In Old Town, Classic Italian Is Always In Season
By Nancy Lewis
Thursday, September 28, 2006
Sometimes the things we are most familiar with are the hardest to find.
Recently, a former colleague and friend was visiting from Australia, where he retired five years ago. In planning his visit, the one food he asked for was veal scaloppine with lemon. The simple reason: You can't get real veal in Australia.
Because of various regulations, calves must be at least one-year-old before they can be slaughtered, resulting in what Australians call yearling beef, which lacks the sweet, tender taste and texture of veal and the intense beefy taste of great steaks.
In my search for the perfect place to take our friend, I found that great veal scaloppine -- once a mainstay of upscale menus -- has been supplanted by a host of other veal choices, from veal cheeks to veal sweetbreads.
You won't have that problem at Landini Brothers, a mainstay of Old Town Alexandria for decades. The veal scaloppine are sliced thin, cooked quickly and completed simply with lemon, butter and white wine, or more complexly with prosciutto and mozzarella. These dishes alone make a visit to Landini Brothers a joy.
Franco and Piero Landini, who hail from a little Tuscan fishing village about 100 miles north of Rome called Porto Santo Stefano, have been operating Italian restaurants in the area for more than 30 years, first in Arlington, then across King Street and in the present location since 1979.
Just steps from the Alexandria waterfront, in the middle of Old Town's main tourist area, Landini Brothers has ensured its longevity by catering to the locals. Franco Landini estimated that about 70 percent of his dinner business and 100 percent of his lunch crowd is from the area.
The main dining rooms on the ground floor of a 19th-century stone building have the feel of a private club, with diners who obviously know each other stopping at nearby tables to chat. On each visit, several parties were celebrating birthdays, with multiple generations of guests.
The stone walls and relatively low ceilings give the dining rooms almost a grotto feeling, and the air conditioner's ductwork -- painted a modern deep red -- ensures that the air is fresh and cool, even on the hottest day. Although celebrations can raise the decibel level in the rooms, you can still carry on a conversation. That makes Landini Brothers perfect for power lunches; during a midday visit, almost everyone in the restaurant was wearing a suit, although it was more than 90 degrees outside.
Traditional northern Italian food constitutes much of the printed menu. There is also a long list of daily specials that feature the freshest of local ingredients and more contemporary preparations. The luncheon menu includes panini, crostini and lighter main courses. The wine list is long, with some of Italy's most famous wines.
A grand way to start a meal at Landini Brothers is with prosciutto and melon. The aged Italian ham is moist and succulent -- a perfect counterpoint to sweet, local melon. The tomato and mozzarella salad -- served only in season -- consisted of ripe, luscious tomatoes intertwined with slices of moist mozzarella, sprinkled with basil and napped with fruity green olive oil. It tasted like a day in Italy.
Pastas are available by the half-portion, and even those are large for a starter. The linguine with clams in white sauce features dozens of sweet thumbnail-size clams in a light olive oil-based sauce, and the linguine was cooked just slightly al dente, not gummy. A half-portion of fettuccine Alfredo was light and fresh-tasting, sprinkled with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. The special of wide noodles with shrimp and jumbo lump crab tasted of the sea.
Steaks are also a favorite at Landini Brothers, whether simply grilled -- the Tuscan way, napped with mushroom sauce or topped with butter and garlic. Reflecting some popular U.S. influence, the meat is the star of the plate and is accompanied by french fries.
Not everything sweeps you away under the Tuscan skies. The Caesar salad is rather bland; pale, largely tasteless tomatoes show up in the luncheon bruschetta; and the tortellini in broth does not have a lot of flavor.
The classic dishes and welcoming ambience keep Landini Brothers an integral part of Old Town's allure.