Al Dente Ristorante - Inspired New Chef Masters and Enlivens Italian Classics
Restaurant Review by Ken Stewart, The Guam Food Guy
If it's true that absence makes the heart grow fonder, then it may follow that the same applies to an appetite, and in this case, the craving for a particular cuisine - Italian, to be precise! We are pleased to report that our appetites and cravings for Italian were recently overwhelmed by the masterful creations served by Al Dente's new Chef De Cuisine, Mirko Agostini, who has arrived on Guam from the Hyatt Hotel Canberra where he was the Sous Chef. Mirko hails from Milan, Italy and previously worked in London's Hyatt Carlton Tower where he began as a Chef de Partie. Mirko has found a new home in Guam and has fashioned a phenomenal menu of Italian classics that have already received "two thumbs up approval" from local foodies.
There are no easy choices when approaching Al Dente's formidable dinner menu. You have to navigate through 8 hot and cold appetizers, 3 soups, 8 pasta dishes, 7 pizzas and 9 Meat & Seafood Entrees - no easy task especially when all of them are screaming "try me" with voluptuous, seductive descriptions (and who said only the French were romantics?). Since we knew we could always return for the others, we settled on the Antipasto Misto ($18.50 with Italian meats, cheese, and seafood with sweet & sour bell peppers); two soups, Minestrone alla lombarda con riso ($8) a vegetable soup "lombardia style" with rice and Zuppa di pesce e frutti di mare con crostone all' aglio ($10.50) a fish & seafood soup with garlic croutons; a pasta dish, Linguine all'amatriciana ($18.50) linguine pasta with pancetta, red onion, garlic, fresh tomato and parmesan cheese; and two entrees, the Polletto ripieno ai funghi avvolto nella pancetta con contorno di patatine e spinaci in salsa di morelle ($24.50) chicken with roast mushroom stuffing wrapped in Pancetta topped with crispy potatoes and accompanied by spinach with morel sauce; and, finally,the Salmone avvolto nel prosciutto crudo di Parma su un letto di fagiolini e peperoni con salsa al limone verde ($27.50) Parma ham wrapped salmon on a bed of green beans and bell peppers with lime sauce.
Those familiar with Al Dente's dinner ritual look forward to a nice starter plate of hot pizza dough slices topped by a little cheese and accompanied by a flavorful aioli dipping sauce. They also offer a special homemade foccacia bread that has a blended sour cream and local eggplant dip that's marvelous. Our attentive server, Sam, got us started on a surprisingly good Australian Merlot (Deakin Estate 2002), which actually went well with everything.
The Antipasto misto is a sensational presentation of marinated vegetables, cured meats and seafood (the prawn and scallop were splendid) along with fresh herbs (rosemary, basil, and ruccola) in small portions that were understandably just starters to ignite the appetite. It was the fish seafood soup that I have consistently ordered here that never fails to satisfy. Chef Mirko's version was simple and direct, yet had a peppery essence that perked up the soup stock. It has a generous portion of clams, mussels, shrimp, and calamari. There are also carrots and mushrooms in the blend that go along nicely. The large, hard crusted garlic crouton lay across the top of the seafood mound like a beached raft. It retains its crispness throughout the duration.
The Minestrone was of a style I've not had before, and was laden with crisp fresh vegetables (carrots, tomato, green peppers, rice and lots of white beans). It came dusted with parmesan, and had a compelling homemade earthiness.
The Linguini all' amatriciana was superb, and is a total meal in itself. The pancetta really brings a distinct smokiness and texture that complements all the other elements. The red tomatoes are sweet and have a vitality that comes with freshness, and the linguine is cooked (just like the restaurant's namesake) "al dente" or "just done". It's a plateful of lively, garlicky flavors, with each twirling spooned forkful delivering mesmerizing tastes.
The Polletto's (chicken) presentation was a towering monument serving as a tribute to the marriage of pork and chicken. It is an imaginative creation that surprises with each bite. Pancetta plays a different role in this combination, as it seals in the chicken juices and imparts a smoked saltiness to the stuffed chicken. The fresh spinach in the morel sauce was something I could eat alone it was that savory. The stringed potatoes were deep fried golden brown and were more than we could eat. They provided a palatable contrast to the meat, mushroom and spinach combination.
My personal favorite (and that of many others) was the Parma ham wrapped salmon. Chef Mirko and his competent team (as maestro he leads an orchestra of talented performers) have made a culinary masterpiece. The flavors of this awesome combination where the Parma ham somehow transforms the salmon is one of the best salmon dishes I can ever recall having. It is succulent, (although cooked, it still seems alive!) and laid atop a bed of crisp red and green bell peppers, then drizzled with an appealing lime sauce.
Other items on the menu include a classic osso buco, grilled jumbo prawns with roast garlic crust served over a squid ink risotto, a fillet of sea bass, grilled beef tenderloin, rack of lamb, and a whole live Atlantic lobster with gremolata crust, fennel, basil, and tomato butter sauce. There are some great-sounding pastas, such as the Veal Ravioli, the fettuccine with clams, mussels and saffron sauce, or the Rigatoni pasta with lobsters, roast tomatoes and capers! As I said earlier, there's more than a few good reasons to return!
Al Dente's dinner hours are from 6pm - 10pm daily, with lunch service (they have the island's best antipasto buffet) from 11:30am - 2pm Monday through Friday. Reservations are recommended. Come to Al Dente and enjoy the excellent Italian creations of Chef Mirko Agostini - you'll be glad you did!