Friday, May 27, 2005

Restaurant 27: Al Di La (Infinite Feast XVIII)

LOCATION: 248 5th Avenue, Brooklyn (Park Slope)
DATE: May 23, 2005
FOOD: Paccheri with Pork Ragu and Goat Cheese (Special); Braised Rabbit with Black Olives and Polenta; Half a side of Grilled Swisschard Stems; Apricot and Pecan Torta (Special); Torta Di Pere E Cioccollato (Pear Cake with bitter chocolate chunks)
BEVERAGE: At least 20 glasses of water
PRICE: $60.00

So you and a fellow Reader happen to be walking along Park Slope’s 5th Avenue restaurant row, when you chance upon Al Di La. You’ve both been reading Italo Calvino’s, If on a winter’s night a traveler, so your minds are already on the look out for cosmic coincidences which in reality aren’t coincidental in the least. So the appearance of Al Di La strikes you as being more than opportune – perhaps a stroll you thought was purposeless, was in fact intended to lead you to this trattoria all along. After all, you are hungry, you’ve been reading an Italian novel by the foremost Italian novelist of the 20th century, and Al Di La is one of the best Italian restaurants in the city. Such a conglomeration of events seems too harmonious to be accidental.

You and the fellow Reader enter Al Di La through the black curtain hanging over the door and are immediately struck by the delicious aromas wafting from the kitchen. Olive oil and garlic linger in the air like a meaningful conversation and you wonder if by walking through that curtain you somehow left Brooklyn and have been transported to a rustic Venetian villa. But the smells remind your stomachs of their pressing needs, so you ignore the momentary dislocation and sit down at the end of a crowded line of tables. Candles illuminate the room and wine bottles of nights past rest on a mantel, their silhouettes casting faint shadows on the wall.

Your waitress is cute and knowledgeable, and she recites the night’s specials effortlessly, before having to repeat them because some of the dishes sounded so enticing, you stopped listening mid-way through her speech. No matter, she is patient and comments on the fact that she has started If on a winter’s night a traveler many times, but never finished the book. This seems appropriate, as it is a book about false starts, and your conviction that this night is shaded with an element of pre-determinism grows stronger.

Deciding what to order was hard for your fellow Reader, but especially difficult for you. Literally everything on the menu (save beef for which you have an aversion) sounded appetizing. But in the night’s spirit of novelty, you order the night’s special pasta, paccheri with pork ragu to begin. The paccheri appear a cross of lasagna noodles and rigatoni and are lightly covered in an impeccable red sauce based around roasted pork. A dollop of goat cheese and parmesan shavings complete the dish. From your first bite you are possessed by a paradoxical feeling – this dish is so luminary, such a blissful combination occurs between the country style sauce, velvety cheese, and al dente noodles, that you fear the time your plate will inevitably become empty. You begrudgingly trade your fellow Reader the paccheri to taste his swiss-chard gnocchi and are again sent into a higher culinary atmosphere. You decide the paccheri is one of the top five pastas you’ve had in New York, and this includes your meals at Babbo, Lupa, L’Impero, and Cacio e Pepe.

For your entrĂ©e you decided on the braised rabbit, partially because you are craving polenta and partially because the Easter bunny screwed you over as a kid. It, like the paccheri before, is splendidly prepared – the meat cooked to a tender flush, the polenta creamy despite being made without cheese, the Mediterranean influences of olives adding a flavorful contrast of acidity. Again, the coming close of the dish disheartens as you ponder ordering the course a second time. But no, there is dessert to be had, and you are a dessert fiend.

You had been set on the warm pear cake with chocolate chunks, but then your affable waitress informs you of yet another special. The apricot and pecan torta she describes speaks on your frequency and in a rare moment of decisiveness, you order the tart. It is everything you could have wanted and more. The slightly sour slices of apricot and hearty pecans will make your mouth water days later as you write your Al Di La review. You then decide the dinner is about to end, so you impulsively order the pear cake previously overlooked. Two desserts is nothing for you, as even the waitress is confident in your ability to finish the second sweet. Her confidence is well-founded, but so too is the pear cake, delicate pears and potent dark chocolate gratifyingly offset by a buttery, flaky crust. As your put the last fork full into your mouth, you realize there is no more room in your stomach to prolong the meal. But you are no longer melancholy. You remember you can return to Al Di La anytime – and if this night is any indication of things to came, you have a feeling the universe’s possibly underlying order will lead you back to Al Di La again.

RATING: 8.7/10

1 comment:

tara said...

Just stumbled onto your site ... what a lovely find to end my Friday! And a perfect diversion for these last moments at work. I look forward to aquainting myself with your archives - and reading what's to come!