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Asiago's Ristorante

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'Twas the summer of 2002 when I was asked to select the most romantic restaurant in Boise for BW's Best of Boise issue. At the time, the choice was easy: Asiago's on Cole. The pergola that stretches over the entire dining room is entwined with grapevines and tiny white lights, and it makes me feel like I am on a romantic Italian patio on the other side of the world. I still hold a fondness for Asiago's and the effect those little lights and a glass of good red wine has on me. So it was fitting that my husband and I returned to review Asiago's on Valentine's Day.

Dining at Asiago's is tough. Why? Because everything on the menu looks so good. It's tough to decide between homemade pasta dishes with their made-from-scratch sauces, or heartier fare like Asiago's signature dish, which is simply called Carne ($16.95) and is comprised of sauteed pork loin medallions with smoked bacon, caramelized apple chutney and gorgonzola cheese. For V-Day dinner I settled on the Mediterraneo ($14.45), one of my favorite comfort dishes in town. Long, green strands of Asiago's fresh spinach fettuccine caress warm, chopped tomatoes, artichoke hearts, capers, garlic, spicy red chiles and olive tapenade. The whole dish is topped with crumbled feta cheese and grilled chicken, although you can select spicy Italian sausage or shrimp instead.

My husband's idea of good Italian, however, is the Macaroni Grill. We have a longstanding disagreement over which restaurant is better. I don't mind the Mac, but I like the food at Asiago's better and frankly I prefer supporting the local guys. My husband had a hankering for boulliabaise and cioppino all week but forgot to bring his glasses to V-Day dinner, so I read the description for Frutti Di Mare ($16.95) to him from the menu: "a seafood saute of shrimp, scallops, clams, salmon and mussels with mushrooms and scallions, tossed with fettuccine in a sundried tomato-white wine cream sauce." Sounded dreamy to me, and he agreed. But then he grumbled all night about how it wasn't spicy enough, and how this just proved his point about the Macaroni Grill. I countered that the Frutti Di Mare seemed like an inherently mild-flavored dish and perhaps next time he should remember to bring his glasses to dinner so he can read the menu himself, dear.

Asiago's prepares a respectable tiramisu ($5.50) that earns a favorable nod for visual perfection and a mascarpone filling that is both light and rich. The creme brulee ($5) we ordered, however, was firm like cold egg custard and its shell was too thin. Yet, it did little to diminish the fondness I feel for one of my favorite local Italian eateries.

—Jennifer Hernandez likes roses.

Asiago's Ristorante, 3423 N. Cole Rd., 323-1469; Mon.-Thu.: 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Fri.: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Sat.: 4-10 p.m., Sun.: 4-9 p.m.

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