I’ve always thought that there was sort of an Italian food problem in Austin. Looking at all of the restaurants of the moment, big names and something else good here, Italian cuisine is hardly ever a focus. Sure, quite a few places serve pasta or have some sort of mock porchetta on the menu, but there always seemed to be an unfilled niche; a restaurant that focused on the regional Italian cooking that the country is famous for. Don’t get me wrong, these restaurants exist (Vespaio comes to mind, and, well, that’s kind of it), but there’s something decidedly old school about just a straight up Italian restaurant. Austin, being a city more or less in it’s mid 20’s, is seemingly more interested in clever fusions and questionably qualified fast casual.
Enter L’Oca d’Oro, the shining star of the now teenage Mueller development in barely northeast Austin. Despite being a cacophony of apostrophes and counterintuitive capitalizations, L’Oca d’Oro is a warm, friendly spot that serves food for people. All of ‘em. Their happy hour is surprisingly reasonable, their dinners are well balanced and thoughtful, and if you are part of a pair itching to rack up a $200 tab while sitting at the bar (like I was), it’s not too terribly difficult to make it happen. I also learned about their “Community Member’s Program,” a minimum thousand-dollar-buy-in with some lovely perks for big fans with pseudo-deep pockets.
We started as we always do, with a spritz made of one of their house Amari. Like it’s Aperol cousin this spritz was cool, light and refreshing with a swath of bitterness that provided a solid foundation for the meal to come. We’re talking pier and beam here people, none of this slab nonsense. If a house-made amaro program comes a surprise to you(let alone a GOOD one), then put your dukes up because the hits keep coming; it’s hard to find something NOT made in house. From the Straciatella crostini served with fried kale and pecan butter to the Finocchiona (a hard salami flavored with fennel seeds) we found shaved over the Rigatoni all’Arrabiata, Chef Fiore has cultivated a battery of incredibly high quality and personal house made ingredients.
There is one element that, for me, took this meal from a lovely weeknight out, past the point of amazement into the realm of the divine. Of course the pasta was cooked to a perfect al dente, of course the wine list was varied and expertly curated. But it was the staff of life, the sourdough bread that we ordered probably 12 side orders of that ruthlessly stole show. Bread is so often a throw away at restaurants, probably baked at Easy Tiger or some other new-local spot, and probably outshined by that which is served atop or around it. At L’Oca, the bread is king.
Maybe the reason I like the bread so much is that two hefty slices come with the polpette. The meatballs served with sweet and savory tomato jam were the perfect paints to lay on the canvas of the grilled and oiled bread. But lets face it, every sauce that was left over on our plates and in our bowls simply begged to be sopped up into those voluptuous glutinous fibers that were baked that afternoon.
I almost wrote this exclusively about bread. It would have been exceedingly easy. But owners Adam Orman and Fiore Tedescho have created something so delightful and soul enriching, that it would be a shame to only mention the flour, water, and yeast.
L’Oca d’Oro, 1900 Simond Ave. (737) 212-1876. Dinner Monday-Saturday, all day Sunday. Dinner for two, food only, $40-$65. Beer, Wine, and Cocktails. Park at AMLI Mueller.