Amidst a sea of Italian restaurants, Asti Ristorante in San Diego’s Gaslamp District is one that should not be overlooked. Specializing in Northern Italian cuisine, Asti does not disappoint. Whether you stop in for lunch or for dinner, Asti’s extensive selection of hand-made pastas, fresh seafood or traditional chicken, beef or veal entrees are sure to please even the pickiest diners. The restaurant offers outdoor seating overlooking the Gaslamp’s bustling 5th Avenue, as well as indoor dining in the restaurant’s meticulously decorated dining room. Asti Ristorante is one of the few restaurants in downtown San Diego that can please both the fussy tourist and the persnickety local while making it all look so natural.Read More ...
The Gaslamp Quarter of Downtown San Diego is constantly bustling with people making their way through the crowded streets. A hot-spot full of luxury boutiques, popular bars, eccentric people, and of course, a multitude of fine dining destinations, this historic area is the perfect place to find a good time on any given day. So, on a crisp winter Wednesday evening, a colleague and I have come to enjoy an early dinner at Asti Ristorante on Fifth Avenue, just east of Horton Plaza between F Street and G. We spot the dark green awnings as we walk from Horton Plaza where we’ve parked, and I can see that several people are already enjoying meals out front.
The small patio is sectioned off from the busy sidewalk by a partition of clear glass panels, and when the temperatures are low, efficient heat lamps over-head can be adjusted to the perfect level of comfort. This is prime real estate for anyone who enjoys observing the people of Downtown as they mosey along. With a podium right out front, the hostess, Andrea invites those passing by to peruse the menu and enjoy the warmth of the patio with great success.
As we approach, Andrea greets us with a smile and quickly confirms our reservation. She invites us inside, offering us a round table next to the window in front. Once we’ve settled in, our server introduces himself as Silvio and offers us the choice of still or sparkling water. We both prefer still, so he pours the Acqua Panna Natural Spring Water into large stemmed glasses. In the meantime, a second server by the name of Giancarlo brings a basket of fresh, sliced bread wrapped in a clean white cloth along with a side of butter. As we enjoy the soft bread, I take a moment to observe my surroundings.
Though the actual floor space of the dining room is seemingly small, it stretches far back from the entrance and wraps around to the left with a partial wall creating separation between the two sections. Tables covered with crisp white linens and set with white plates, fan-folded napkins, and several stemmed crystal classes line the walls. A long line stretches down the center of the dining space, banquet style, with walkways on each side. This looks like the perfect area to host a dinner for a large group.
Near the back, on the right wall, there is a full bar able to accommodate almost any drink order, but there is no seating available here. The servers handle all of your drinks, and Happy Hour is offered at every table, so bar seating is not needed. The fine wood of the bar against the rough, red brick wall adds to the rustic feel of Asti’s décor, and every member of the service staff, including the bartender is sharply dressed.
High vaulted ceilings featuring beautiful paintings emulate domed, stained-glass windows, adding to the spacious grandeur, and along the right wall, directly adjacent to the bar, an enormous mural depicts the historic city of Asti in the Piedmont region of Italy. A city famous for the rigorous, bare back horse race known as “Palio”, the mural depicts men sporting colorful banners, some clinging to their horses, riding for their honor, while others have been thrown from them. Asti is also notorious for superb wines and hearty, Northern-Italian cuisine, which the versatile menu showcases in abundance. It’s quite obvious that we are about to experience authentic Italian dining at its apex, and I for one am eager to find out what it is that truly sets Asti apart.
This evening, we decide to leave the details of our meal to the professionals, asking for a tasting menu that covers some of the house favorites. This is where Marketing Director Jessica Patrick comes in. Friendly and knowledgeable, she chats with us for a moment, describing the northern-style cuisine that Asti provides, which is slightly heavier than that of more southern regions in Italy. She and Silvio are more than happy to put together a custom meal from the menu for us, and she tells us that the chefs are able to accommodate most special requests, whether you would like to enjoy a unique tasting menu for two, or you invite that one person who just have to have some old school spaghetti and meatballs.
For me, a big part of quality service is the ability to cater to the needs of all, and Jessica goes on to explain that Asti is a place where you can always find something for everyone. The menu is quite diverse, offering a long list of signature pasta dishes, as well as Italian steaks, several veal selections, fresh seasonal fish, a few chicken entrees, and a vegetarian favorite, eggplant. The appetizers, both hot and cold, also offer several vegetarian options like the Bruschetta Di Asti or the Portobello Alla Primavera, and other starters include home-made soups, crisp salads, and a handful of risotto dishes. Whenever possible, ingredients are gathered from local, organic purveyors, yet another aspect of Asti that raises the bar of quality.
To spark our appetites, Silvio presents our first course, which includes the Fritto Misto Con Calamari from the Antipasti Caldi (Hot) portion of the menu, as well as the Caprese Di Bufala Con Prosciutto, one of the Chef’s Special appetizers. He graciously offers to pair our seafood with a 2011 Venica & Venica Pinot Bianco from the wineries in the Collio region of Italy. This crisp white wine begins with a very sweet aroma. It’s clean going down, with a mildly acidic finish that will complement the bold flavors of the caprese and pair perfectly with the salty, fishy flavor of the calamari.
The caprese showcases large, round slices of ripe heirloom tomatoes that are drizzled in olive oil and topped with fresh, shredded basil, alongside a large helping of Italian buffalo mozzarella and several pieces of air cured Parma ham. The deep red of the tomatoes creates a sharp contrast against the white plate, and each slice serves as the perfect base for a multi-tiered helping of salty prosciutto and creamy mozzarella. Every bite offers a well blended compilation of distinct flavors, textures, and aromas, each of which plays a key role in the overall essence of the dish.
The prosciutto is perfectly tender, with a very mild hint of pepper. It is a satisfying precursor to the juicy tomato, and the creamy cheese seamlessly ties everything together. I could eat an entire platter of this alone and leave here a happy man, but alas, I would then miss out on the other surprises in store for us this evening. I enjoy two helpings before focusing my attention on the second, slightly larger portion of our appetizers.
The Fritto Misto Con Calamari is very light because there is no egg in the breading at all, and I notice subtle hints of different herbs as I take my first bite. The squid is slightly chewy, and a mixture of zucchini, broccoli and carrots are scattered amidst the ringlets, also battered and fried. The veggies reveal a new, fresh dimension to the dish, and the peppery marinara helps add a bit of weight to the extra light breading. I also like the fact that there are whole, miniature squid in the mix, not just the typical ringlets of tentacles. For these meatier morsels, I use no marinara; instead I add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, which provides a fantastic zing to the salty meat. Once finished, we sit back and sip our wine while Giancarlo quickly clears away our plates and utensils, replacing them with clean ones.
Before our main courses arrive, Silvio presents a red wine that he believes will be a suitable match for a savory meat dish. He first tastes, then pours the 2009 Martin Ray Cabernet Sauvignon, made with the highest quality grapes of Sonoma County. From what I can see, the wine list here at Asti relies heavily on the regions of Northern California and Italy, however, other international varietals also hold their own from countries such as South Africa, New Zealand, and Argentina. While there is no appointed sommelier, Silvio is more than capable of pairing each course with eighteen years of experience under his belt. He tells us that the Pinot Bianco from our appetizers will pair nicely with our first entree, the Mixed Grilled Seafood Linguine.
I am amazed by the size of the mountain of seafood before us. Featuring thick fillets of fresh salmon, ahi tuna and swordfish along with a whole prawn, several large shrimp, scallops, mussels, and clams, it is a spectacular array of diverse flavors. Beneath this beautiful bounty from the sea, a bed of hand-made linguini pasta with a slightly spicy marinara sauce brings Asti’s signature dish full circle, and beckons us to dig in.
Fish is flown in regularly for the many different seafood selections on the menu at Asti, and none of their products are ever frozen, ensuring that everything is at the peak of freshness. As I take my first bite of the steaming salmon, I find it to be moist, tender, and full of flavor. It is slightly salty, but the notes of fresh herbs are more pronounced, with an aftertaste that remains on my tongue until a sip of wine washes everything away. Silvio has chosen well, pairing a delicious white wine that complements both my calamari appetizer and this mixed seafood entrée.
Next I sample the ahi, which stands out stark white against the colorful arrangement of different items. The meat is a much lighter consistency than the salmon, and the flavor is a bit saltier. This is a very pure, very lean fish, and the fresh flavor of the sea pairs well with the bite of the marinara sauce from the linguini. I notice that the linguini plays a major part in transitioning from one flavor to the next. The sweet, acidic sauce and a touch of pepper act as perfect palate cleansers, allowing me to taste every variance between the two different types of fish.
Moving on to the swordfish, I am delighted by the thick, hearty meat, which is much different than the tender salmon and light tuna. This is my favorite of the three because it contains a bold, more distinct savory flavor and the texture is somewhat steak-like to me. Also, the slightly charred exterior provides a smoky aroma that heightens my enjoyment of the soft, warm interior. It’s refreshing to find such generous portions of high quality fish, and Jessica tells us that this dish truly is the signature seafood specialty at Asti.
I make my way to the far side of the platter now to sample the shell fish selections. The mussels and clams are skillfully cooked, bite-sized morsels packed with the pure salty flavor of the sea. The shrimp is well seasoned with herbs and the meat is pleasantly chewy. Each snaps nicely as I bite down, releasing a burst of juice. The prawn, served eye-balls and all, is surprisingly tender in comparison to the shrimp. Though chewy at first, the meat seems to break down completely and dissolve after a brief moment. The crustacean is split in half for easy access to every morsel.
The second entrée is Lamb Chops Al Rosmarino, delicately fanned out and covered in rich, brown rosemary sauce. The rosemary is surprisingly subtle, and does not overpower the tender, succulent meat. As tempting as it is to simply pick them up by the bones, I mind my manners and slice through the delicate lamb with ease. Being sure to smother the piece in sauce, my first bite practically melts in my mouth. It is thick and rich, lending a more concentrated dose of rosemary to the dish and blending well with the charred, smoky flavor of the lamb’s exterior.
Inside it’s cooked through, but only to a medium temperature, preserving the flavorful juices. The skill of the chef is apparent in this premium dish, and I respectfully devour every last bite, disregarding how full I am becoming. I savor the bold, almost spicy flavor of my wine between pieces, and once again, Silvio has done right by me. While Giancarlo begins removing the remnants of our entrees, Jessica joins us once again, delighted that we are so satisfied. All that remains is dessert, and rather than two individual dishes, we decide that one to share ought to do just fine.
A traditional tiramisu, the ultimate classic Italian dessert, is the perfect selection to close out such a satisfying meal. Presented upon a long rectangular platter, my eyes are drawn to three colorful sauces that have been drizzled alongside the small cube of layered decadence. A garnish of sliced strawberry placed upright atop fresh whipped cream finishes the plate with class, and after admiring the presentation for a moment, the two of us begin separating the tiramisu in half.
I sample each of the three sauces, which Silvio informs us are all made in house. The first definitely contains strawberries, with a deep red hue and very sweet flavor. The second, a pale orange color, features the more subtle notes of mango, and the third is a bright green, somewhat tart kiwi sauce.
The dessert is layered, first ladyfingers, thoroughly soaked in a mixture of authentic Italian espresso and Marsala wine, then creamy mascarpone cheese, another layer of lady fingers, and a final helping of cheese, topped with a generous coating of fresh cocoa powder. It is light, airy and loaded with the notorious flavor that only coffee beans can provide. Simple and satisfying, I savor the last bite before Giancarlo swoops in to take everything away.
With our meal complete, Jessica makes one final stop to be sure there is nothing more we need. She introduces us to Manager Alan Paulo, who insists that before we leave we relax a little and enjoy one of Asti’s authentic cappuccinos to help settle our stomachs. We sip the frothy, hot coffee, made with imported Italian beans, and Jessica tells us the cappuccinos at Asti are some of the best she has ever had, including those she tried while traveling through Italy.
It’s obvious that she is passionate about Italian culture, and there is no better place to immerse yourself in it than Asti Ristorante. From the rustic décor to the authentic northern-style cuisine, Asti lives and breathes Italy. All of the servers and chefs here are professionals who have decided to make this their career, and it’s not a part-time gig. Customer service is mandatory and always executed perfectly. The kitchen is flexible and happy to accommodate the needs of every diner including gluten-free or whole wheat pasta, vegetarian preparation, and just about any other special request you can imagine. The menu and wine list provide a broad selection of different styles and flavors, making it possible for anyone to find a combination to enjoy. After nearly twenty years of dedicated service, Asti remains one of the premier Italian restaurants in the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego. As we say our goodbyes and step out into the brisk evening air, I have already decided to return again soon.
Insider Tip: Asti is one of the most flexible establishments in Downtown San Diego when it comes to accommodating large parties and diners with very particular prefrences. The menu is expansive enough to touch on every food group, vegan and vegetarian included, and customizable preset meals can be arranged for birthday parties, business lunches, and even wedding dinners!
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A little pricy but overall experience was worth it. Delicious food and excellent service
Outstanding experience!! From planning the event to paying the bill! Our server Mark, was everything and more!!
Great restaurant. Enjoyed meal and wait staff. Given a Valentine's Day reservation with 24 hr. notice at window seat in front of restaurant. Couldn't have been nicer and gave out single roses to ladies upon leaving. Thoughtful!
I read good reviews on yelp about Asti Ristorante and took my husband for his 30th birthday. The food was amazing and the service was wonderful. We had a great time.
Amazing staff, food, and reasonable price.
Food and service was great. Prices are moderate but the food does not disappoint.
As a particpant in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day Breast Cancer 60 mile walk, we wanted to load up on pasta the night before the long walk began. We are from out of state so I had searched on the internet for small, unique Italian restaurants. We were more than thrilled when we arrived at Asti Ristorant and greeted immediately and seated promptly. The meal was fabulous, along with the choices of wine. From the greeter, to the waiter to the amazing food We would reccommend this place to all.
Definitely try this Italian restaurant, they have the usual dishes (lasagne, spaghetti, etc), plus some other wonderful entrees. I had the lasagne, and it was just about the best I've every had!
I was only in San Diego for a few days. I wanted to meet a friend and go out to dinner so I went on your website to check for restaurants. There were so many to choose from. But this one caught my eye. It was the most wonderful delectable meal from start to finish ( the zabione was out of this world. I live in NJ, however next time I am in San Diego you can be sure I'll go back again. Thanks for making my meal so enjoyable.
Great food and great service
We wanted to go to an authentic Italian restaurant and that's exactly what we got. The atmosphere was great in that the restaurant was a little less casual, but not so much so that you had to be dressed in a suit. The waiters were great and checked on us several times, but very discreetly. The food was fantastic. The pasta tasted homemade and cooked perfectly. Both my husband and I had dishes with crab meat and they were extremely tasty!! We will definitely go back!!
Great service, great location, great food!! Osso Bucco was the dish of choice and it was outstanding!!
I had made a reservation for Asti based only on the reviews I had read. We were down from O.C to celebrate my son's college graduation and had made the reservation for 7:30. We showed up an hour earlier than expected but it was no problem and we were seated immediately. The staff was very friendly and attentive. I can't remember the last time I was with a party of six and all at the table were happy with the dish they had ordered!! The food was simply fantastic. It was so great we decided to order desert too and we weren't disappointed. Don't miss this place.
Tuesday night four of us went to a movie downtown. The streets were pretty quiet afterwards with the exception of one restaurant across the street. We were hungry and decided to give Asti a try. We did not have a reservation however the manager treated us like royalty and had us seated with cocktails within minutes. Fabrizio was the managers name and he was thrilled that we were locals trying Asti for the first time. He gave us a brief history of Asti and then introduced us to our waiter who described(in detail) Asti's specials for the evening. The fish was incredible! I had the linguini with seafood special and my wife had the sea bass. Our friends had the osso bucco and the rack of lamb. The meat was so tender you did not need to use a knife to cut it! I gladly picked up the check and we all agreed that the experience was worth every penny! Don't let it's small size fool you, Asti is huge when it comes to food and service!
I arranged a dinner for 8. Service was attentive with a smile and good light conversation. Food was PLENTIFUL and very tasty; plenty of options for vegetarians. The entire party was satisfied with the food. Wine selection was good with very reasonable price points. All in all, I'd recommend.
We made a new years resolution to go to a new resturant very Sunday after Church. We have 5 kids. The oldest, usually does not go with us as he goes to church with his girlfreind at a later mass. However, the food here was good. The best at our table was my husbands order of lamb. Very good. Expensive but great. The rest of our dishes were good. Not anything to fall out of your chair for. The cheese plate was good too. Parking is never fun.
Very nice setting little bit of a wait.The menu was good selection of fish and meat. I had the pork chops presentation excellent and cook perfect medium well. We were early I'm sure it must fill up fast for the night. We will return
Another good Italian restaurant in the gas lamp area. The price (high) matches the quality of the service and food.
The food, the wine, the service, the ambience... everything you can imagine is good on Asti. I trully recommended for all my friends! The fried Calamari is awsome. The patio make you feel comfortable and gives you chance to look the street moviment in Gaslamp Quarter. Very, very, very GOOD!
Ever since I first went to Asti, it has been my favorite Italian restaurant in San Diego. I highly recommend it to everyone.
Usually I don't feel compelled to write a negative restaurant review but in this case it deserves it. Waiter too thin too tanned too white teeth recommended two "specials", the spinach salad which was ordinary to say the least with nothing to recommend it, and the mixed seafood grill that was also very ordinary except for the scallop - much of the rest of the grill was overcooked and not worth the effort. Not recommended.