Sunday, April 13, 2008

Bellavitae; Al di La


This is a little neighborhood hideaway on Minetta Lane, a quaint offshoot of the fun stretch of Macdougal St. between Bleecker and W. 3rd in the Village. The ambience is casual and a little homey, with a little trattoria-like flair, yellow wallpaper and wooden floors. We had crostini with gorgonzola and chestnut honey. The crostini came out warm, heavy, and spongy. A tasty dish -- though I guess I'm not a huge fan of gorgonzola so I would have preferred a different cheese (though I should have thought of that before I ordered, huh!). And perhaps I would have preferred the bread to retain its structure instead of sogging down. But it was still tasty. We also got a cauliflower dish with pinoli and currants. The cauliflower was cut up into small pieces, bypassing a usual difficulty with roasted cauliflower often being large and unwieldy. The bite-sized cauliflower petals blended crunchily with the other two ingredients. For the entree, I ordered a pasta cacio e pepe, which is a pasta similar to a spaghetti in a cheese sauce with a little black pepper. This rendition is not as good as the dish at Cacio e Pepe in the East Village, but then neither is Lupa's. CeP really should be eaten at CeP. Bellavitae's pasta was aromatic and likeable, but was perhaps slightly hard. Service was friendly and professional.

Stars: 4/5

Al di La

I went to this famed Park Slope Italian eatery, where I sat not at the main restaurant but at the Al di La wine bar around the corner from the main restaurant. That's because I didn't want to have to wait for the main restaurant to give me a table. The wine bar is small and charming, with little arches separating its small entry room from the also-small dining room. Small inverted test-tube lights with exposed filaments (filaments seem to be all the rage right now) compliment candlelight for a vision source.

I was trying to decide between a beet ravioli and a swiss chard/ricotta/egg gnocchi. My charming waitress persuaded me to have both, and, to separate the duo ("to cleanse the palate," she suggested) with a salad. So I did just that, ordering the ravioli, asking for a spring greens salad as an intermission, and then springing for the gnocchi as act 2. The ravioli skin was delightfully thin on roughly-pureed beet with a dark and memorable color. The sauce of the pasta was simple -- a butter sauce, touched with a shaving of Parmesan. This was a simple, subtle dish, and that seems to be Al di La's style. The salad was excellent -- probably the best thing I had.The salad consisted of all kinds of interesting and tasty green vegetables: asparagus, snow peas, peas, string beans, and more, arranged in a deeply verdant depth and dressed in sherry vinaigrette, but not too much. Everything was fresh, crunchy, and refreshing. The bread and butter were excellent too, by the way, with the bread having a beautiful crunch and soft, wholesome inner dough, and the butter being hard but creamy and happily sharp. The bread comes from Royal Bakery in Brooklyn while the butter is standard unsalted French-style (i.e. higher-fat) butter. The final course was the chard/egg/ricotta gnocchi, came in an earthy and richly aromatic brown butter and sage sauce. The gnocchi themselves were slightly disappointing: they seemed a little dull and bitter for my taste, and didn't have the sparkle that the salad had. Finally, dessert was a trio of gelati - cherry almond, fennel, and coffee hazelnut, all of which were excellent (though perhaps the flavors were not quite as complex as I might have hoped) and satisfying. Throughout, service was attentive, friendly, and professional.

Overall, I'd have to say that my meal at Al di La was tasty and satisfying, but did not rise to the godlike levels that I expected. I liked it, but I didn't fall in love.

Stars: 4/5

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