It's Italian Cucina: A Sexy Slice of Italy in South Austin
Updated: Nov 29, 2018
Austin, Texas has no shortage of extraordinary culinary talents. On any given weekend a new restaurant is opening its doors to a flood of hungry city-dwellers in search of their next great dining experience. It really doesn’t matter if you’re a goth, punk, hipster, or high-rise industry millionaire – you’ll find your common language in this town is food. And with the bar set at an all time high, local foodies often find themselves spoiled to the point of affected jadedness. Uni – I had that for breakfast. Foie gras? Isn’t that the same as butter these days? Truffles are so 2012. Pan Asian-Peruvian-Turkish-Sushi fusion for $50 a plate and month-out reservation? “I’d just rather grab a three-dollar taco because I’m just so over the fusion stuff, aren’t you?”
Let’s accept it – we can sound pretty pretentious in this town when it comes to food. #1stWorldProblems Surprisingly, however, what we do have a shortage of is authentic, sensual Italian cuisine.
Welcome to It’s Italian Cucina!
Located along recently renovated SoLo, boho chic section of South Lamar, only steps from the legendary music venue The Saxon Pub, It’s Italian Cucina is easy to stroll past. Despite its relative recent construction on the ground floor of a new apartment community, it maintains that elusive romantic mystery reminiscent of the small Italian bistros I remember in New Jersey, tucked away behind the bright yellow umbrellas that shade its small patio. This is no 1940’s mafia espresso lounge, though. It is pure modern sexy bistro at its finest. It’s Italian Cucina has taken a commercial real estate blank-slate property and transformed it into a luscious, dark, romantic restaurant that gleams with a combination dark hard wood tables and brightly polished copper fixtures.
The moment the door closes behind you one is embraced by a warm, cheerful, and extraordinarily knowledgeable staff awaits to usher you into an elegant dining experience. The exuberant owner-chef Al welcomes you in his thick Italian accent, glass of white wine never leaving his hand the entire time as he buzzes from customer to customer checking to make sure that everything is to their liking. In an instant you forget the stresses of your day against the backdrop of the bustling, brewing city just steps away. Rarely have I ever been made to feel so special at a restaurant, as if I were a celebrity simply for the sake of dining there and nothing more. This aspect of the dining experience It’s Italian has honed with razor perfection allowing the diner to simply slip into their seat with a smile on their face before even the first course has been served.
But enough about the atmosphere of this lovely establishment – what about the food?
I began my meal with an aperitif of prosecco with fresh strawberry puree, the absolutely perfect way to slip into the evening as it opens the palette while you peruse the dinner menu. I began my meal, at the recommendation of my waiter, with the Arancini del Giorno, whose flavor is changed daily. On this evening, the arancini were a basil pesto with a homemade tomato sauce. Arancini are a deceptively simply appetizer which can easily become too dense or greasy if not prepared properly. In this instance, they were feathery and light, melting upon the tongue with velveteen butter, basil, and parmesan notes, which melded with the slow-cooked complexity of old world simplicity in the accompanying sauce.
I could have easily made a meal of the arancini alone, but it was time for the second course.
Again, I followed the waiter’s recommendations and ordered the Ravioli del Giorno. As with the arancini, the flavor combination of the ravioli change daily and tonight it was ricotta and crab with a light zucchini, tomato, onion, and garlic “salsa” sauce. In addition I decided to try the Fettuccine Tartufo, a “fresh truffled pasta with porcini cream and shrimp”. There are few culinary experiences that, in my opinion, can match absolutely perfectly crafted handmade pasta. And in this case It’s Italian did not disappoint.
The moment the ravioli hit your tongue they begin to melt as if the pasta was simply holding its perfect shape just long enough to reach your mouth. As the pasta slips apart it reveals a filling that is airy, silken, and perfectly seasoned with just a hint of herbs and salt to allow the natural flavors of the sweet ricotta and ocean crab to whisper to your senses like an early evening breeze off of the coast of Italy.
In comparison, the Fettuccine Tartufo is a bit more on the decadent side. Yet, still, the brilliant chefs at It’s Italian have somehow taken, what could easily have become a very heavy cream sauce and created an experience that satisfies the desire for a naughty indulgence while miraculously maintaining that same airiness to the components inherent in the ravioli. The porcini mushrooms are absolutely divine, the shrimp cooked to exact perfection, and the handmade pasta… To hell with silk sheets – I want a sheet made out of this pasta!
After trying two of their recommended pasta dishes, it was time for dessert. Even if you’re not a “dessert person”, please do yourself the favor of order from their dessert menu just one item. And, for me, that is now the Affogato. The Affogato is a house-made chocolate gelato sprinkled with coco nibs and three small chocolate cookies, and a shot of warm espresso, which is poured over the gelato upon delivery to your table. As the hot espresso meets the icy gelato, it begins to melt together to create the perfect post-dinner pick-me-up while delivering that exquisite bite of sweetness we often crave to bring closure to a mesmerizing meal. If you would like to splurge, as I was doing that evening, be sure to pair the Affogato with a glass of the Batasiolo Barolo Chinato n/v Piedmont port wine. However, I warn you that no port wine will ever compare once you’ve sampled this pairing.
Not ready for your evening to end there? Move on over to the beautiful, intimate bar and enjoy one of their delicious craft cocktails. I personally recommend the Moscow Mule or the Oldita Fashion, their take on a classic Old Fashion. FYI, however, reservations are definitely recommended, even if you’re planning to sit at the bar, where the full menu is also offered.
After dining at It’s Italian Cucina I believe I have a fuller understanding of why really good Italian food is hard to find in Austin, Texas – it is truly an art form when executed properly. That is exactly what It’s Italian has achieved. It is perfection down to the very last detail and worth every single penny. Until you can board a plane to the country itself, make It’s Italian Cucina your gold star go-to Italian experience in the Lone Star State!
Find out more information about It’s Italian Cucina online at https://itsitaliancucina.com/index.html.