Alimentari Cucina e Bar, at the corner of Chestnut and Eighth streets, opened its doors in December alongside the new Westin luxury hotel. The Italian kitchen is one of several high-end dining options in that growing nighborhood. My husband and I decided it was the perfect place for dinner before a show at the Tivoli Theatre just a block away.
The restaurant is on the small side, but its corner location with full-size windows on both walls makes it airy and bright. Lovely wood — from an entire wall tastefully hung with fine art from Gallery 1401 to the mid-century tables and chairs — is the perfect counterpoint to the white tile wall behind the bar. It's simple, but the combination of light and dark is elegant.
The restaurant overlooks a nice patio situated on Eighth Street, the pedestrian hub of an area now dubbed West Village. The street is closed to cars for outdoor events on most Friday and Saturday nights, making Alimentari a lovely spot for al fresco dining.
For lunch, the restaurant offers appetizers, salads, paninis and pizzas in the $8-$13 range, pastas from $12-$17 and entrees from $17 and up. We dined on a Saturday evening, so we experienced the dinner menu.
If you go
› Where: Alimentari Cucina e Bar, 801 Chestnut St.
› Hours: 11 a.m.-:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays
› Prices: Lunch - panini and pizzas, $8-$13, and entrees, $12-$26; Dinner - salads and pizza, $10-$13, pasta and entrees, $12-$32
› Phone: 423-498-3190
Appetizers are heavy on seafood, with steamed mussels, sauteed calamari and tuna carpaccio. We saw several Misto Boards on their way to other tables, and the assortment of meats, cheeses, olives and fruit was beautiful and and plentiful.
Pizzas range from simple (house-made mozzarella with basil and tomato) to complex (the Dolce, with gorgonzola, provolone, pear, walnut and honey). Salads can be made small or large ($6/$10) with the option of protein add-ons suitable for a main course.
The pasta at Alimentari is all house-made and the options are tantalizing — linguine with spinach pasta and roasted vegetables ($12); squid ink linguine and gulf shrimp with cream sauce ($17); gnocci with pesto ($13); or Pappardelle Ragu with angus beef ($16) to list a few.
Entrees cover all the bases; everything from roast chicken ($19) to seared ahi tuna with saffron risotto ($32) and Osso Bucco ($25).
The wine list was extensive, but we chose from a long menu of creative cocktails. Our Lemon-Basil Sidecar (a raspberry-basil-infused vodka creation with lemoncello) and Aperol Spritz were beautiful, fruity and refreshing. We enjoyed them so much, we opted to try two more drinks halfway through our meal. The Red Bottom (Plymouth gin, St. Germain and Prosecco with a decadent black cherry waiting at the end) was my favorite for the night.
Calamari and tuna dishes were unavailable that evening, so we selected a crab dip special for our appetizer ($15). The huge serving of creamy dip, which must have had at least a half pound of claw meat tucked inside, was studded with homemade lavash crackers, with rich herbs and oil baked in. It was dressed with curls of jicama, carrot and baby herbs, but the crab itself was still the star. Don't hesitate to choose this if it's avalaible the night you dine.
For entrees, I chose the salmon special ($25) and my husband went with the Spaghetti Arrabiata ($13). My melt-in-your-mouth salmon, cooked impeccably with crispy edges, was served atop a bed of sun-dried tomato egg noodles and crisp broccoli on a base of creamy sun-dried tomato sauce.
Because the sauce was on the bottom, you really had a chance to appreciate the flavor of the noodles, which were tossed with a little oil and Parmesan. The slightly sweet sauce accentuated the elements of the dish instead of overpowering them.
My husband's spaghetti was equally delicious. The bright tomato sauce had a smoky, warm heat, but the flavor and texture of the homemade noodles shone through. The strips of Italian sausage were stellar, as well, and I wouldn't be surprised to learn it was housemade. This was the kind of pasta that even though it was noticeably spicy, I wanted to chew slowly to savor the decadence of each bite. It makes me want to go back and order the carbonara next time, just to try more variations with those noodles.
For dessert ($8 each) we ordered a blueberry panna cotta with toasted walnuts and cream and the Amarena Cherry Torte, a flourless chocolate cake drizzled in chocolate glaze with cream.
The panna cotta was delicious, a jiggly tower with creamy bites that paired perfectly with the nuts. But the torte was a letdown, which was especially disappointing as it was quite possibly the prettiest dessert I've ever been served. The glaze had a deep, dark chocolate flavor, but the cake underneath was crumbly and dry and lacked richness. Maybe on its own it wouldn't have seemed so off to me, but it just paled in comparison to the glaze.
The cake was served with a pile of dark, gooey cherries. A bite of those with cream and a spoon of glaze was wonderful. Our server asked about our dessert, and we mentioned the cake was a little dry. A couple of minutes later, the chef was at our table asking our opinions. He reminded me the cake was flourless, but flourless cakes I've had before all had a fudgy decadence in common that was not present here.
From the moment we walked in the door, the service was attentive but unobtrusive. The manager greeted us and immediately escorted us to our table, for which we had made a reservation several days prior. Our server arrived promptly and answered questions about cocktails and details of dishes with expertise. Best of all, she was clearly attuned to our desire for a leisurely meal and timed our food well.
One small issue with one small element of our dessert isn't even close enough of a reason to alter my opinion of Alimentari. We had a stellar meal and a wonderful dining experience.
Our choice of cocktails and more than one seafood dish played a huge part in this qualifying as a special-occasion night for us, but it's certainly possible to get out of there with an entirely reasonable check for a nice evening out. Either way, this place is worth it.
Contact Sara Jackson at 423-757-6594 or email@example.com.