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September 07, 2006

Asti Trattoria, 408C E 43rd St

As Emmett Fox has shifted his gaze to Mediterranean cuisine at Fino, Asti has settled in to its role as a neighborhood stalwart of solid - if not spectacularly interesting - Italian fare. I've had a few disappointing dishes at Asti over the years - including a thick, rubber band-textured homemade papardelle that will linger in memory forever - but the overall experience of Asti is one of good quality food and familiarity. The staff is attentive and knowledgeable and the wine list has grown enough to potentially embarrass some of Asti's upscale competition.

Asti hasn't lost the spirit of a neighborhood joint; you can still eat cheaply and well here if you're selective. Pizzas and pastas are competent or above average, but if you stick with the staples you'll miss near-classics like the Buddy's chicken with roasted vegetables, a hearty, solid entree that everyone should try once. Once you do sample it, try it at home as well - it's a model of simplicity.

Sometimes Asti cranks up the hearty meter a notch too far, as in the seafood risotto, which came inundated in a tomato sauce that not only overwhelmed the seafood (which is a shame, as the squid was perfect) but seemed to relegate the rice itself to an afterthought. A side of sauteed spinach with garlic, which we picked with the intention of balancing out the risotto with something intense, cowered in the corner, clearly embarrassed.

Conversely, a carrot canneloni was thin and airy, almost to the point of being inconsequential. A special starter proved the most interesting dish of the night - an impossibly light celeriac cake came with sauteed fennel, creating an almost perfectly archetypal "summer" flavor. I don't know if this is going to be offered regularly, but get it when you can.

Standards like white bean dip continue to be solid choices, and my experience with the soups at Asti has been mostly positive, including a memorable cabbage and proscuitto soup that, again, evinced the flavors of its season flawlessly.

In fact, eating seasonally from the specials or eating cheaply from the standards seem to be the most reliable paths at Asti. The wine recommendations at our last meal were spot-on and the service was what it should be at a neighborhood place - a little laid back, but always attentive. As long as you're not bothered by the incessant racket of the open kitchen or the tight quarters of most of the tables, Asti remains a worthwhile evening out.


Posted by brentbuford at September 7, 2006 07:46 PM


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