Friday, May 1, 2009

It Ain't No Hype - Al Di La is Sublime

Restaurant Name: Al di La Trattoria
Location: 248 5th Avenue, Park Slope, Brooklyn

I reviewed Al di La several months ago, when the weather was cold and the world cruelly dark with winter. Since then, we have been back many times (this is, hands down, my favorite restaurant in the slope).

Now that spring is nearly upon us (though shyly), I wanted to chime in on Al di La again - if only to sing raptures about their salads (tendrils of pea shoots twinned around fresh favas, ramps lying in tender repose on baby spinach, nutty faro nestled with spring beets).

Our most recent trip was with our friends Boulos and Sayumi and I wanted to share some of the lovely photos that Boulos took of the food:

Warm Faro Salad

Spring Salad

Gnocchi with Pork Shoulder Ragu

My original post on Al di La (from Feb. 2009) follows:

Ever since my husband and I moved to Brooklyn about seven months ago, the word on the street has been that Al di La Trattoria's goodness is all hype. So, we held off on eating there for quite awhile. Then, a few months ago, they started serving we went. And it was good. Damn good. Our hopes were raised.

And then, tonight, we finally made it in to Al di La for dinner. And it was so good that I wanted to cry. But, of course, its a tiny little place and crying would be inappropriate, so I held back the tears and just kept on eatin'.

Seriously, though, the buzz surrounding this bitty little northern Italian eatery, with its faded walls, rustic (read tippy and antique) tables, uneven heating, and peeling ceiling, had over-rated written all over it. But it isn't overrated - not at all. Its fabulous. The food here is really and truly great, classic, northern Italian.

The menu is pretty short: a few options each from starters, primi (pasta) and secundi (meats) and desserts. But you don't need lots of choices when everything is good. And they have wonderful specials, too.

We started out with a salad off the specials list, a "winter white" salad of shaved raw vegetables (including fennel, Jerusalem artichokes, salsify, leeks, etc.) with a champagne vinaigrette and a mild blue cheese. It was crunchy and slightly tart and slightly salty and very good.

My entree was one of the specials, a house-made gnocchi with heritage pork shoulder ragu and lovely melty goat cheese. The gnocchi were so tender I could hardly believe it - they were quite honestly perfect and definitely the best gnocchi I've ever had (including in Italy). My husband went for a classic dish off of the regular menu - spaghetti con vongole. I hate clams and he actually had to fend off my wandering fork a few times. The spaghetti was cooked just so and seasoned with that timelessly good marriage of wine, garlic, and spicy red pepper.

For dessert we shared the ricotta fritters. These were served so fabulously hot that it was hard to gobble them up quite as fast as I wanted to without incurring injury. They came with a dish of whipped cream and a pot of melted bittersweet chocolate for dipping. Not too sweet, salty from the fryer, and so, so, so good.

We opted for wines by the glass, but they had plenty of good bottle offerings, too. Everything seemed reasonable (given the usual restaurant markups).

After our two experiences here, one thing we noticed is that the lunch menu is not any cheaper than dinner (and has fewer offerings). So, its not necessarily a bargain to come for a midday meal. Although, it probably is much easier to get a table (expect roughly a 45 minute wait on weekend evenings - no reservations are taken here). Given the wait, though, we were pleased that they didn't rush us or try to hurry and turn over the table. I was impressed with the attentive-yet-relaxed service.

With a shared starter and dessert, two entrees, and two glasses of wine, our dinner came to $90 with tip - not bad at all considering the general fabulouslness of the food.

Al di Là Trattoria on Urbanspoon

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