When I am in the mood for Italian cuisine, prior experiences have confirmed that Alta Cucina in Johnson City is a fairly safe bet for delivering a great meal. This winning Italian eatery has been serving some fine Italian meals for the past 16 years since first opening its doors back in the fall of 1996.
My most recent visit took place with a group of friends on a Friday evening, and we had called ahead to reserve a table for seven. Our server greeted us with menus and took our beverage orders. She also provided a well-delivered recitation of the nightly dinner specials, which included swordfish and a pork roast.
We were seated in a recently-added section of the restaurant that converted the former outdoor dining terrace into an enclosed, additional interior dining space. The decor differs from the other dining rooms and offers a more rustic, casual ambiance. The walls feature exposed brick and dark-stained wood paneling, which is continued on the ceiling and echoed by the hardwood floors. The room is also equipped with ceiling fans for air circulation.
Lighting is very subdued, illuminated mostly by amber-colored wall sconces and electric candles at the tables. Crown molding conceals a strand of rope lights providing an additional, indirect moody glow. A gas fireplace stove on a brick platform stands ready to provide warmth during cooler weather.
As we studied the menus, the server arrived with several baskets of herb-encrusted bread and dipping oils.
Most members of my dining party wanted to start with an appetizer, so we began our perusal of the menus with attention to the meal-starters at Alta Cucina. The appetizer selections range from Stuffed Portabella Mushroom or Eggplant Mousse to Homemade Fried Mozzarella, as well as Crab Cake, Homemade Fresh Mozzarella and Calamari.
A friend and I decided to share an order of the Calamari, while some other members of the dining party chose to share the Homemade Fried Mozzarella and the Eggplant Mousse.
The calamari features squid, lightly coated in a batter enhanced with herbs and spices, and then fried until golden and tender. The dish is served on a lettuce leaf tucked into a small platter and accompanied by a small container of fresh marinara sauce. The bite-sized morsels of calamari were among the best I’ve enjoyed. By now, I have tried nearly all the appetizers on the menu, and I’ve never been disappointed with any of them.
I considered several different entrees, including the Veal Parmesan, Filet Mignon, Chicken Marsala and Sicilian Spaghetti before I decided to try the Shrimp Piccata.
Other members of my dining party chose the Pasta Primavera with added grilled chicken, the Fettuccini Alfredo with added grilled chicken, Sicilian Spaghetti and the Vegetable Medley, which was ordered without cheese to suit one of my dining companions’ vegetarian preferences. Another member of our party also chose to try one of the eatery’s 12-inch gourmet pizzas.
Several members of the party also choose to add soups or salads. Three members of my party ordered the soup of the day, Creamy Tomato Bisque, while I chose the Caesar Salad and another member of the group selected the House Salad.
The salads and soups arrived promptly, and I enjoyed my fresh-tasting Caesar Salad, prepared with crisp, romaine lettuce, homemade croutons and shaved parmesan cheese tossed with Alta Cucina’s homemade Caesar dressing. My friend also liked the House Salad of an organic spring mix of greens with tomatoes and cucumbers and some zesty additions such as roasted red peppers, olives, red onion and feta cheese.
After a modest wait for our meals to arrive, the entrees arrived. I was delighted with my Shrimp Piccata, which featured several jumbo shrimp cooked in white wine, fresh lemon juice, capers, pecorino cheese, crimini mushroom and garlic, served on a bed of pasta. The large shrimp, in particular, were plump and succulent, and tasted great with such vivacious ingredients as the zesty capers and lemon slices.
After finishing our meals, I found I had some room for dessert, although only one other member of the dining party joined me in having something sweet to finish the meal. Our dessert choices included Walnut-praline Cheesecake, Chocolate Raspberry Cake, Tiramisu and Spumoni Ice Cream.
I chose to share a piece of the Chocolate Raspberry Cake, which consisted of three layers of moist, dense cake, topped with chocolate ganache and raspberries, all drizzled with raspberry and vanilla sauces. This sumptuous dessert provided a memorable end to my latest Alta Cucina visit.
In addition to dinner, Alta Cucina offers an extensive lunch menu that includes pastas and pizza, as well as stromboli, calzones and a variety of sub sandwiches. If you are looking for a restaurant to provide a meal that can impress, Alta Cucina won’t disappoint. Of course, if you go, let them know they were recommended.
AT A GLANCE: Alta Cucina Italian Restaurant, 1200 N. Roan St., Johnson City. 928- 2092. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Friday- Saturday, noon-10 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Entrees range from $8.99 to $19.95. Some daily specials may exceed this price range. Credit cards accepted. Carryout and catering available. Full service bar available.