Cantine: Austin Restaurant Veteran’s Newest Project
Dining Guide to Local Austin Restaurants
Italian food fans, this is your year. In 2015, Austin will welcome at least a half-dozen new Italian restaurants. One to put on your radar is Cantine. Owned by restaurant veterans Lisa and Emmett Fox (Asti, Fino), this is their most ambitious project yet. Carving out a high-profile corner of the new Lamar Union complex, their Michael Hsu-designed eatery is both chic and rustic. Scorched pine paneling — recycled from the 2011 Bastrop fires — lines one wall, while sleek subway tiles line another. Exposed concrete floors flow into muted carpeting. Glossy white lacquered tabletops share the room with polished wooden counters.
Before your meal, do like the Italians do and enjoy a pre-dinner aperitivo at the lovely marble bar. There’s an impressive selection of imported liquors and Cantine’s skilled bar staff know what to do with them. When you’re ready to eat, take your pick of tables: low-tops, high-tops, patio seats, a 16-stool community table, or a dazzling corner booth, perfect for people watching.
Cantine combines the greatest hits from the Fox’s other restaurants with new twists on Italian and Mediterranean classics. For starters, try the stuffed mushrooms, oozing with cheese, sprinkled with crunchy garlic breadcrumbs and drizzled with truffle oil. Make sure to share one of Cantine’s tasty Neapolitan-style pizzas, or revisit old favorites from the recently shuttered Fino, such as fried goat cheese topped with red onion jam or anchovy-stuffed fried olives.
Cantine’s rotisserie turns out some terrific dishes. The harissa-spiced chicken is a whole or half bird bursting with flavor beneath decadently crispy skin. Typically served with roasted potatoes, our server happily accommodated our request for sautéed spinach. There’s also succulent porchetta: pork loin and belly rolled in herbs and spices, and slow-roasted until it develops its trademark crackly skin. Cantine serves it sliced with creamy white beans or on ciabatta as a sandwich.
For seafood lovers, branzino is traditionally roasted and presented whole, accompanied by couscous, roasted eggplant, yogurt and chermoula herb sauce. There’s a top-of-the-line pasta machine and everything’s homemade, including a toothsome whole wheat rigatoni tossed with rustic lamb ragu and topped with creamy ricotta and a bright mint gremolata. Less successful was the overcooked and lackluster bucatini amatriciana. Don’t overlook the creative side dishes, like a medley of colorful roasted baby carrots, perfumed with harissa and orange, atop a pool of rich lebne yogurt.
Save room for dessert. Owner Lisa Fox is a talented pastry chef who entices diners with sweets like classic tiramisu and assortments of exotic homemade cookies. As with all the Fox restaurants, the wine list is wonderfully varied and full of mostly Old World treasures. We enjoyed a crisp Venetian Prosecco, a refreshing Languedoc rosé, an intriguing Abruzzo white blend, and an austere pinot nero from Alto Adige.
Having too many new Italian restaurants in Austin is a good problem to have, yet sorting through the options can be a deliciously daunting task. Just be sure that Cantine makes the cut.