IT IS CLEAR from the warm welcome we receive, even on a busy Saturday night, that the Franco Agostino machine is running smoothly despite being open only a few weeks. From the man responsible for Caffé Doria, Banfi and Il Posto Nuovo, it is not surprising. Timing is precise and the aura is warm.
The menu fits on one page but is wisely supplemented by many specials in every category. This clear dedication to offering only that which is fresh instills confidence in us.
Carpaccio is a fine opening act, as barely seared translucent slices of tenderloin are fetchingly fanned across the plate and glisten with the reflection of purest extra virgin olive oil.
Beneath a mound of peppery arugula sits a smaller pile of Parmesan shavings ($12). Brodetto di vongole e gamberi keeps the hits rolling. Two steamed gulf shrimp and a halfdozen delicate mahogany clams arrive in a pool of broth enlivened by chilies and fresh basil.
Although this reads like a Thai rendition, it is pure Italian and piques my appetite for what is to follow ($12).
Faraona grigliata, which is grilled guinea hen with prunes in vin santo and fava beans ($20), tempts. However, fettuccine al ragu bolognese wins. Slightly undercooked pasta is graced by the classic sauce, one which is often misperceived on this side of the Atlantic. Conditioning has taught us to expect a sea of red sauce with hamburger meat, but true ragu is much more subtle than that, and the kitchen at Agostino’s is well schooled. The tomato is minimal and the beef finely ground. In addition, this is smoother than is usual ($16).
However, seafood linguini is the true star of the evening. Coated in a light tomato sauce, the pasta is a bed for a generous offering of clams, mussels, shrimp and calamari. Impressively, the timing is precise, and no item is over or under cooked.
Piquancy is derived from roasted halves of grape tomatoes as well as a subtle but confident use of fresh herbs. ($17).
Desserts are not a major focus here. The list extends to tiramisù, crème caramel, ice cream and berries. We are assured by the elegant proprietor that the house tiramisù is the best in town.
Unfortunately, we find this version heavier than expected. It is clear to me that, save for the sweet course, I must return if only to try the guinea hen and fennel pollen. And, any ristorante that offers Amarone by the glass must not be overlooked.
Ratings are on a scale of one to five stars