Sophisticated northern Italian cuisine just south of our border
Rack of lamb
Sophisticated diners know that Port Chester, once a dreary neighbor to glittering Greenwich, has undergone a renaissance. Where there were once chili parlors and luncheonettes now stands all manner of upscale eateries.
On a Saturday night a lively crowd flocks to Alba’s Restaurant. This place has been around for many years, but like Port Chester it has come into its own as a Mecca of fine dining.
Alba’s is a generous-sized place with two large dining rooms and an ample bar. We chose the main dining room, which has an airy feel, brightened by white linen tablecloths and napkins. The service is fast and professional. Drink orders are taken, menus presented, specials explained and a basket of crusty bread placed on the table.
There is a broad choice of every component of a classic northern Italian meal. We began with a plate of prosciutto e melone. Blanketed with thin slices of Parma ham, it was delicious. The best of our starters was Vongole Oreganata, minuscule clams on the half shell baked with garlic soaked bread crumbs. Each one was a perfect small bite with a zing of flavor. Slightly less enjoyable was the very attractive Tegamino di Melanzane, which is a row of grilled eggplant slices stuffed with prosciutto and fresh mozzarella. It tasted a bit too salty but that might be the Parma ham blasting out the other more subtle ingredients.
It is a wonderful bit of retro dining to see a Captain prepare a Caesar salad for two table side. How much fun to watch all the drama that comes with seasoning the wooden bowl with garlic, adding the capers, the anchovies, the raw egg, the grated cheese and with the addition of crisp leaves of romaine, the perfect salad is born.
On to the pasta course. This reviewer often asks for a half portion of pasta, but at Restaurant Alba the portions are of a sensible size and do not overwhelm. Rigatoni Filleto di Pomodoro features large tube–shaped noodles with a simple but perfect tomato sauce, a small amount of prosciutto and a sprinkle of grated cheese. The Gnocchi alla Alba was delicious, small potato dumplings served with shredded radicchio and halved cherry tomatoes. Spaghetti Carbonara, that sinful dish awash with cream and cheese, has gone modern at this restaurant. If one can say Spaghetti Carbonara can be light, this was. The often gloppy sauce was a whisper of its usual caloric excess.
Gnocchi alla Alba
We tried two veal dishes for our main course. The classic Scallopine di Vitello alla Parmigiana, breaded veal scallopine, quickly fried and topped with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese on a small mound of spaghetti. This dish is classic for a reason—it tastes great. The Scallopine di Vitello alla Alba was slightly odd. All together it was fine but if, as the menu states, there is crabmeat in it we couldn’t find it, under the asparagus and the fontina cheese. The dish was sautéed in a smooth cognac sauce so, unless a passion for crabmeat is the whole reason for dining out, order this dish and you will not be disappointed.
The showstopper was the Shrimp Fra Diavolo. Eight enormous, perfectly cooked shrimp were lightly tomato sauced and placed on a bed of spaghetti. Fra Diavolo can be very very spicy, laden with so many hot pepper flakes that you turn as red as the tomato sauce when you eat it. If you do not need this hot fix, you will like the restrained and reserved version served here. The sauce is only a tad spicy and in no way detracts from the gorgeous shrimp. A wonderful alternative to this preparation is to ask for the shrimp Scampi style, awash with white wine, garlic and lemon sauce and served over white rice.
For the robust appetite there is a nice selection of steaks, a big veal chop, and a well made rack of lamb. The night we dined at Restaurant Alba the fish special was bronzini, and we watched as it was filleted and flamed tableside. It looked terrific. There are also quite a number of skillfully made fowl dishes. Highly recommended would be the very simple Pollo Alba, a marinated breast of chicken with grilled polenta, roasted garlic and oregano. More unusual, and often hard to find on restaurant menus is farm fresh quail. This is a small bird, very succulent and served with polenta, mushrooms and wild rice. Its bigger brother, a Cornish hen, is also available.
The best of the desserts were the simplest. Berries, ice cream, and a good cup of espresso are a good choice. There are quite a few dessert choices but some look better than they taste. The best of the lot was a slice of chocolate cake that was in fact a triangle of warm moist brownie. It is a favorite here, justifiably so.
The bottom line on Restaurant Alba is that it is a jewel in the crown of the new improved Port Chester and is a must-try for a delicious and authentic meal.
400 North Main Street
Port Chester, NY
Cuisine: Northern Italian
Lunch: Mon.–Fri. 12:00pm–3:00pm
Dinner: Mon.– Sat. 5:30pm–11:00pm