Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Alta Strada Reaches New Culinary Heights

An excursion to Alta Strada, a chic, new Italian dining establishment located slightly off of Rte 16 in Wellesley (off of Rte 135, to be exact), proves painstakingly cumbersome. The restaurant’s website is currently under construction, and its occupants appear incapable of providing directions that make any sense. This minute detail leaves this ravenous reviewer debating whether all the fuss over chef/owner Michael Schlow’s expansion into the suburbs is indeed warranted.

Following our half-hour detour, my wife and I meander into a moderately-sized, pristine, brightly-lit room, its walls splashed with vibrant yellow, green, and orange tones. The wooden tables and floors, in addition to interlaced brick walls, create a rustic ambience that meshes well with the otherwise modern d├ęcor of the room. On a Monday afternoon, patrons continue to filter in and the atmosphere is lively. It appears that Alta Strada is no longer a secret dining spot.

Our server arrives, instantly apologetic about the confusion over the erroneous directions they have provided. In a surprisingly genuine gesture, she offers us a complimentary side comprised of crisp crostini layered with homemade, red-pepper laced ricotta cheese. Not only are we deeply appreciative of the gesture, but we are left in awe over the superior quality of the ricotta itself, which is refreshingly light. We also munch on an additional crostini dish, this time smothered with fig jam and accompanied by thinly sliced, imported Italian prosciutto. This one is a legitimate show stopper: plainly put, this reviewer would gleefully lose his way on several more occasions if only for a taste of this supreme sampler. Resistance to the silky sweetness of the fig jam alongside the oh-so-fresh prosciutto is futile. Suddenly, this reviewer reaches an epiphany that this dish epitomizes the overall fare at Alta Strada: simplicity, freshness, and perfection over complexity and panache.

We proceed to our pasta entrees, for which chef Schlow is renowned. My wife orders a shrimp dish, which is accompanied by a spicy sauce and homemade spaghetti. The sauce, while pungent, is not overpowering, and carries just the right amount of kick. The generously-sized shrimp are moist, while the pasta is fresh and perfectly cooked al dente. My gnocci dish is equally divine, and I would be content simply gnawing on the plate’s other ingredients, which consist of a scrumptious symphony of tomato sauce, Italian hot sausage, and peas.

Without hesitation, our waitress recommends a homemade fruit torte for dessert, and are we ever glad that she does. This delectable concoction is served warm and moist, light yet rich, and its flaky crust and sweet berry filling are mouth-wateringly good. I must restrain myself from asking our server for additional fig jam from our earler crostini dish. What a perfect conclusion to a perfect meal that would be.

Service is top-notch. Our waitress is pleasant and extremely knowledgeable about the menu items and their ingredients. She is confident, and most importantly, accurate about her food recommendations. She is also attentive to my wife’s dairy allergy, ensuring that the kitchen prepares dishes accordingly.

Must this reviewer place a price on food that is of the utmost quality? Appetizers average between $12-14, pasta entrees around $16-17, and desserts at $7. Let me be the first of many to applaud Mr. Schlow for foregoing the flash of his more famous city eateries (i.e. Great Bay and Radius) and sticking to an age-old culinary formula: simplicity + freshness = delightful dining. Paul’s Palate has never claimed to be a mathematician, but he knows this equation inside and out, and Alta Strada passes this taste test with flying colors.

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