Al Dente - New Menu Creations Get Rave Reviews
Restaurant Review by Ken Stewart, The Guam Food Guy
Al Dente Italian Ristorante
Hyatt Regency Guam
A refreshingly new menu launched this week at Al Dente Italian Ristorante. It is a well conceived and cleverly executed result of fine-tuning, experimenting, and pushing the envelope to achieve a masterful rendering, in short a fantastic menu! Al Dente Chef de Cuisine Jo Ong is credited with the development of this new menu and she really took it to heart when it came to envisioning each and every antipasti, pasta dish, main course, and dessert. It was a very determined effort to match imagination with experience. I call it the rejuvenation menu, as I could swear that I felt healthier and better after eating the dishes we selected for our first dining experience. We even discovered that what's so fascinating and enticing about this new menu is that the dishes we didn't select were as intriguing and appealing as those we did! This certainly will be a compelling reason to return for more.
To start, we ordered two cold antipasti salads, one with Smoked Duck Breast, Apple Crisp, Candied Walnut, Spinach & Raspberry Vinaigrette ($18); and the other of Alaskan King Crab Leg, with island-grown Lettuce, Fennel, and Burnt Orange Citronette ($18).
The duck was exquisite! You have to imagine light, as in refined, layered, and sensational. Fresh spinach leaves and razor-sliced smoked duck in a playful pile competing with thin apple crisps and sweet crunchy walnuts, all lightly drizzled by the fruity tartness of the raspberry vinaigrette. It is certainly designed to please and refresh the palate!
The King Crab salad boasts the vitality of locally grown hydroponic lettuce (called living lettuce) and a truly inspired citrus gamble with its grilled (burned) orange which is a taste totally new to me, or is it? After all, there's something similar with duck a l'orange, n'est-pas? But we're talking Italian here, and yes, the freshness of this salad was what impressed me.
We each had a glass of Mondavi's Private Selection Chardonnay, which lasted the night, pairing well with our selections. I may have opted for a red with my pasta, but it was a writing night so I refrained. We couldn't have had better service than that which was delivered by Marlene, a veteran server whose personality models hospitality. She was helpful in describing our selections well informed by staff menu tasting they had done earlier in the day.
We by-passed the hot antipasti selections, among which was a Black Lip Mussels, Chili, White Wine, Garlic and Bruschetta dish as well as a Grilled Octopus, Cannellini Beans, Caperberries, Cucumber, Olives and Red Wine Vinaigrette! We didn't even try one of their six pizzas, which included Tony's (cherry tomato roasted garlic, kalamata olive, white anchovy, and spices) or the Funghi Portabella mushroom, goat cheese, arugula, truffle oil, and balsamico). There's always a next time!
What I did order from the Pasta menu was a Rigatoni with Italian Sausage, Fennel, Chili, Cherry Tomatoes, and Sage ($26). This was excellent, with al dente rigatoni tubes layered and covered with a rich seasoned marinara and translucent parmesan shavings. The fresh basil on top was actually grown in Jo's garden. She definitely has a green thumb! I delighted in the sweet basil sensation enticing my palate. This dish would make anyone's day! It wasn't until later that I saw a few other pasta dishes that I considered worthy, like the Spaghetti Pepperoncino with garlic, espelette pepper (the fiery Piment d' Espelette) and extra virgin olive oil or the Linguini with clams and pancetta!
Zee went for a main course, choosing Confit Salmon with Pancetta, Lentils, Spinach, and Horseradish Sauce ($28). Oh, what a glorious creation was this! The salmon was lightly poached in olive oil rendering it light, moist, and delicately flaky. Slow cooking it this way releases and maintains natural flavors and juices from this succulent fish. It was topped by a sprig of fresh dill and placed over a pile of lentils and these were no ordinary lentils! These were divinely flavored by the pancetta and when blended with the spinach and horseradish sauce, became a healthy, intoxicatingly delicious addiction. I don't think I've had better tasting lentils!
We were only able to try one of the dessert selections which we shared. It was a dream confection on a plate - truly looking as if someone had grabbed a handful of clouds sculpted it into a swirling meringue decorated with strawberries and painted with passion fruit. That's actually a poetic description of the menu's name, which is Strawberry Meringue, Passion Fruit Sauce ($8). This is a light dessert with amazing concentrations of flavor that you need to balance by blending. The perfect bite should have some meringue and strawberry and passion fruit. It wasn't until a little later we discovered there was whipped cream just underneath the mint leaves. This confection is akin to New Zealand's national dessert, Pavlova. The more layered your fork is with strawberry, passion fruit, meringue, whipped cream, and the ultimate ingredient, mint leaf, the closer you come to dessert Nirvana!
[Photo: Al Dente cook Bruce, Exec. Chef Budde & Al Dente chef Ong]
Kudos to Chef Jo Ong and her kitchen team along with Al Dente Manager Red Matienzo for an outstanding culinary performance. We also pay tribute to the inspired leadership of Executive Chef Josef Budde, whose encouragement and support have been instrumental to Hyatt's stellar achievements. As for me, the next visit will have to be soon!
And, the next visit was very soon! We were able to return the following week for a media launch which was actually more fun since we knew our colleagues from the press, radio, and magazine publications. A limited but substantial menu was provided for everyone to sample. I focused on those things I'd craved before but couldn't try at the time. While the Smoked Duck breast salad drew raves (as well it should have - we loved it before!), it was the Cappuccino of mushroom soup with white truffle oil ($11) that got a standing ovation from everyone's palate! It was truly one of the most concentrated pleasures I can recall consuming. A splendid and noble creation, blessed by truffle oil.
The Hot Appetizer was Black lip mussels, chili, white wine and garlic bruschetta ($14). These were also a great choice that mostly all like with a rich broth that had a bit of a spicy kick.
I was thrilled to have as the main entree the Lamb rack, pancetta, fava beans and mint pesto ($36). This is one of those exquisite experiences and if you like lamb you'll love this. Everything works well with this dish as it balances nutrition, taste, texture and portion size. I recall using my fingers to hold the ribs as I would bite off big chunks of tender, succulent lamb - well-seasoned and infused with natural flavors. The fava beans add an enhanced value to the beans as many murmured the name "Hannibal Lecter" when they tried them, some even imitating the ecstatic tongue and teeth sound so well portrayed by Anthony Hopkins, seeking to finish them with a "bit of Chianti!"
I wonder what kind of sound he would have made if he'd tried the Hot Chocolate soup, vanilla cracked pepper gelato($8)? Served on a long narrow dish with the gelato on opposite ends of the chocolate. We were joined at our table by our own "Hannah" (as in Hannah Cho Iriarte) and her hubby, J.D.(owners of Zen Ultra Lounge) and we discovered a new level of appreciation of the hot, molten, deeply Ğrich chocolate that was sooooo good that it gave us goose bumps to eat it. Yes, once again Al Dente has contrived a passionate feast of the senses; the media will be abuzz for weeks.