ALEXANDRO’S ITALIAN GRILL
For people like me, who spend their evenings visiting many Italian establishments, baffled by crowded, multipage menus and gorging on similar variations of pasta primavera, bolognese sauce, and fried calamari, escaping to Alexandro’s Italian Grill was a delight. Located on a nondescript corner of New Grace, this bespoke Italian restaurant is a Roman-inspired trattoria that serves up very much old-school Italian favorites with homemade pastas, made fresh on-site. The modest little restaurant occupies a single long room, with a bar in the back for eating and one in the front for sipping wines. The proprietor, Armando Taormina, supplies many of the regions’ leading Italian restaurants with their fancy imported olive oils, honey, pastas, vinegars and arborio rice, also for sale to their dining customers. Along the walls of Alexandro’s are a rogues’ gallery of grizzled vintners, merry honey-makers and other suppliers to Mr. Taormina.
To my surprise, the waiters aren’t excessively fawning and Alexandro’s has the best bartender this side of the Mason Dixon Line. Not sure what to order? Give the bartender a hint of what you’re into and watch as he whips up a concoction that’s sure to please. The food here is various but not busy, and is prepared in a way that highlights the very finest ingredients.
If all this sounds a little precious, well, that’s because it is. The menu here is presented casually, within the context of a familiar culinary tradition, and it’s relatively cheap. It’s the kind of straightforward, unfussy food that would send you into paroxysms of glee if you came across it at a trattoria in the hills around Umbria, say. Come for the burrata, imported daily from Italy and arguably the best this side of the Atlantic. Sample the toasty crostini, layered with Gorgonzola drizzled with chestnut honey, and the very good, very green fava beans, served uncooked, with nuggets of pecorino cheese. I enjoyed the chicken-liver crostini and the milky buffalo mozzarella tangled with prosciutto the best.
All the pastas I sampled were splendidly simple and rich. There are only four pasta dishes on the menu at Alenandro’s and four secondi course and the portions are small (save for the pasta dishes, which comes in two sizes), so order two or three. We sampled most of the menu and found nothing that didn’t please. Taste the ridged tubes of garganelli accompany herb-roasted tomatoes and hazelnuts, gnocchi thumbs tossed with slivers of duck confit in a puddle of citrus sauce, chewy triangles of farro-based spiral pasta smothered in a rich porcini-mushroom and pancetta sauce, and the dumplings in braised pork and beans. The pork belly is rich and glistening. The simple oven-baked pork fillet tasted fine, as did the chicken cacciatore, which was swimming in a rich tomato sauce filled with black Ligurian olives. There’s also a superior fritto misto, made with hunks of cods served with segments of fennel rolled in semolina and crusty fried slices of Meyer lemon.
The desserts are unfussy and agreeably Italian. There are wedges of spongy panettone, a dense slab of chocolate semifreddo dribbled with hazelnut liqueur, and don’t miss the roasted pears with vanilla gelato. After finding the traditional red and white awning, with matching red and white checkered tablecloths, step inside and come face-to-face with old-school photos of Italy and a vibe that can only be described as comfortably intimate.