We hadn´t even ordered yet and I was overwhelmed by all of the things I had to write down.
It´s cold, and it´s dark by 5pm, and it takes more effort to move after that. The spaces between work and holiday preparation and winter activities call for red wine and food comas. So I wanted a good Italian place—authentic Italian, not just some pizzeria, but a real Italian restaurant that I could recommend. A whisper in the wind suggested Amica Miei, but as my friend and I stared at the menu displayed just outside its entrance, I thought that it was far too pricey for an atmosphere that didn´t entice us at all, and seemed very sullen. I made a face, and that was that.
On the other side of Vězeňská, twinkling gold light and red color spilled out onto the gray street from beneath the awnings of Aldente Trattoria Italiana. (How boldly competitive for Prague, another Italian joint just across the way.) As we perused the menu from outside the window, a big set of white teeth appeared suddenly from the other side of the glass, and startled us into a giggle. A handsome man with thick black hair and designer glasses (of course he´s Italian!) was inviting us inside with a huge, bright smile. I had to. With that kind of showy confidence—especially from an olive-skinned man in a pressed blue button up—I couldn´t resist.
The atmosphere offers so much to absorb, when you make it past the massive painting that hangs in all its holy glory in the front of the restaurant, and, according to owner Antonio Ciullo, is an original from Collegno, not a copy. (I´m sorry; you´ll have to go see it and inquire about it on your own, but as you could probably guess, it oozes Catholicism). Aldente is cozy and warm, quaint and cluttered. Cluttered in a good way, I think.
I thought of my grandmother a lot: One, because there were enough Christmas decorations to fill a Christmas craft fair; and two, because there were all kinds of handmade decorations beneath the layer of holiday garland that she would´ve commented on, saying, “Oh, my, will you look at that? Using bowtie pasta to tie these lovely napkins, isn´t that something? Well it´s just darling and clever!”
Red-and-white-checkered tablecloths, soft brown paper used as placemats and used to wrap bundles of breadsticks, little straw ties around this and that, and touches of blue in the wall-mounted ornamental dishes, comprised a rustic Italian feel. All the baskets, bows, and dollhouse shelves filled the empty seats with grandmothers, and I felt mine beside me, so I sat up straight as possible, took much smaller sips of wine, and tried to swat away the gnat of guilt as I recalled how I spent the past Sunday morning (for the last eight years or so) sleeping until afternoon.
Continuing with the craft fair, each menu is handmade and handwritten, which I thought was darling. The “Degustation Menu” offered pumpkin flan, a salad, soup, vegetable risotto, vegetable omelette, and dessert for 1000CZK. The starter, entrée, and side options on the other side of the menu were few, so I was certain each dish would be quality. Uh-oh.
To be frank, the starters were the most enjoyable, which, as my companion commented, “always seems to be the case lately.” The tuna carpaccio was excellent, minus the unnecessary celery slices and over-garnishment. The salad arrived in a chunky jar atop a plate, accompanied by the pumpkin flan. It was a medley of oranges, cherry tomatoes, arugula, and hefty pieces of grated Parmesan. Everything was absolutely fresh and not overdressed, although the combination of ingredients didn´t harmonize as they should have. The pumpkin flan, on the other hand, was exactly the holiday flavor and texture I was looking for (meaning it tasted like pumpkin-flavored mashed potatoes), so it was a shame that the portion size was smaller than my cell phone.
Cheese quality is of utmost importance in Italian cuisine, and I can attest to the fact that the cheese used in Aldente´s kitchen is of high caliber. The flavor was beyond robust in both the baked cheese “tomino,” as well as the gnocchi, where the flavor was so aggressive that it could have used something else to offset it, or diversify the dish, since it had the effect of real fudge: a few bites and its your mouth—not your stomach—that can´t take anymore.
I was most looking forward to the homemade lasagna. The vegetable risotto, the vegetable omelette (no, I don´t understand it either), the rabbit dish, and, disappointingly, the lasagna were each mediocre at best. We strongly suspected, from clues such as bottom-dish puddles and side-&-top-dish lack of moisture, that this fare was reheated and not made to order. And if “aldente” is the name of the game, then I don´t understand why I had trouble keeping the lasagna, with a texture like it had been reheated oodles of times, from sticking to the roof of my mouth.
On the presentational front, there were things we didn´t understand. For example, why did the lasagna come out in a small frying pan? And the jar for the salad—it was just awkward.
Yikes. I stress myself out to write this, since the service was 120% impeccable and the owner is incredibly gracious and friendly, and his immense love for his restaurant drips heavily from his words as he speaks about it, but there was not one dish that wasn´t off somehow [cringing with guilt]. Everything missed the mark [cringing with guilt], even if slightly, still immediately detectable. Yes, I cringe, but I´m obliged to give my opinion truthfully. But, hold on! They´ve only been open about a year, according to one of our amazing servers, the original smile from behind the glass, so I think that still falls in the range of the “polishing” process of the menu and kitchen. And the wine list is great!
By the way, the “couvert” is 45CZK. We received complimentary glasses of champagne after we were seated. And in the end, we were given complimentary glasses of “passito” an ultra sweet Italian wine, which I mistook for brandy, because I don´t drink either of these things. I said to my companion, “Maybe I´ll become a brandy drinker now.” She replied, “Brandy is not cool.” I looked at the empty seat at our table, where my grandmother was shaking her head and saying, “Brandy isn´t very ladylike, Miss Jessica.”
Take this, For this is my review.
Aldente Trattoria Italiano
Vězeňská 4, Prague 1
+420 222 313 185
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Disclaimer: All stars are relative to an establishment´s context.
Jessica Rose can be reached at email@example.com