If anyone would ask me what's a good neighborhood-style Italian restaurant, I would unhesitatingly answer Al di là. If only I lived in Brooklyn then I could enjoy this gem even more. Many of my food-loving friends and former co-workers have been trying to convince me to give Al di là a try, but going all the way to Brooklyn seemed like such a hike until my friend and fellow blogger Caroline suggested we catch up and go there for for lunch.
I had completely forgotten that it was Brooklyn restaurant week and that Al di là was participating. So it was a pleasant surprise to find that a $20.10 prix fixe menu was offered to us. It included all the restaurant’s specialties from the regular menu, which meant we weren't going to be cheated and given lackluster dishes like some other restaurants like to do during restaurant week. I was very excited to dive right in to a multi-course sampling of comforting northern Italian dishes.
The restaurant truly has an unassuming air about it, from the outside to the eclectic interior. The folks are friendly and helpful. The space is constantly crowded so you know it must be good. Luckily we were practically the first diners there for lunch this past Friday. As time went on it became more and more crowded so much so that a line had formed by the entrance. Maybe restaurant week had made it so busy, but as I hear it's almost always this busy. The restaurant hasn’t accepted reservations long before restaurants like The Spotted Pig made it trendy in Manhattan.
The wonderful offerings on the menu made it tough to choose our dishes. For a first course, I was torn between choosing the warm farro salad or the mixed green salad. Since I was choosing meat for my main, I decided not to choose grains for a starter. The mixed greens salad was as simple as simple can get: a variety of spring greens tossed in a red-wine mustard vinaigrette. That little something extra came in the form of paper-thin slices of sweet and nutty sunchokes, a very seasonal ingredient. Caroline ordered the soup of the day, seafood broth with fregola and little neck clams. The tomato broth was full of salty and briny flavors. It was perfect for dipping bread into, which both of us indeed did.
An unusual thing happened at the restaurant that I must mention. Before we even had our first course, we were almost served our main course. Just as the server was placing the two main dishes down before us, I remarked that we hadn't had our appetizers and she immediately returned the dishes to the kitchen. I’ll attribute this hastiness to the busy dining room. I just hope they don't confuse orders like this too often. I also noticed that the people sitting right next to us had shown up much later, but were eating long before us. They had chosen the same appetizers we ordered.
Caroline and I had kept going back and forth on what to select for our main course. All the possibilities looked appealing. I thought I would order the fish and Caroline thought strongly about the meatballs, but we changed our minds at the last minute. I typically order on the fly, because I can never make up my mind completely. For my main course I chose the pork dish or saltinbocca alla Romana. The pork was pounded thin like a scaloppine and had prosciutto and sage breaded to it. Served alongside crispy potatoes, it was a true Italian comfort meal. It was moist and very flavorful. Caroline had the baked hake with mushrooms, basil, and fingerling potatoes. The fish was truly meaty and had a very savory breadcrumb topping. Caroline commented that the sauce was just on the border of being too salty for a person who loves salt. I tasted it and concurred. Luckily both of us are salt lovers, because someone else might not have found it to their liking.
The meal was very much reminiscent of fall as is the case right now as we are between the seasons of winter and spring. The desserts to follow also seemed to make use of fall favorites. I had the pear and chocolate torte: a layer of lava-like chocolate and tender pears sandwiched in a cake with great texture and crust. Caroline enjoyed the panna cotta with cherry compote. Though the panna cotta was a bit too stiff for our liking, it still was spot on in flavor. Her biscotti, split in two, made a nice accompaniment to our coffees.
This week marks the end of restaurant week in Brooklyn, but that doesn't mean these wonderful Italian meals can't be enjoyed ever again. The menu adapts to the season, but always features the tried-and-true neighborhood favorites. I can't wait to see what will change on the menu once the bounty of spring is fully available. I know that I've found my neighborhood gathering place even though it's far from where I live currently. But the next time I'm in the city I will now have a reason to convince my Manhattan friends to take a visit to Brooklyn. I know if I lived right around the corner from Al di là, as Caroline does, I would never want to move away.
Al di là Trattoria
248 Fifth Avenue, at Carroll Street
Brooklyn, NY 11215
Open daily except Tuesday for dinner, Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday 6 to 10:30 p.m., Friday 6 to 11 p.m., Saturday 5:30 to 10:30 p.m., and Sunday 5 to 10 p.m.; and for lunch, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday 12 to 3 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 12 to 3:30 p.m.
Prices range from $11 to $22.