Who says you have to travel thousands of miles for a declious Northern Italian meal? We only had to travel 5 blocks or so to finally try Al Di La, what a bargain. Al Di La is a neighborhood joint that doesn't take reservations so of course we had to wait. I like this policy though - you gotta earn your meal! We arrived around 7:30 and it was already a full house and a full list of diners ahead of us. We were told it would be about an hour wait or so and contemplated going back home before deciding to go to the newish wine bar around the corner. A quick look through the window made us change our minds - the place was tiny and packed - so we would up heading to Great Lakes for a pre-dinner drink. About halfway through our beverages - a Stoli Oranj and soda for the lady, a Brooklyn lager for the gentleman, my phone rang. Our table was ready more than 30 minutes early. Hot stuff!
I was immediately impressed with the service. We asked for water and was given glasses and a carafe to pour our own refills (though the waiters and busboys did an excellent job of tracking this themselves and often times did the chore). Everything on the menu sounded delicous, as did the evening's specials. For the appetizer, the sardines special was really enticing we but we opted for the minestrone soup with canneloni beans and softened Italian greens, as well as the taleggio cheese special. The latter was a slab of the fragrant cheese with a wedge of warm, delicate foccacia along with a side of greens. The greens were dressed with an aged balsamic and its sweetness made a nice contrast to the herby heartiness of the bread and the pungency of the cheese. Aged balsamic rules. It's delicious over just about everything. I once had fresh strawberries drizzled with aged, syrupy vinegar. Wow. The soup was some of the best I've tasted - the tiny shards of parmesaen that topped it off was such a perfect touch and one that I'll probably ape from now on. Whenever you got a bite of slightly melted cheese, it just set off this bolt of sharpness. If there was ever a taste that could be three-dimensional, it might be parmigianno-reggianno.
For our past course, we shared the house made tagliatelli with meat ragu. The husband and I love our meat sauces, yes we sure do. I've probably raved about fresh pasta before, but no dried pasta could ever come close. It had this amazing chewiness to it that it just so pleasing to one's palate. The ragu was rich, but somehow light at the same time. Probably because the pasta wasn't overdressed with sauce. I like my pasta sauce in moderation - I'd like to see the noodles please.
By this time we had also consumed an entire loaf of bread as well and without even asking, a busboy whisked away our near empty basket (one end piece left) and brought us a new one. This was a restaurant after my Atkins-hatin' heart.
Ok, now on to the main course. The roasted pork shank special sounded amazing and looked and smelled even more amazing when a waiter walked by with it. However, the steak tagliata with arugla won out and while it was a simple dish, it was certainly a winner. We had ours cooked medium and it was served pre-sliced in shallow pool of a balsamic reduction. Once again the addition of balsamic made the taste soar into space.
So now we're really stuffed but someone we think ordering two desserts is a good idea! I picked the pear cake with bittersweet chocolate while Dan chose the rice pudding. Even though my choice was initially slagged, it was the clear winner between the two. I thought the rice in the pudding was a little undercooked, making for really hard and nutty rice. It was nice to have rice pudding with bite, but in this case, it was too much bite, too much chewiness. It was a good effort by the chef though to offer something more than your average gummy rice pudding.
I need to go back soon so I can sample more of the menu, like the sardines and the pasta con vongole. One of Al Di La's best quality is its affordability. Nothing on the menu seems overpriced or should I say nothing on the menu makes you feel like you are overpaying for it.
Labels: the park slope gastronome