Monday, January 25, 2016

Al Fico

Last fall, the Italian concept from restaurant veterans Jeff Courington & Kelly Bell (Vino Vino) opened quietly on E. 2nd Street. Al Fico generated little fanfare, but this sweet new spot is one of my favorite new haunts. My two visits haven't been without minor issues, but the hits have been real hits and the service and simplicity of the experience (no parking hassles, crushing crowds, long waits, or deafening dining areas) will keep me coming back.

Al Fico's menu changes seasonally, so you can't always count on the same dishes being there every time. Gladly, however, this beautiful bruschetta ($9) was on the menu on both my visits (two months apart). Smokey, earthy mushrooms pair perfectly with a luscious runny egg and a bit of speck. This dish was wonderfully composed and so comforting; I hope it's still gracing the menu next time I go.

Al Fico

These tomato-braised meatballs (polpette, $12) played a little less to my flavor preferences, but they were nonetheless a solid offering.

Al Fico

I absolutely loved the salad I ordered on my first visit, the Cicoria ($12), a combination of chicory, soft egg, pan grattato, crispy anchovy, lemon, and radish. It was very crisp and dressed just right.

Al Fico

It was gone from the menu by the time of my second visit, so I had this Insalata Mista ($9), instead. It was a smidge heavy on the acid and I wished for my chicory salad from the first visit.

Al Fico

This spaghetti dish ($9) from my first visit had my number. Roasted parsnips, cauliflower, brown butter, walnut crema, and pecorino tartufato are listed on the menu, but I could have sworn that the owner later told us that there were chestnuts involved. Did I dream that? Either way, this dish doesn't look like much (particularly in my photo), but it was absolutely luscious. One of my tablemates who tasted it exclaimed, "You won at ordering today!"

Al Fico

I also thoroughly enjoyed the pasta dish from my second visit, a mezzalune stuffed with ricotta, charred fennel, meyer lemon, and butter ($10). The soft melange of flavors managed to be both complex and comforting. It was difficult not to be sorry when it was gone, though a part of me (a small part of me) was appreciative of the more restrained portion size and price (you can also get entree-sized versions of their pasta dishes; this was a primi-sized version.

Al Fico

I only tried desserts on our first visit, and they were wonderful - but the pastry chef who was there in November has already departed, so I'm not familiar with the current dessert options.

Al Fico

I've seen both Vino Vino and Al Fico referred to as "neighborhood restaurants" - while they both technically are, the rightful popularity of Vino Vino has stolen the cozy, "nobody knows about this place but me" feel that it might have once had. Al Fico still offers that sort of charm, with lovely food and knowledgeable service to round out the deal. Hurry and go before everyone else discovers it.

Al Fico
1700 E. 2nd Street
Austin, TX 78702
(512) 469-9400


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