A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Monday, May 23, 2005

May 23.

Dinner -

Al Di La - 248 5th Ave., Park Slope, Brooklyn
Malfatti (Swiss chard and ricotta gnocchi with brown butter and sage), Saltimbocca Alla Romana (Pork loin scaloppine with sage leaves and prosciutto served with sauteed potatoes), a side of grilled Swiss chard stems, Affogato (vanilla ice cream topped with coffee)

Italian food is as ubiquitous in New York as traffic, and too often, the experience of eating out is as interesting as sitting in mile-long gridlock. It's the same stale dishes in the same anonymous settings, the only imagination in the menus found in their font selections.

Al Di La in Park Slope is the antithesis of marinara. It's one of my favorite restaurants, the personal touches so prominent you could be dining in a friend's living room. The frequently changing menu never lacks originality, but it also builds on a base of appreciation for the classics. The daily specials are always tempting detours. Chef Anna Klinger's Venetian cooking is consistently graceful yet hearty.

The last time I was here, I was floored by some life-changing ravioli, so I was eager to try their malfatti on this visit. A Swiss chard and ricotta gnocchi, it was a deliciously green appetizer made just a little sinful by its brown butter sauce. Somehow, it managed to taste both decadent and healthy, both novel and familiar, a feat accomplished by much of Al Di La's output. And though it couldn't live up to that exquisite ravioli, the malfatti ended up being my favorite course of the night.

This should say more about the greatness of the gnocchi than cast any criticism on the entree. The saltimbocca, which literally translates to "jump into the mouth" nearly succeeded in living up to its impossible definition. Tender and beautifully seasoned, this pork and prosciutto dish was a joy to eat. It even topped Cacio e Pepe's great rendition.

Finally, I finished with an affogato, which was the one misstep of the night. In New York, I've only had this dessert drink once before at 'inoteca and it was perfect. Coming in a tall glass with scoops of vanilla gelato and chilled espresso, the liquid and solid intermingled, fusing into each other, forming a bond but retaining their own unique personalities.

At Al Di La, the waitress brought out a bowl containing vanilla ice cream and then poured steaming coffee over it. In about twenty seconds, the ice cream had melted, turning my dessert into a cloudy coffee soup. Not altogether unappetizing but a long way from the allure of affogato.

Still, the restaurant redeemed itself when I tried Vince's desserts. Perpetual glutton that he is, he ordered not one but two desserts, both of which were magnificent. In an arena where the choice often ends with tiramisu and cheesecake, his apricot and pecan torta and his pear cake with bitter chocolate chunks reaffirmed Al Di La's commitment to creativity. In a city of red lights and Stop signs, it breaks every speed limit. 8/10


Blogger margauxious said...

Just came across your blog - i lived in new york some time back and your blog made me miss all the restaurants and cafes. my favorites were muffins for breakfast (muffins, of course, with hazelnut coffee), yura for their pinwheels, rigolletos for pizza, and balthazar for the warm chocolate cake!

11:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lonesome, I don't know how to break this to you, but got affogato all worng.

You may like the thing that was served to you at 'inoteca better, but it sounds like an Americanized version of affogato.

What you got at Al Di La was correct. A blending of cold vanilla gelato and fresh hot espresso. Google it and look it up.

You may not like the traditional version, but don't bitch that it was wrong. The problem at Al Di La was not their affogato, but that you had no clue. You may want to research what you are talking about more before posting a review.

BTW, the rest of the review was great.

11:09 AM  
Blogger Lonesome Hero said...

Hey, anonymous, thanks for the comment. I had a feeling I might be missing something since Al Di La is so excellent otherwise. Well, you are right in that I prefer the Americanized version and didn't really enjoy the more authentic soupy affogato. Now I know. As for doing research, I do my best to learn as much as I can, but keep in mind, I'm only one Hero.

4:50 PM  

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