Seldom in this town do restaurants survive long enough, or even have the lineage in place, to pass an eatery on from one generation to the next. Buzz Dalesandro and his son Sonny are one family that defy the odds with Dalesandro's restaurant, now in the 18th and Boston area.
Those of you who have been fans of their classic Italian fare will remember when it was downtown for years. In true Dalesandro style, Sonny seems to be carrying on the legacy.
A Caprese salad for my wife and a bowl of Italian lentil soup for me started off the night.
Generally, it seems like the rule of thumb for restaurant produce is, the higher the price, the lower the quality. Roma tomato slices were a tiny bit mealy, but not bad considering the problems we have been having with tomatoes lately.
The Bufala mozzarella was firm, flavorful, and I suspect made on premises. The fresh basil was very "perfumy" and high in its flavor profile. Drizzled with an excellent extra virgin olive oil, (henceforth known as EVOO) and a fantastic imported balsamic vinegar aged so long it was the consistency of syrup, but it was a really successful combination.
Apparently, I ordered the "bucket-o-soup" because my portion was huge. Easily enough for an entrée and totally delicious!
To call it soup is almost a stretch since it was so dense. I would almost classify it as a vegetarian entrée, were it not for the fact that underneath the huge mound of lentils was a giant, tasty, homemade meatball. The Cajuns call that a lagniappe, which is to say a total surprise gift that totally exceeds your expectations. Awesome!
It was generously interspersed with whole, tender garlic cloves, button mushrooms, and fresh spinach, all cooked in a rich stock and topped with fresh basil and an excellent grated Pecorino Romano cheese.
I had a great view of meals going out to the dining room as they went by and by now was getting a little nervous because every single plate and pasta bowl that went by was piled high with pasta, vegetables and cheeses. These are some seriously huge portions. Even for me! I must say at this point that our waiter (more on him in a minute) warned me that we might be ordering too much food. I appreciated his honesty. It is something you don't often see.
Next on the hit parade was a house Caesar salad. Fresh crisp, dark leaves of romaine, tasty croutons, more of that great Pecorino and a fantastic dressing.
Most historians agree that this salad was named after Caesar Cardini, who invented the salad in Tijuana in 1924.
It was actually a child of necessity, as on a busy July 4 weekend, his restaurant began running out of food. He was able to create the salad from ingredients he had left in his kitchen. True or not, the combination of ingredients at Dalesandro's is one of the best I've ever tasted. EVOO,(told ya!) more of that wonderful balsamic vinegar, croutons, eggs, garlic, anchovies, lemon and Pecorino Romano made this a subtle winner.
Often this salad is completely overdressed and almost inedible, but we both found their version a perfect balance of flavors and intensity. Served with a nice basket of house-crafted foccacia, it was just right.
For an entrée, my wife ordered the house lasagna, a great layered dish of flat noodles, cheeses, tomato sauce and Italian sausage that she found a bit too spicy for her taste, but I enjoyed thoroughly. (There was enough for lunch the next day, too.)
I ordered what our waiter assured me was the best and most popular item on the menu, Swordfish Picatta.
Served only on Friday and Saturday nights, this piece of swordfish weighed in at 12 ounces. It is cut butterfly style, a technique used a lot with meat and fish wherein the product is sliced horizontally almost all the way through, then opened to reveal a piece that looks like a butterfly.
I'm pretty sure the chef pounded it out a bit with a mallet or skillet because it was thin and tender. A light dusting in seasoned flour, and a quick sauté in clarified butter before it was finished with mushrooms, capers, lemon, whole butter and white wine and served on a bed of angel hair pasta made this a really nice dish. The fish was terrific even though slightly overdone, a danger with a piece that thin. Because of the style of preparation, it was still moist and delicious, but otherwise I would have probably asked for another piece not quite so cooked.
We went on a cool Saturday night. If it had been even five degrees warmer, we would have opted for a table on the deck; it's a large area with quite a few tables and a great place to sit on a spring or fall evening. Our inside table ended up giving me a perfect view of the "pick up" slide, where the orders come up for the service people to garnish and deliver. Perfect for an old restaurant parade horse such as myself since I like to observe but maybe not everyone else.
I love watching the kitchen at work as well as the interaction between kitchen and front of house staff, but that's definitely the center of my comfort zone to be sure.
The building is long and narrow, with a dining room up front by the windows that looks out onto Boston Ave. The table area diverges to the sides of the room with a large bar as a focal point, and the kitchen at the back. The traffic flow is great, and there aren't really any bad tables because of the way it's set up.
Service is efficient; what I would call casual/formal. The servers are friendly and professional but not to the point of stuffiness. Everyone was working hard.
Our waiter described his long history with the Dalesandro family, all the way back to little league as a kid and a number of years as a staff member. There was pretty much no question I could ask that he didn't have the answer to, be it family history or menu related.
From the ingredients and preparation of each menu item, to the history of Buzz, Sonny and even grandpa' Dalesandro, (all of whom happened to overlook our table from a large family portrait), he knew it all. I have stated in the past that up-selling a ticket with cocktails, desserts and appetizers is the best way to make your real estate generate the most dollars per square foot. The only shortcoming on this waiter's part was not trying to sell us dessert.
He probably assumed that no human being could possibly want it after all the food he brought to our table, but when I asked, he made a game effort to sell. To his credit, he knew when to back off though.
The décor is decidedly European/utilitarian but very comfortable and attractive. High ceilings belay any feeling of closeness.
As I observed Sonny work the pass, it was obvious that he respected his people, as well as the food, and that translates to a confident, low stress atmosphere in the whole operation. He probably grew up in the place and has spent more time there than anywhere else.
A respectable wine list complements the menu, and overall it was an excellent Italian meal in a comfortable atmosphere. A perfect date place or night out with good friends type eatery in a great neighborhood. It's surrounded by other establishments that offer a perfect venue for an evening walk and nightcap. Check it out!
Dalesandro's Italian Cuisine
1742 S. Boston Ave.
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 6pm--10pm
Friday and Saturday 6pm -- 11pm
Atmosphere *** ?
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