Asti Caffe

Categories: Casual, Eat-in, Italian
Comments: No Comments
Published on: May 7, 2014

What's the four-one-one on Asti Caffe?  It's their address – 411 North Salina Street in Syracuse.  Not quite in the "heart of downtown," but darn close.

On a recent sunny (but not really warm) weekday, a friend of mine joined me for lunch at Asti.  Neither of us had ever been before.  I have to say that parking on a weekday at noon was tough, but available.  We wound up parking at a meter across on a tiny side street and walking over.  Walking up to the front door, you're greeted by a warm, red brick facade.  The recessed door is reached after you walk under a wrought iron arch.  There's construction work going on nearby, but I was struck by how fresh and clean the front looked.

DSCF0249Part of the sidewalk is blocked off behind a low partition.  Given the tables and chairs out there, I assume that in good weather, seating is available out there for dining al fresco.  We entered the front door and were greeted promptly.  There's a small seating area of booths right in front, with a small, friendly looking bar off to your right.  We were taken back and to the left into a larger, more open dining area.

Along the side walls, long cushioned benches are built in, with tables and chairs in front of them.  In the middle of the dining area, several more tables and chairs provided more seating.  We sat at a table for 4, leaving us plenty of elbow room.  The semi-open kitchen was behind me, and I could hear a lot of action back there.  It was truly the lunch rush.

My friend was hungry, and spied the fried calamari appetizer on the menu, so we ordered that.  Along with it, he got cavatelli in red sauce, with two meatballs on the side.  I found a number of things on the menu to tempt me – they even offer a burger – but I went with the lasagna.  We chatted for a while.  In a few minutes, a large bowl of calamari appeared, with marinara on the side for dipping.  We both set to it, but there was still so much left after the meal that my friend took it home to his wife, who also enjoyed it.  Several minutes more, and our meals arrived.  I got a sausage on the side with mine, and it was served swimming in red sauce.  I found the lasagna very tasty, and after my other mentions of red sauce in Italian restaurants, I paid special attention to it.  Not sweet, and not acidic – I really liked the spicy flavor!  My friend also enjoyed his cavatelli, but found it too much after the appetizer, so he wound up taking some of that home, too.  When we were done, I looked at the bill and got a case of sticker shock.  The total was $55 with tax and tip – way more than I would have expected for lunch.  But the meals were really good, and I made reservations for my wife and I to return a few nights later.

So now it's Tuesday night, and the wife and I roll up to find a place only a few steps from the door.  I'm not sure if the dining room was full – we saw several people leave while we were eating – but we were told that the only seating for the evening was in the area by the door.  We were seated, and again warmly greeted by a waitress.  She explained the specials to us and took our drink order – water with lemon for my wife, and a diet soda for me.  No appetizer this time, but I did get the soup.  They had chicken pastina and lentil that night.  I asked for a cup of the pastina, and a small taste of the lentil.  The tasting cup was nearly as large as the pastina bowl.  While the pastina was good, I thought the soup was a little undercooked, as the veggies were all a bit. . . well, crunchy isn't the right word.  It also had very little flavor, which at least meant it wasn't loaded down with salt.  I thought the lentil actually had more flavor, and a better mouth feel.

My wife ordered a chicken dish that actually came layered with eggplant.  I thought the sea bass special sounded good, so I ordered that.  They arrived in reasonable time, and I was delighted with the fish!  Firm yet tender, it had a great taste.  The plate was edged with a balsamic reduction, I think.  Between the wine sauce and the reduction, the fish was great.  I also tried a bite of the chicken.  It was nicely done, and I'd have been almost as happy to have that if the fish wasn't available.

Even with my fish costing 50% more than most of the other entrees, the bill for dinner came to around $65 with tax and tip, which made me wonder what the hell we ordered for lunch that cost so damned much.

We parked on the street.  I don't go downton much, so there might have been a lot close by – I couldn't tell.  Lunch parking cost me $2 in coins for the meter, and dinner parking was free.  Either way, I seriously recommend a trip to Asti.  I know we'll be going back!

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