Let’s write about Al Di La. (That’s what the voice in my head just said as I sat down to do work; I have various projects going, but the voice in my head cares about you, my reader, sitting at your desk desperate to see pictures of food. (How many of you just scroll through the pictures and gaze quickly at the text? I’m guessing most. (It’s ok, I don’t judge you.)))
So Al Di La:
As you can see, the sign says “Al Di La Vino.” That’s because the regular Al Di La was full and the host told us to go around the corner to “Vino” and we’d be seated right away. So we did and we were glad because it’s nice to be seated right away. (This was Sunday night, by the way, where Al Di La is less crowded; on Saturday night, don’t even try–you won’t get close.)
On the way around the corner to Al Di La Vino, we saw this sign on the window next door:
We found this funny because who would let their dog shit ON a door? Clearly someone. But that seems very bizarre.
Al Di La regular feels like a house–the tables are crammed into a wooden room and the host flits between the door, the tables and kitchen. (The owner and the chef are a married couple; I saw a segment on Mark Bittman’s show (one of my favorite new shows) where he cooks with the wife chef, Anna Klinger; she was adorable.)
Al Di La Vino feels like a waiting room or a lounge at an airport; albeit, a very nice waiting room or lounge at an airport. It’s quieter, it’s more sparsely decorated, and it’s divided into two rooms: one room with a bar and the other with four tables.
We sat at one of the four tables right next to a party of three. Then a party of two sat at a table behind us and finally a party of four filled out the last table. I tell you this because of what followed: the waitress–perky and knowledgeable, if a bit rehearsed–went to the first table (the one next to us) and said, “Hello, welcome to Al Di La, let me tell you our specials.” She then proceeded to do a five minute recitation of the various specials (a trio of appetizers, pork ribs with cherry onions–both of which I got later on). She did her recitation and then she said to them, “Take your time” and then she came over to us and did the exact same thing. And hey, that’s not so weird, it’s her job, but it was funny because we’d heard the specials quite clearly as did, I’m sure, the tables behind us. So when she went to them next and did the specials again, one by one, for each of them, it was pretty funny. It was like 20 minutes of special reciting. I felt bad for her. (But not that bad–she seemed fine about it.)
So Diana and I conferred and decided to share the trio appetizer. Here it is–baccala with grilled polenta, oxtail ragu and sardines:
This trio was like an electrifying opening number to a Broadway musical–zingy, surprising, fun. The sardines were succulent and briny, the baccala was smooth and creamy and perfect spread on the warm grilled polenta, and the oxtail ragu was rich and complex and comforting.
“Mmmm,” said Diana.
“Mmmm,” I agreed.
Then came the entrees. I had the special: pork ribs with some kind of cherry glaze, onions, and cabbage on the side:
This is the kind of food I love to eat when I go out to dinner: comforting but eccentric enough that you’d never think to make it at home. There’s a beautiful presentation, plenty of variety, plenty of flavors and contrasting flavors–enough to keep you busy and amused for the duration of the entree course. Diana too was greatly pleased with her choice: spaghetti a la vongole (that means clams).
Now I’m a criminal blogger and you all know it because whenever I order wine at dinner I always forget what I ordered and you lose respect for me and wonder why I still have my Foodie Merit Badge in the Foodie Cub Scouts. Such is the case here: I had a terrific red with my food and I haven’t the foggiest recollection of what it was. The waitress recommended it. So do this: order what I ordered (assuming it’s still a special) and ask the waitress to recommend you a wine by the glass. Hopefully it will be what I had.
When the entrees were over and Diana and I were floating on the wings of the giant bird known as gastronomic ecstasy, I did as I always do and said, “Let’s get dessert.” Diana didn’t fight me.
So we had this, a torta made with pears and chocolate and dusted with powdered sugar:
Look, I wanted this to work–I wanted it to be the perfect end to a perfect meal. But my face betrayed my true feelings: “You don’t like it,” said Diana before I said anything. It’s because the flavors in my mouth were mixing in a weird way: cooked pear and deep bitter chocolate. Do these things go together? Only your mouth can tell you the answer and my mouth told me “no.” And yet we kept eating and eating because the cake itself was so good and really, even if pear and chocolate is a weird match, it’s still part of a cake and everyone likes cake. So it was all gone when we were done.
When the check came I was delighted at how reasonable it was. For all this wonderful food–food that’s on the level of some of New York’s best Italian restaurants, including Babbo–we each paid close to $50 (including wine.) For a special occasion meal (and this was, being our celebratory move-in meal) it’s everything you could want: excellent food, excellent wine at excellent prices. As the two newest residents of Park Slope, Brooklyn, we’re proud to call Al Di La our favorite neighborhood Italian joint.