"I have the simplest tastes. I am simply satisfied with the best." - Oscar Wilde

"I came, I saw, I ate." - Au Gourmand

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Al Di La - May 14, 2011

Over and beyond - al di la - Manhattan, there is another world, another possibility, another promised land filled with promising restaurants, just beckoning me to take the bridge over into the unknown. After more than a dozen constipated years of countless meaningless meals in the great metropolitan island, it had come to this: Either I move out of New York or I move myself out and over into the outer boroughs, at least, for a few hours. For these particular few hours, however, I was in good hands – the hands of a seasoned Brooklynite who was conversant with Italian food in general – thanks to the Italian grandfather who used to whip up a storm in the kitchen – and equally importantly, with this restaurant, Al di La. 
The tour de force started with fried chickpeas, straight out of the fryer with transparent crust and a dust of paprika – slightly crunchy, nutty and starchy – and freshly cured grassy olives.

Seared Mackerel

The pickled mackerel was spicily seared; its sourness lithely played on the bi-colored pepper flakes on the oily skin. Despite the ethereal thinness, the salad of shaved radish and sunchokes were refreshingly crispy – a few of the sunchokes were indeed stringy - punctuated by the tamed pickled ramp.

Spring Salad

Layers, created by the myriad textures of fresh green vegetables – tender leaves of baby spinach, gently boiled spears of asparagus, plump green beans, firm peas and fava beans and crunchy slices of fennel - and scented by minty herbs, weaved an ode of spring. The light vinaigrette highlighted the vigor of the ingredients, while the milky pecorino added just enough salt to the salad.

Fried Anchovies

These small fish are a little tough to please: they are notoriously fast to spoil – look for those ballooned and worse, burst stomachs - and not all that easier to fry, without a pair of quick hands. But they are a treat when done right, which they were almost at Al di La, if they had been just a little crispier.

Soft Shell Crab

A vague suspicion, started in the second fried item – the anchovies – was confirmed in the third: the crabs were alarmingly and disappointingly less than optimally crispy. The inner flesh of the crab could be, at best, euphemistically described as room temperature. Was it the temperature of the oil? Or was it the duration of frying time? The polenta-crust would have added so much flavor to the honestly bland crustacean species – no one eats it when it is not “soft-shell” - had it been allowed to achieve its full potential crisp.

Spaghetti alle Vongole

The bold clam sauce – spiced by feisty flecks of red chili and creamed by the white wine- did not fade in the face of the mightily thick and chewy spaghetti. The sweet clams admirably perfumed the pasta with its essence of sea, while the garlic breathed earthiness onto the plate. Al di La’s spaghetti alle vongole might have been one of the best renditions I had ever tasted, especially considering that there were all together not that many clams in terms of absolute numbers.

Sautéed Escarole

Sturdy and herbal, the escarole was sautéed quickly in an abundant pool of olive oil to a good crunchiness; the all-purpose lemon juice cut through the greasiness – or it tried to - while simultaneously mellowing out its bitterness.

Squid Ink Risotto

Shiny black and slick with butter, the risotto gleamed, reflecting the soft lightening of the room. The briny creaminess was wantonly rich and mysteriously deep, studded with pearls of al dente rice and strips of tender squid. However, its very own heaviness was its own dark downfall: even my fathomless black hole of a stomach was not able to finish it all.

Sorbetti - Passion fruit, Raspberry, Blackberry with Almond Florentine
Gelati – Burnt orange, Honey, Pistachio

Perfectly serviceable, if slightly too sweet, the bouquet of sorbetti was nicely unmemorable. Two of the gelati, on the other hand, proved unexpectedly pleasing: the burnt orange was surprisingly mild contrary to the customary citric acidity, and the honey was mellow without being overly sweet. However, the lightening speed at which they all started to melt was rather disconcerting – the gelati had flooded to their waists in a matter of 30 seconds.

Torta di Pera e Ciocolato

The matronly cake failed to unify the pear and the chocolate, even with the help of the rather watery vanilla whipped cream.

Semisweet Chocolate Tart

It was semisweet but it was also semi-chocolate in terms of the cacao flavor, superb svelte and smooth texture, notwithstanding.

Al Di La
Address: 248 5th Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11215
Phone: (718) 636-8888

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