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January 2010

Al di La
WRITTEN BY: Patricia Agnew
PHOTOGRAPHS BY: Christopher Shane

In the gray of winter, West Ashley’s Al di La glows with the promise of authentic Northern Italian cuisine and wine varietals sure to bring you warmth and comfort in the New Year. Located in the rapidly transforming Ashley River Bridge District, this deco-rustic trattoria is simple, steady, and humming with locals regardless of season. Entrepreneur John Marshall first opened the doors in 2002, and when he decided to seek new horizons in 2007, former employee and current owner Mark Kohn seized the opportunity to honor the vision, traditions, and culture that had established Al di La as a neighborhood favorite. As the Avondale community moves at a fast pace nearby, guests can ponder the Italian wisdom of the day written on the blackboard that features food and wine specials. Candlelit meloni-colored walls pair with black accents, photos celebrating food and life, and a welcoming tile bar to create a comfortable atmosphere that often moves from quiet to packed in a matter of moments. Thanks to the hospitable staff, the transition is seamless and unobtrusive. Dinner at Al di La is a celebration of Italian favorites that are prepared simply by chefs Andrew Kadish and Adam Kline, but are luxuriously rich in flavor thanks to classic fresh ingredients, expert seasoning, and the much-celebrated Italian heroes of prosciutto, pancetta, Parmigiano Reggiano, and tender pastas made fresh daily. All meals begin with good olive oil, endless supplies of thinly sliced rosemary and sage focaccia, and if you like, a glass or quartino from the exclusively Italian list that offers wine flights from several regions. We shared a nicely priced bottle of Donna Laura sangiovese on a chilly evening and found it a worthy partner for the feast that followed. Recent dinners included antipasti of lusty prosciutto-wrapped figs stuffed with Gorgonzola; warm, elegant portabella caps and housemade mozzarella with thyme oil; and classic toasted bruschetta topped with balsamic-marinated tomatoes and fresh basil. Alici, marinated white anchovies served with roasted red peppers and baby greens, were bursting with flavor that could convert even the most anchovy-resistant diner. The shepherd’s salad had main-course appeal thanks to a generous serving of greens, nutty “drunken” ubriaco cheese, Genoa salami, sopressata, grapes, and walnuts, all topped with an unusual citrus vinaigrette. A seasonal treat, a dish of tagliatelle tossed with slivers of fresh black truffle, chunky pancetta, arugula, butter, and olive oil disappeared in a matter of seconds—amore! Primi courses of butternut squash ravioli, pine nuts, brown butter, and sage and tender, flavorful risotto with ample bits of baby asparagus, parmesan, and plump, succulent seared sea scallops were bursting with flavor. From the main-course options, we selected the fish of the day, lane snapper, a delicate filet finished with piquant sauce flavored with radicchio, arugula, prosciutto, and capers. A lovely julienned nest of lemon-scented zucchini was a refreshing accompaniment along with braised grape tomatoes, green beans, and rosemary white-truffle mashed potatoes. Pan-roasted duck breast in an apple-cider reduction was a winter feast, also paired with local zucchini and squash along with roasted root vegetables. Desserts included tiramisu with mascarpone made in-house, black-cherry semifreddo, and chocolate torta, which all sounded delicious. Although perhaps too much of a good thing after the sumptuous meal we’d just enjoyed, we did share the marvelously light, modestly sweet tiramisu, pronouncing it our favorite version in memory. Cappuccinos and espressos jolted us out of our food-induced haze. We enjoyed the entire well-crafted meal at a leisurely pace thanks to our gifted server, whose timing, sense of humor, and pride in the product were impressive. We ended our evening with a peek inside the bacaro (bar) connected to the main restaurant, a great option for lighter bites from pizzettes (small wood-fired pizzas) to prosecco. Begin or end in this cozy gathering place to share formaggi and appertivi in the style of traditional Italian cantinas, where old friends and old wines make comfortable companions.

Al Di La

25 Magnolia Rd., (843) 571-2321, Tuesday-Saturday: lunch, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; dinner, 6-10 p.m. Bacaro/wine bar: 5:30 p.m. until Average entrée: $17.50


Photographs (3) by Christopher Shane