Monday, September 15, 2008

Al Di La - Simplicity and Goodness

al di la - 248 5th Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11215
Q Train to 7th Avenue

Visiting Park Slope is always fun and dining with my friends Ivona and Edita never falls short of a good time--there's always laughter, eating and drinking. While we usually eat at Slovak restaurants, this time we tried Northern Italian treat, al di la, per Ivona's suggestion. For those of you Brooklynites who haven't been there yet, it's a must. And for you Queensies, it's worth the trip on the Q train.

Rustic, intimate and cozy describe the look and feel of al di la. While the outside doesn't look like much, the inside is as charming as can be with dim lighting, vintage furniture and eclectic artwork. The tables are the long communal kind and while this doesn't always appeal to me, it fit the persona of this place so well. Creating a feeling of comfort and family, the long tables made me feel like I was in my own dining room eating with my own family. And like any real family affair, this place gets loud, boisterous and crowded. We arrived merely 20 minutes after its opening and the dining room was already filling up. A half hour into our meal and the dining room was completely full--so make sure to arrive early because they don't take reservations.

We were floored by the simplicity and intense goodness of the food. Everything was made with fresh, quality ingredients that tasted fantastic. The absence of creamy, red sauces was welcomed and made for a lighter dinner. While we stuck primarily to veggies and pasta, I'd like to try their meat dishes next time--especially their braised rabbit. Our dinner included...

Mixed Garden Salad - Although a simple dish, it was prepared perfectly with fresh, thinly sliced veggies such as zucchini, radishes, beets and sprouts. I liked it a lot because there was no lettuce in it, which could sometimes weigh a salad down. The fresh lemon and vinegar dressing was wonderfully refreshing. Again, nothing fancy just good quality stuff.

Zucchini Carpaccio - Long julianned pieces of zucchini and yellow squash made this another light starter. The pickled onions were a nice touch and the vinaigrette was again lemony. There were a few fresh spices added such as tarragon, giving this dish a licoricey taste. I'd get it again in a heartbeat.

Malfatti - A signature dish at al di la, it consists of swisschard and ricotta gnocchi floating in brown butter and sage. These babies are so soft and delicate that they feel like soft clouds dissipating in your mouth. While this wasn't my dish, I tried Ivona's portion, who orders it with every visit. A unique detail, which I appreciated was the crunchy sage--I presume that it was fried in the brown butter. The crunchiness and potent smell of it overtook my senses.

Casunziei - The exotic name of this pasta dish accurately portrayed its non-traditional ingredients--ravioli stuffed with red beets, ricotta cheese over melted butter, topped with poppy seeds. I've never seen such a beautiful magenta color inside a ravioli. The beets were soft and delicious and make for a perfect combination with the cheese. The butter sauce provided a luxurious sensation and the poppy seeds brought out a fun, whimsical element.

Ravioli Special - Edita ordered this pasta special because it sounded too good to pass up. Like my dish, the Casunziei, it consisted of homemade ravioli, however these were stuffed with mascarpone cheese and sweet corn. While we had concerns of it tasting too "desserty" it was just right. The corn provided a sweet crunch while the mascarpone brought forth a decadent creaminess. I hope that they continue to include this dish in their specials or even consider putting it on the actual menu. It was that fabulous!

Gianduitto - Ivona was raving about this dessert the entire time and she couldn't wait to get it--she easily convinced Edita to order one too. I almost joined them until the charming waiter convinced me to order the dessert special instead. I tasted the gianduitto, which is a simple chocolate gelatto with hazelnuts, surrounded by fresh whipped cream. The gelatto itself was good but not the best that I've had. However, there was something really special about the whipped cream. It had a beautiful milky color and was so fluffy and bountiful that it casted a spell on my dining companions.

Dessert Special - I was convinced to get the plum crisp, which was topped with vanilla gelatto. This beautiful dessert came in a rustic, terra cotta dish, which was just a little too big for me. The crumb topping was buttery, crunchy and once it hit my tongue along with the gelatto and plum compote, it melted my heart and my taste buds. Since the dish was so large, I brought the remnants home to Dan and topped it with old fashioned oats, which he liked.

Service and Cost:
Our waiter was lovely and unassumingly charming. We had fun trying to guess where his intriguing accent came from and by the end of the night, we found out that he was indeed Italian. Our dishes were brought to us in perfect time--everything seemed to be spaced out just right so by meal's end we felt satiated but not gluttonously full.

al di la is a treat so be prepared to bring some extra cash with you. Appetizers range between $7-$10, primi piatti between $7-$16.50, secondi piatti between $14-$22.50 and dessert is approximately $7. Wine is sold mostly by the bottle and our entire dinner cost us about $53/each including tax and tip. However, as expensive as al di la is, it's worth every penny because the food is molto delizioso.

3 Mmmms

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