When our side house salads arrived, the school teacher confessed that she still occasionally thought about the salad we'd had during a recent trip to another local eatery. We talked about how sometimes the memory of a particular dish darts from your subconscious—the tastes and smells urging a repeat visit—and how geography sometimes makes that improbable.
We were surprised when we arrived at Asiago's and the server who greeted us asked if she could cross off our reservation. I hadn't made one ... who needs a reservation on a Sunday evening? Watching four servers busily bustling through the restaurant, I realized that if I made plans to dine there again, I would indeed call ahead.
The school teacher had joyfully accepted my invitation, but was even more delighted after I told her I'd heard Asiago's has cornered the market in eggplant preparation, plus their pasta is all homemade.
Hoping for something interesting to open with, we ordered the Suppli starter ($7.95 for two): fried cakes of walnut pesto, risotto and fontina cheese with a balsamic reduction. Crispy outside and pebbly inside, the soft cheese and earthy walnut pesto flavors swirled around, strangely complementing each other. Half of a homemade loaf of bread arrived gratis at our table and we used slices to soak up the reduction while we waited for the teacher's order of the Rosarno ($15.95), eggplant--substituted for chicken--and tomato pesto over fettucine with garlic cream sauce, and my Il Fungo Selvaggio ($13.95, add chicken, shrimp or spicy Italian sausage $3), sauteed wild mushrooms in rich garlic cream sauce over maltagliati pasta finished with crumbled gorgonzola.
The wrong shape of pasta can leave a dish wanting if meats, vegetables or sauces can't find purchase, sliding through penne or slithering off fusilli. A diner may be left with two dishes in one bowl: one of pasta and one of ingredients. The wavy, not-too-thick trapezoids in the Il Fungo were the exact right type for the dish. Lovely bits of chewy mushroom, long strips of marinated chicken and cheese so tart my sinuses contracted, caught in the waves of the pasta instead of falling into a soupy mess at the bottom of the bowl. Although it had retained enough warmth in the middle to melt a little of the gorgonzola, some time had passed between order and arrival, and the Il Fungo suffered from a tepid temperature.
The teacher's eggplant gave us some serious pause when it arrived. Three cutlets the size of chicken fried steaks cascaded down the pasta. I had only hoped for a taste of the dish, but she spooned an entire giant slice and some long strands of lemony fettuccine onto a plate for me. Dollops of tomato pesto accented the eggplant without threat of drowning it, and crunchy bits of gremolata breading added exciting texture to the meaty vegetable. For the rest of the evening, the teacher would occasionally remark that no matter how she tried, she could never prepare eggplant that well. I got the feeling after the Asiago's version, she may not try again.
As we finished the night with a small cup of hot, heavy coffee, the buzz of conversation from several tables swirled around in the cooling air that wafted in from the restaurant-fronting doors, which open up to patio seating. We reminisced about unforgettable dishes, all of which we'd found somewhere in the Northwest. The teacher mentioned a blackberry salmon dish, her gaze far away as she remembered the seaside restaurant where she'd found it. I have two very fond memories of seafood bisque: one a bowl of bisque at a hotel restaurant on the Oregon coast, the other a spicy surprise at a Cuban eatery in Portland, Ore. And we both still think about that local salad. I don't know for sure yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Il Fungo pushes its way to the front of my food memories.
--Amy Atkins likes to take Mr. Wild Mushroom to parties; he's always such a fungi.
Boise Weekly sends two reviewers to every restaurant we review. Read what our other reviewer had to say about Asiago's Restaurant and Winebar here.