One restaurant I haven’t been to in many years is the classic Auburn Italian restaurant, Lasca’s. It had been a good seven or eight years for me but I had dinner there a few nights ago. I have a vague memory of Lasca’s being a pretty good place years back so I was excited to make my return. It’s time to report what I found and whether or not Lasca’s has what it takes to get the Guru’s approval. Here we go.
Lasca’s has a 24 year history in the Auburn area as one of the original Italian options. For many Auburn is a bit of a drive, but I find myself out there quite often. Because it’s situated on Route 5, there’s really no competition for Lasca’s large portions and old school service. There’s also a spacious bar with great bartenders. Focus on old style drinks; they do a great job on things like Bloody Marys, Vodka Collins, etc. When I made my visit they were featuring a local martini featuring Beak and Skiff cider and Beak and Skiff apple vodka. Though I didn’t try it, it sounds good doesn’t it? Nice to see some local buying by Lasca’s. If you haven’t been to Lasca’s, I will say that it’s a strange building. It almost resembles a funeral home (sorry, I’m just sayin’). The interior is very simple and looks like it hasn’t been updated in a long long time. That’s okay though. Lasca’s dining room is filled with large tables. It has the feel of a banquet hall or wedding reception venue and I believe there are private rooms for that sort of thing. But this is about the food!
I went to Lasca’s with a large party that required three tables to be pushed together. For whatever reason it was a very early dinner at around 4:00 p.m. So I was at the bar by around 3:45 p.m. (bad I know). The bartender got drinks out fast for the 20 or so that suddenly flooded the bar. I know the bar was practically empty, but I recently got an understanding of the true skill it takes to satisfy that many people quickly. Good on you, Lasca’s.
I’m going to be brief and only focus on what I ordered this time since our party was so large. Somehow I was actually hungry by 4 p.m., must have been the drinks on an empty stomach. Service was great and another round of drinks were on there way. Our waitress was extremely efficient in taking so many orders and getting the food out fast. When it comes to Lasca’s menu, you’re looking at the basics of Italian-American food but also a selection of high end seafood, well-sourced cuts of meat as well as a weekend only selection like surf and turf and prime rib. We were there on a Sunday and I was in the mood for something simple. Since my table had a bunch of people I ordered fried calamari to pass around and the chicken Parmigiana for myself. Prices are mid-range I’d say, though $17 seems steep for chicken Parm (it wasn’t as it turned out–keep reading).
The second round of drinks came out and appetizers came from all directions. My calamari was delivered and came with a side of a spicy Thai-style sauce as well as fresh cocktail sauce with horseradish on top. The plate was very simple and the squid came on a bed of lettuce. There was a huge amount of calamari for the $8 price tag. I grabbed a large piece and took a bite after dipping it in the Thai sauce. With calamari you instantly know what you’ve got. If you start the 5 minute chewing process you’re out of luck. But this calamari was quite tender. Maybe not as tender as Alto Cinco or bc Restaurant, but perfectly edible. The problem for me was the absolute lack of flavor. No saltiness in breaded, fried food is always a shock and that’s exactly what I experienced. They really needed a little chile powder or something, because on its own calamari is often low in flavor. It’s all about preparation (see bc Restaurant). Good thing the sauces were tasty. Would not recommend this item.
The same level of service continued with more drinks coming out. Then came the entrees. Watching the delivery I noticed that the plates were almost all inexplicably gigantic. Aside from a couple ravioli entrees, I saw some huge food. Then my chicken Parm was placed in front of me and I kid you not, it was the biggest portion I’ve ever seen. I didn’t expect a whole chicken. All kidding aside, there were probably four chicken breasts. I’ve never seen anything like it. Normally you’d see this as a great deal but to me it came off as somewhat ridiculous and wasteful. Sort of against any and all health guidelines–but such is dining out I suppose. At the same time, a meal that will give you three normal sized portions for $17 is a great deal. I actually had leftovers for two days and each serving was huge. I guess it depends on what you’re looking for. I cut into it and quickly took a bite. It was absolutely fantastic. It was quite hot and the chicken remained crispy even under the cheese and sauce. It was so tender and perfectly cooked, if a bit salty. I have to give it an A.
What really stood out to me was Lasca’s tomato sauce. A forkful of the capellini side dish brought the sauce’s flavors into perfect focus. A rich, salty and vaguely umami note was balanced by an almost fruity tomato zing and freshness. It was somehow both light and heavy at the same time, with a long lasting, rich and full aftertaste. Canned or pre-prepared sauce simply doesn’t do that, so while I can’t 100% confirm it–I think this stuff was actually homemade. That’s something much rarer than you’d think. I could have just eaten pasta with Lasca’s sauce and gone home happy. After such a large amount of food no one opted for (or would even consider) dessert. Everyone seemed very satisfied with their food and EVERYONE had heavy to-go boxes in front of them.
Here’s the bottom line: Lasca’s has excellent sauce and great service. There are all kinds of options for food but they do the basics as good as just about anyone in CNY. The only turn off I had were the massive portions. It just seems a bit ridiculous. One less chicken breast in the chicken Parm would probably save a few bucks and I guarantee no one would know the difference. Just my opinion. Anyway if you want old fashioned Italian-American cuisine, Lasca’s is a good choice.
Disclaimer: All Guru Reviews reflect my OPINION based on a real experience at various Syracuse restaurants.
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