanieh RE: hungryinaustin May 8, 2009 04:06 PM

            Has anyone been here - Nonna Gina's in Buda? http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyroba...

            I'd have to hear some pretty compelling raves to make the drive from NW Austin, but I'd do it in a heartbeat for good Italian.

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