Open for lunch Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., dinner Monday through Saturday 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. AE, CB, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Valet parking for dinner. Appetizers, $5 to $7; pastas $9 to $10; Main courses, $10 to $19.
I owe a lot to Aldo's, having fallen in love under its grape arbor back in the '50's when it was one of the few pizzerias in this city.
But on my last visit to the revived Aldo's of the '80's, it cashed in its chips.
It looks promising, this new Italian restaurant on two floors, its dining rooms so small that just the staff can make them seem full. The main dining room, on the first floor, is pale and silvery. The decorations are dramatic: electric torches, pewter-colored candlesticks so tall that together with their white tapers they tower over your head. Flowers tower at a similar height. And the walls are lined with gilt-framed paintings. Grand it is -- in fact, grandiose.
Temptation directs you to the pastas. But they cost $9 to $10, and the staff refuse to serve half-portions. Instead they offer to split one for two as an appetizer, as if they are making a great concession to do so. Even so, I could not resist risotto.
"Try not to order ristotto," begged the waiter when I gave him my order. Why? Because they aren't pleased with the results yet, as the chef is French.
French? No wonder he can't make a proper spiedino, but merely turns out a thick box of bread fried on the surface but dry inside, being just several inches of plain bread with a core of mozzarella. No wonder he makes the saltimbocca -- meant to be veal sauteed with prosciutto and fresh sage -- with rosemary and tomato sauce.
"Who gets the valdostana?" called out the waiter as he distributed the $13 veal dishes. Nobody. We ordered saltimbocca. "Oh yes, saltimbocca," he said as he plucked it down. It fit neither description. And after tasting it, we figured we probably should have tried the valdostana. But then, even the piccata al limone was dry, gray and excessively pounded.
Don't get the idea that this French chef doesn't know anything. One day a rockfish normande was glorious, stuffed with crabmeat and topped with a nutty, buttery mushroom cream sauce and a sliced quenelle. He makes a delicious, if unorthodox, zuppa inglese with a delicate, eggy custard and sometimes chestnuts in the cake.
But he has a lot to learn about Italian cooking. His agnolotti "with spinach and meat" are stuffed with cheese instead, a dry dab of filling in thick, tough pasta squares with a watery pesto the color of creme de menthe. His house special fettucine were thick noodles in a sauce that tasted like canned mushroom soup with chicken, ham and tomatoes. His scampi would have been fine, except they were overwhelmed by raw garlic. And crab imperial almost made the grade, though it had too much shell and not enough crab.
The frustration of paying $10 to $19 for main courses and getting canned peas as a vegetable overides the agreeable features: nice rolls, decently crisp puff pastry for a tart, careful attention to serving wine (a lovely fresh orvieto for $11 and very pleasant soave as a house wine). With the same prices at lunch, Aldo's invites even more than frustration. But at lunch, at least one doesn't wait over an hour for the appetizer, as we did for one dinner. Even at lunch, though, service was a problem: sometimes troupes of waiters and busboys were cruising the room like store detectives, at other times we couldn't find a staff member in the room.
Not even the espresso lived up to its promise. It looked appropriately dark and strong, but tasted thin and bitter.
The new Aldo's is, unlike the old one, full of glamorous touches. They are but the trappings for false starts and disappointments. At Aldo's the romance has ended.