Monday, February 9, 2009

Al Dente--I'm not Italian, but sometimes I wish I was

You know a restaurant is good when the owner meets you at the front door. Al dente is the type of Italian restaurant where the jovial, large Italian waitresses treat you like their own children. Our conversation with Donna, a passing hostess, about the Osso Busco soon led into an open and honest assessment of her oldest son moving out and her desire to let loose and return to downtown Boston. The familiarity was as comforting as the pork tenderloins were savory.

In the pantheon of food choice, we decided to take one familiar and one less traveled culinary path. One can weigh the quality of an Italian restaurant by the weight of its eggplant parmigiana and one can be surprised and satisfied by the simple additions. In this case, it was what lies beneath. For under the softly layered comfort food was a hidden trove of gnocchi. Those round gummy creations, which are often a meal to themselves, lay nestled, dare I say cradled in a puddle of sweet red sauce.

Taking a most radical route, our second entrée was a distinctly colorful and segregated dish of pork tenderloin, spinach and mashed potatoes. Each flavor, while proudly distinct in its own right, was a willing companion to its neighbor. While the rival factions vied for dominance of our palate, it was the merger of tastes which ultimately won the dish. The sweet prune sauce tenderloins were in distinct contrast to the bitter garlic spinach, and the buttery potatoes played mediator between the two.

While not the highlight, the wine flowed easily and did not distract from the more memorable aspects of the meal. We chose a moderately priced Sauvignon Blanc from the limited but sufficient wine menu. The overeager wine pouring from our motherly server was slightly intrusive.

Moderately priced for the North end with entrées ranging from $12-30, Al dente is pleasant for both the out of town guest, large gatherings and the casual diner. The warm atmosphere will be a welcome retreat from any cold New England evening--always enjoy with friends and olive oil dipped bread.

Al Dente Restaurant
109 Salem St
Boston, MA 02113
(617) 523-0990

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