Fed Man 55: Vespaio (26)

Mike Sutter’s Top 55 Austin Restaurants
No. 26: Vespaio
1610 S. Congress Ave. 512-441-6100, www.austinvespaio.com.
Hours: 5:30 to 10 p.m. Sunday-Monday. 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday. 5 to 10:30 p.m. Saturday. Bar opens at 5 p.m. daily.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 10.31.12
The rattle and hum never seems to die down at the “wasp nest.” The hive mentality is activated immediately by the antipasti case in front, drawing in the swarms with haricots verts wrapped in prosciutto, a pork rillette with blueberries or a sly platter of roasted plum tomatoes cooled and garnished with crumbled feta and torn basil. Each dish is $4.50, and they’re as light and economical as you’re likely to get before the menu starts its reckless ride into the lush end of the Italian-American spectrum.
The ride leads to housemade tagliatelle pasta with lamb ragu and ricotta cheese infused with mint ($28). The pasta is layered in thin sheets with ragged edges, like a casserole assembled in a fit of distraction. The lamb takes the form of crumbled dry sausage with Italian herb, tossed with that flexing pasta and brunoised carrots in a fat, tawny stock that dovetails with the sharper mint. The soft cheese pulls the bowl together like a Lebowski rug.
A pizza perfumed with truffle oil and dotted with fried eggs and prosciutto ($18) is like a wine country breakfast on crackled toast, giving the red sauce a break to let the earthier elements have their time in the sun. For a lupare blast of unfocused bounty, go with a spinach lasagna layered with a bolognese of beef, veal and pork ($25). It’s hardly a precision instrument, but it's part of the over-the-top toolkit that keeps the Vespaio machine humming. From the wine list: an acidic Terlano pinot bianco, a bawdy Montepulciano d’Abruzzo or the invigorating sparkle of Geisweiler brut rosé.
Vespaio won’t win accolades for subtlety. And with pasta dishes in the mid-$20s and entrees in the $30s and even $40s, it’s one of the most expensive tickets in town. But chef and owner Alan Lazarus was there on South Congress trying the high-tone experiment a full decade before the Austin restaurant renaissance. Vespaio belongs on this list in part for making a list like this possible.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)
Mike Sutter’s Fed Man 55: Austin’s Best Restaurants