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Cantine

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Originally written for and posted by Texas Lifestyle Magazine 🙂

Cantine Italian Café and Bar: The Upscale Side of Pasta

By Alysha Kaye Mendez

 

I don’t know if you fellow Austinites have noticed, but there aren’t very many solid Italian places here in the capital city. Pizza, sure. But I’m talkin’ homemade risotto, handcrafted bucatini, perfected spaghetti…you get the idea.

Cantine Italian Café and Bar, fairly new to the South Lamar main strip, is that missing element. Although the menu is small, each plate tastes like your long-lost grandmother from Tuscany whipped it up especially for you—slaved over the stove for hours, in fact, concocting each noodle to absolute excellence.

With the deliciousness comes a bit of a price tag—Cantine is definitely going for the upscale, fine-dining look. The wine list is extensive, the wait staff is super formal (in a polite, elegant way), and the décor is chic, modernly minimalistic. However, I was there on a Monday, and was pleasantly surprised to find out that Mondays are Happy Hour all day! Hooray!

We started off with fried goat cheese—they were so different, really unusual and tasty. They were served with red onion jam and honey. The calamari was standard, but the sauce they serve with it, mojo picon, was not—it was a bit too spicy for me. Amazingly, the chef prepared a simple red dipping sauce for me upon request—much better in my opinion.

Then the main courses—spaghetti carbanara and bucatini amatriciana (added sausage to this one). Both dishes were mouth-watering in appearance. The presentation is lovely and your taste buds will agree with your eyes—YUM! I can’t stress enough how much care every item seemed to have taken—every bite tasted equal to the last in flawlessness.

My only complaint? You have to request and buy your own bread. Call me cheap, call me an Olive Garden girl, but you shouldn’t have to pay for tortillas at a Mexican restaurant or bread at an Italian restaurant…am I right? That being said, the olive sourdough with whipped lardo was suberb.

We topped off the fancy late-night stop with dessert—polenta cake with vanilla custard, Amarena cherries, and cherry coulis! So, so, so good—but we couldn’t even finish it since we’d already stuffed ourselves with various forms of divine carbs.

Set a date night or girls’ night out soon—Cantine is wonderful. It’s location is fantastic as well—afterwards, you can walk to Alamo Drafthouse for a movie or Barlata for a drink.

Libre

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Things move a little more slowly here. But not in the annoying, nothing-gets-done, “island time” Hawaii fashion. More of a relax, be happy, love people, eat pan and drink vino kind of slow. I am obsessed to say the least. Don’t get me wrong, people love other people in places outside of Spain…but not the same way. And people eat bread and drink wine in those places too…but not in the same way. People relax and people are happy…well, maybe not. Not in the same way, which is the best way.

People here…are seriously the nicest, happiest people I’ve ever encountered. The lifestyle, the culture…is amazing. Taking naps and eating every few hours is simply normal because it eliminates stress. To them, there is no other way. Wake up before 8—why? Wait to drink any alcohol until nighttime—why? Go to the gym—why not just ride horses for a bit and swim a few laps in the pool? Diet? Never. Why not just have one piece of bread with dinner instead of the usual four? Work 8-5? No way! They work the hours that they’ll be most productive—which also means they take a large break in the middle of the day. So 9-2 and 5-8, roughly. Or whatever they feel like that day.

Everyone kisses, which made me uncomfortable at first. In Hawaii, it’s easy to handle because only some people do it and it’s always on one cheek, usually not even touching the lips to the cheek anyway. And in Texas, it’s only with Hispanic close friends or family. But here—EVERYONE, and I mean everyone, kisses you (as in full mouth contact) on both cheeks. “Es Ali-Cha,” (we’re still working on how to say my name), “Es Americana!” is said to the grocery store cashier, the maid, the gardener, the doctor, and every other random acquaintance, friend, family member, or passerby that we’ve come across. This is followed with a huge smile, a hug, and two giant kisses. After only a few days, I’ve gone from uncomfortable to loving it—especially when there are so many attractive men that seem to know my host family… The point is, they’re overflowing in a way that Americans don’t understand.

In the States, when we decide NOT to eat or drink, it’s because a) we want to save money, b) we don’t want to get fat, c) we don’t want to get drunk, or d) we don’t want to be sleepy. In Spain, saving money is not a priority, “fat” means extremely obese (everything else is curvy and sexy), getting drunk is never a bad thing, and if you’re sleepy—nap! There is never a good reason not to have one more beer or one more bite of paella. Trust me, I tried. They are very convincing. Oh, red wine is good for me? You’re right, I’ve heard that, sure I’ll take my fourth glass. Oh, it’s tradition to have rum at the end of the night? Well, I don’t want to break tradition. Oh, this restaurant serves the best ice cream in town? Ok, I guess I have to order dessert then. And so on.

We are obsessed with working, becoming rich, famous, or remembered. We are obsessed with exercising, dieting, looking better than everyone else, and doing whatever it takes to stay young. We are obsessed with the material. We are obsessed with ourselves, really. In Spain, the word beauty is understood and used in its intended format. Generosity is everywhere, compliments are constantly oozing out of every mouth, affection and appreciation are never concealed but rather lavished. I haven’t seen a single argument. Not even a frown, come to think of it. If you love someone, you tell them, immediately, in that moment, even if it’s every two minutes. If you want to touch them, you do. In fact, most people don’t stop touching. And yet, somehow, they are not “showy” in the way that most Americans are. For example, my host family is filthy rich but they all wear the traditional plain gold wedding bands, no diamond. People work for them, but not beneath them. They are not “too good” for anything or anyone. They are open books—what do you want to know? Sharing, divulging, honesty, having no shame—these are all part of love—and they love everyone.

Americans hide everything—every emotion, every thought, every little detail that could possibly, one day, maybe be embarrassing or awkward or expose any part of our true selves. We are the land of the free, but we do not live freely, the way they do here.

Libre: I wish I could bring this word and everything that comes with it back home.