Based on comments from chowhounders on this board, I decided to make my way to Al & Stella Italian Café this past weekend. If you haven’t dined here yet, it’s worth making a detour if you’re in the “greater” Clearwater Beach area. This is a seemingly modest place that really hits the mark with their food, service, and atmosphere. Really nice people serving fine food in a warm space. Although I made reservations, on this particular Sunday night, there were only two other tables in use around 7 PM.
There was an appealing list of specials, and I ordered my main course from there, while my dining partner stayed with the menu. We also chose our shared starter course from the menu.
For an appetizer, we split a dinner order of the gnocchi gorgonzola (home-made potato dumplings simmered in a 4 cheese sauce of provolone, mozzarella, parmigiano, and gorgonzola). This was rich and creamy and delicious. Slivers of garlic floated in the cheese sauce and were bursts of flavor that paired perfectly with the gnocchi and cheese. This is certainly not a low fat dish by any means, and we reveled in its deep, warm comfort.
My dining partner chose the portabella ravioli with shrimp. (Come to think of it, the prior night at Café Ponte, she chose the butternut squash ravioli! Must have been a special theme for the weekend.) This came in a creamy red sauce. A lesser person might not have finished this generous portion, but the flavors were just too compelling, and except for the one ravioli that I ate, she pretty much cleared her plate.
I went with the grilled salmon which was accompanied with vegetable medley over fettuccine. The fish and veggies were good, but that fettuccine was out of this world. Interestingly, it was a bit of an after-thought, as the specials list offered linguini and angel hair pasta with the salmon. I opted for the latter when I placed my order, but then our server came back a few minutes later (probably after talking with Stella in the kitchen) and offered fettuccine too. I switched and was so pleased. I really liked the size of the salmon which was not one of those gigantic slabs of fish. The plate was very well balanced in taste and portion.
Neither of us is a big dessert person, but there’s no way I was going to pass up an order of home-made gelato. The enticing selection of gelati is displayed up-front next to the door, and I wonder if anyone can’t resist starting their meal with some. We chose and split the pistachio; a great ending to our meal.
Each dinner came with a small house salad of romaine lettuce, which was probably the weakest link of the meal. Next time, I’d take another look at the salads on the menu and might substitute with one of them. Together we had a total of 5 glasses of wine, and the bill came to $98 (with tax, but not tip).
Al & Stella Italian Cafe
483 Mandalay Ave, Clearwater, FL 33767
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