By Stefani Clark
Downtown Syracuse has welcomed yet another Italian restaurant to its streets, but this one boasts its authenticity of dishes, techniques and staff. Fabio’s Antica Cucina, on 344 S. Warren St., offers a variety of fresh pasta dishes and one very interactive appetizer.
The Baked executive board made an event out of this restaurant review, making the overall experience more enjoyable and less of a task. We first walked in to the seemingly elegant and out of our budget venue to find that our reservation was not written down. The friendly hosts reassured us that it wasn’t a problem and seated us anyway.
Past the bar, a huge lone fish (Paco, as it said on the receipt) swam around the fish tank for all the patrons to see. On the other wall, a large painting of Dante’s Inferno was lit with low, purple lights.
At our table a candle and flowers served as the centerpiece. Bread and oil were brought over to start. The bread was soft and perfectly warm, and dipped in the oil it tasted even better. We ordered a bottle of Pinot Grigio, under $30, and two appetizers to start. Our first was the famous flambé. A chef, which just so happened to be Fabio, rolled out a large wheel of imported Parmigiano Reggiano. He took a mug of cognac and set it on fire, pouring it straight into the wheel. After the cheese was sufficiently melted, he dropped a large plate of house-made pasta in a simple tomato sauce into the flames. After much twirling, the four of us received our serving of pasta which was finished with more parmesan and parsley.
Despite that it was the most interactive and exciting appetizer I’ve ever gotten before, the pasta was really delicious. The subtle tomato flavor acted as a perfect base for all the cheese. The dish serves four people, so make sure to get this if you’re going with a group.
We also ordered a polenta trio before our main course. Three small polenta cakes topped with broccoli rabe, roasted red peppers and sausage, and smoked provolone were served shortly after the flambé. I’m vegetarian so I sampled just the broccoli rabe and roasted red pepper polenta. The roasted red pepper had the perfect amount of punchy flavor to complement the polenta. The broccoli rabe was less than impressive, with a tough texture and lack of flavor from the vegetable.
None of us quite anticipated the amount of food we’d be eating, so by the time we ordered our main dishes, we were pretty full. And with more wine and more bread, we weren’t prepared for the sizes of our main dish.
Each entrée comes with a salad or soup and more bread for the table. I chose the garden salad with a balsamic vinaigrette, which was probably the least boring garden salad I’ve ever eaten. Sweet corn, tomatoes, carrots, croutons and little wedges of mozzarella made a simple salad much more enjoyable. It did come with a pepperoncini so juicy that one Baked member accidentally got it in my eye. Beware of the pepperoncini when eating with others!
For the last part of my dinner, I ordered the priestchokers shepherd style. Priestchokers are a type of homemade ricotta dough pasta. It was thicker and more textured than other common pastas, but the flavor and chewiness was definitely unique. The priestchokers were tossed in more ricotta and pecorino cheese, mixed in marinara sauce. Normally, I’m not a huge fan of marinara, but in this dish it wasn’t overpowering.
There was still half of the plate left by the time we were ready to go and the leftovers were almost as good as it was fresh. By the end of the night, I was worried about the check being more than I could reasonably afford. But for all of the food we got, the bill was under $40 per person, not including the tip.
Our service was outstanding and our waiter from Tuscany was able to give us some insight on authentic dishes and which kind of wine to order. Although the atmosphere seemed like it could be an uptight overpriced restaurant, the experience we had there was quite the opposite. I do recommend going with friends, family, SOs, or anyone you could drag along. Not only is it cheaper, but it’s much more fun to experience food with others.
If you’re tired of Pastabilities or are looking to branch out to other Italian restaurants, Fabio’s should be at the top of your list.