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Inspiring Italian


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It used to be that “mall food” was about the lowest insult you could sling at a restaurant. Mall food was synonymous with a food court, a wasteland consisting mostly of soft-serve ice cream, pizza slices as big as your head and corn dogs on a stick. People seeking healthy fare counted themselves lucky to find a storefront dishing out scoops of greasy beef with broccoli.

But then, mall food began to change. I suspect it began with national chains like California Pizza Kitchen and P.F. Changs, which started bringing the sit-down restaurant into the mall.

A friend from Texas came to visit me when I lived in California a few years ago, and our dinner plans took us to a mall. She couldn’t believe that we were going to the mall to eat, but truly, it was one of the nicest restaurants in Orange County. The trend is most evident at new outdoor mall developments like Stapleton and The Orchard in Westminster, which is where my husband and I found ourselves at a friendly Italian bistro and wine bar called Asti D’Italia.

Located on a prime corner, Asti D’Italia only feels like a mall restaurant when you realize you’re sitting 50 feet from a JCPenney. The atmosphere is welcoming and comfortable, with warm, dark tones, a full bar and an attractive wine room.
And the food, well, it was impossible to even compare it to anything we’d ever sampled at a food court. We attacked our antipasto appetizer plate with gusto, enjoying a nicely arranged selection of olives and marinated vegetables, imported meats and cheeses as we sipped each of the wines in the flights we’d chosen for
the evening.

Owner Charles Stanford has worked in the restaurant industry most of his life, as server, manager, sommelier and now owner. Chef Greg Keesy brings a Boulder pedigree to the table with time at the Chataqua Dining Hall and under the tutelage of Chef Bradford Heap (of Colterra and Salt). Their love of bringing a good meal to the table shines through with every course.

The salads that preceded our main course were crisp with fresh, homemade dressings, but they barely prepared us for the delights of the main dishes. My chicken orecchiette was rich and complex under a Parmigiano-Reggiano cream sauce studded with smoked prosciutto, oven-dried tomatoes, forest mushrooms and tender smoked chicken. My husband ordered the evening’s special, braised beef cannelloni over green beans with a truffle reduction sauce, which went well beyond expectations.

Finally, as we savored our cheesecake trio and tried to identify the tangy sauce that brought out the flavor of the orange cheesecake so well (a balsamic reduction) we easily agreed that if this was mall dining, we were all for it.

Asti D’Italia
Three Stars
14648 Delaware St., Westminster, in the Orchard Town Center
303.457.3900
Bottom Line: Don’t even pretend you’re going to the mall, just sit back and enjoy.

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Lacy is an award-winning food writer and blogger. She lives in Westminster with her family. Google

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