Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Roberta Donna is doing it at AL DENTE deliciously (6-23-13)

You all know what a fan I am of Chef Roberto Donna, as I have known him for well over two decades and been to so many of his restaurants
over the years with such great pleasure each time. A year ago he opened around the corner from our home at what was then called La Forchetta, which
has been re-christened AL DENTE (aldentedc.com) and it is one of our hottest neighborhood spots these days with a variety of relaxed dining options from pizza
to pasta to fine Italian cuisine.
On arrival, there is always a warm welcome from longtime manager Karen who has been with Roberto for ages as well. She always smiles and always
makes sure everything runs smoothly.
Sunday night, five of us settled into our table and tried a "limited availability" VIOGNIER 2011 "Maggie's" from Virginia's Delaplane Cellars and it was oh so
fabulous. Virginia wines are being featured alongside the Italian selections, as well as others, and it's quite an impressive selection. We did switch to an Italian
BARBERA "Tasmorcan" 2011 from Ellio Perrone and this was a budget wine with quite an intensity for a Barbera. Be sure to check with your server. We had lots of fish dishes and wanted a lighter red, this was nice, but quite big as I said.
Our server Maja was very sweet and gave us plenty of time and handled everything with finesse. When my starter of MARINATED ARTICHOKES, Preserved ITALIAN TUNA, Castelvetrano Olives, Hard Boiled Eggs, Imported ANCHOVIES and Frisee arrived with no anchovies, she immediately delivered a plate of them. The dish is excellent and bursts with flavor from the tiny red peppers that are no bigger than your pinky nail!
Other starters were the Fried CALAMARI with Three sauces off Garlic Saffron, Green (Pesto) and Hot Spicy Tomato which is indeed HOT & SPICY. The batter is perfect and not a shred of greasiness
comes near the dish. BABY SPINACH SALAD with Pancetta, Pears, Walnut & Ricotta is a huge portion easily meant for more than one person. The ASAPARGUS Salad with hard Boiled Egg Dressing and the GRILLED ASPARAGUS with Garlic and Olive Oil are both lighter fare bursting with flavor.
The only real problem we had during the evening was when the bus boy cleared the table of these plates he lifted my fork and knife and proceeded to pile the plates together while the fork dripped dressing (it missed my lap by about 1/2 inch!).
Super warm pita-like focaccia and bread come to the table with Olive Oil as well and we were all very good about resisting these.....
Main courses varied with FARRO Whole Grain FETTUCCINE with Sweet Basil, Locally Grown Cherry Tomatoes, Garlic and Olive Oil being a superbly made pasta but needing a bit more punch in the seasoning.
This was indeed solved with some fresh Parmesan. PAPPARDELLE with Wild BOAR Ragu Braised and vegetables is always a big hit and a long time Chef Donna favorite; a bit more sauce would have been ideal.
BAKED FILET of GROUPER with Fennel, Potatoes, Orange Basil and Green Olives was a hit as was the super yummy side dish of BAKED EGGPLANT PARMIGIANA with Tomato, Basil & Mozzarella oozing over the top.
As is wont, my dish was the big winner and I can't get enough of SOFT SHELL CRABS which here are battered and sautéed and served over fresh SPINACH in a Lemon & Almond Sauce rife with slivered almonds. This reminded me of my first soft shells when I was a teen in the now long gone A LA FOURCHETTE in NYC (odd that Al Dente was previously "La Forchetta," the same name in Italian), which
got me hooked on the dish my mother loved best all summer.
Some Limoncello finished off a wonderful evening with friends and we made a promise to return soon with Samuel when he gets back from camp!