I’ll admit it. I have a bit of a bias against chains.
I also tend not to order anything in a restaurant that it would be easy enough for me to make at home; I like to save my dining dollars for dishes that are more complicated or rare, not easily duplicable. But every once in awhile, I find the exception that proves the rule, and North Italia is that exception – in more ways than one.
We started off with the fried calamari, which is a textbook appetizer that’s very easy to do wrong. North Italia does it right. The dish is crisp and light, with a warm and tangy arugula to complement the richness of the breading. The charred lemon is not just for show, it really added to the flavor.
I make it a habit to order the specialty of the house, or any dish that comes with the strong recommendation of staff. When I visited North Italia’s downtown Austin location during its soft opening, I was told the Bolognese is a specialty of the house. I never order Bolognese, because it never seems special enough to order out. Just tomato sauce, right? WRONG. This sauce was amazing, full of depth and flavor, with just the right amount of spice. When I remarked on how surprised I was, the server told me the sauce is made with shaved prosciutto and simmered six hours in-house. OK, I’m not likely to do that at home. Add to that a perfectly cooked pasta, bite-tender and a perfect delivery system for the Bolognese, and you have a winning dish. I suppose, in the end, it is hard to argue with a basic dish done right.
To balance the seeming simplicity of the Bolognese, we also tried the scallop entrée. We found this to be a well-rounded dish. The sauce was not overly rich, and included squash for a hint of sweetness and fried onions for a bit of crunch. The Brussels sprouts listed as an ingredient were actually leaves rather than whole, and got a bit lost. Overall, the dish was a nice complement to the pasta, although the serving was a little smaller than we would have liked.
The cocktails were not as inventive as the entrees, but the Quiet Italian Gentleman was a refreshing summer cocktail, a combination of bitter and sweet. The sour Italo was less to my liking, but sours are not my favorite to begin with. My companion enjoyed it more than I did.
For dessert, we tried the mascarpone tart, which was outstanding. Light, delicious, combining tart fruit, fresh mint, all in a delicate nut crust. A perfect end to a solid meal.
My surprising conclusion is this: if you find yourself in downtown Austin with a craving for decent authentic-style Northern Italian cuisine that doesn’t require a second mortgage on your home or a degree in linguistics, check out North Italia! And get the Bolognese, you will not regret it.