Maybe it's just me, but I've always considered Sunday the least fun day of the week. The weekend is almost over, Monday is almost here, and all the chores you've been putting off stare you in the face. On a typical Sunday, all there is to look forward to is “Curb Your Enthusiasm” on HBO.
Unless you happen to be going to Sunday Suppah at CafAc Rustica.
As the cheeky name suggests, this is not chef Andy Howell's usual menu, but a hearty, three-course prix fixe that's cheaper than Chinese takeout and guaranteed to brighten your spirits with the solid, European-inspired comfort food we've come to expect. The prix fixe concept couldn't be a better fit. It plays to Howell's strengths and gives us what we want to eat on a wintry Sunday evening for a great price.
While the menu is fairly limited, the options are so good you won't miss the weekday offerings. Each Sunday the menu includes a choice of two appetizers (soup or salad), two entrAces (the meaty main meal or a vegetarian option, usually pasta), and a single dessert — plus the delicious house bread with fruity olive oil for dipping. No matter what's on offer and what you choose, it's impressive what chef Howell manages to do with your $15.
My first Sunday visit falls on All Saints Day, and the menu is titled: “All Saints Day Menu. That's it … no funnies, just the holiday and the menu … got a problem with that?” The menu also instructs us to stop ignoring the bottles on the bar, which are the “ultimate Sunday charity … cheap wine!” Now this is what I have in mind by Sunday fun. The relaxed vibe is evident everywhere: Little Irish gnomes perched on the bar, cookbooks stacked high on a shelf by the kitchen, the staff reading at the bar when not taking orders. The atmosphere may be as laid-back as it gets, but there's no doubt that the man in the apron takes his cooking seriously.
The apple and onion soup is creamy and savory, with a touch of sweetness and a nice backbone from the beefy stock. The salad is filled with peppery local greens, mandarin oranges, kiwi and artichoke hearts with a tangy white balsamic dressing.
The main entrAce rotates each Sunday between five options: chicken, pot roast, cioppino, salmon and chef's choice. This happens to be a chicken night. The promised grilled squashes seem to be missing, and the chicken could use salt, but the crusty sweet potato cake and pan jus are just the right accents. The pasta choice of the night, gnocchi, is dreamy. The traditional potato dumplings in a spinach and gorgonzola sauce with walnuts are straight out of a Ligurian family kitchen. Dessert doesn't disappoint us either: delicate profiteroles drizzled with the winning flavor combination of blueberry and chocolate sauces.
My next trip to Sunday Suppah feels just like visiting an old friend. We sit right down in the booth of our choice, I order my favorite $6 sangiovese, and get reacquainted with the olive oil I'm hoping to smuggle home in my purse. As before, there are few occupied tables when we arrive, though they fill later.
Tonight the menu tells us it's the “if you don't like asparagus or tomato sauce, you're screwed” dinner, so we're very grateful to like both. A die-hard locavore might ask why asparagus takes center stage in November, but I'm not one, so I'm happy to enjoy my delicate cream of asparagus soup guilt-free. The cold, poached asparagus in the salad is bright green, crisp and tender, and served with red-skin potatoes, quite a bit of red onion, and greens tossed in light vinaigrette. Until the chef comes to our table with a hunk of cheese and his grater in hand, we don't notice the Romano is missing.
The shrimp, scallops and mussels in the cioppino are tender and sweet, and the fennel tomato sauce has a nice kick. The tomato sauce that accompanies the spinach and three-cheese ravioli is a bit watery, but the pasta itself is perfectly delicious.
The next time you find yourself with a case of the Sunday blues, CafAc Rustica has other lovely colors to play with. S
CafAc Rustica $$
414 E. Main St.
Lunch: Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Dinner: Tuesday-Saturday, 5-10 p.m.
Sunday brunch: 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Sunday Suppah: 5-9 p.m.
($15 per person for Sunday prix fixe menu)