It pays to know Caren West.
Wednesday night my wife Maggie and I were treated to dinner at Cucina Asellina, an Italian restaurant in Midtown near the corner of Peachtree and 12th streets.
The dinner was part of CWPR Restaurant Week, which started Saturday and ends this Saturday and includes mostly intown eateries. Click here for the preview article on the restaurant week. CWPR stands for Caren West Public Relations and is led by West, its president.
Maggie ordered a glass of pinot noir and I had a glass of Stella Artois on draft.
After being introduced to Manager Shaun Klier and Chef de Cuisine Andrea Montobbio, we opted to take Montobbio up on his offer to serve us a sampling of several dishes throughout the evening, with three items for each course.
Our meal started with a cold appetizer course of pickled baby beets with cantaloupe, mache salad and ricotta salata, salmon tartar with grapefruit vinaigrette, olives and Carasau bread and seared beef carpaccio with pickled root vegetables, arugula and pink peppercorn.
All three were delicious. I, like most people, am not a beet fan, but the pickled beets were sweet and succulent. Maggie enjoyed the salmon most, savoring the Carasau flatbread and prodding me to eat more of it.
The next course included three hot appetizers: veal meatballs with mozzarella, basil and toasted ciabatta, a crab cake with shrimp, gigante beans, onions, speck (an Italian ham), watercress and shellfish ragu and baked eggplant Tortino with ricotta and cheese fonduta (fondu).
All three were excellent, but the crab cake may have been the best, with its combination of crab, shrimp, speck and onions. I’ve never been crazy about eggplant but it was quite good with the cheeses mixed in, and the meatballs melted in my mouth.
The third course included samplings of three different entrees: gnocchi with heirloom tomato composta, basil pesto and local goat cheese, black ink spaghetti with crab, roasted tomatoes, green onions and brandy and burrata ravioli with butternut squash, oven-dried tomatoes, infused balsamico and oregano.
My favorite was the ravioli. It was sweet and warm, as if it were a dessert pasta. I also loved the gnocchi (I’m a sucker for any pasta, though).
As if we weren’t full by then, they offered a dessert course to top it all off. It included cannoli with a graham cracker shell, tiramisu and a citrus pana cotta (Italian cooked cream that has a similar taste and texture to cheesecake) with a berry chutney glaze.
My favorite was the tiramisu, mainly because I’m a chocoholic. But all three were terrific.
All in all, it was a wonderful meal. Now I'll go back to my diet of peanut butter sandwiches and cheese for lunch on weekdays. After ingesting all those amazing Italian food calories, I'll need to.