Last night four of us dined at Aliseo. I loved it, but it is a very particular kind of restaurant and may not appeal to everyone. The thing is, there's not all that much COOKING that goes on at there. The wine list is impressive and reasonable, with many bottles from the proprietor's native Marche, a little-known region of Italy that has also given rise to esperya.com and the Spinosi and Latini brands of pasta. The "regular" menu is one of the shortest I've ever seen and sticks to things that can be made in advance (soups, polenta) and on hand-crafted food items such as ham, sausage and cheese. I don't think there were any secondi on the regular menu, but the daily specials offered three.
We ordered a bottle of prosecco ($28) and then two of us started with a pureed white bean soup that was superb. The other two had the daily lenti salad, hefty portions tiny little lentils lightly dressed with arugula leaves and cherry tomatoes. The mother ship of lentils sat on the bar in a lovely ceramic casserole, waiting to be dished out.
My main was cuttlefish stewed with artichokes. Again, a big bowl of it, and delicious. This hadn't been listed on the menu, but when the waitress broke the news to my friend that they were out of the stufato of veal she volunteered the cuttlefish as an alternate. This wasn't of much use to my friend who abhors tentacles, but it made me switch my order from the squid I was planning to order. (You have to love a place that offers no red meat, but two cephalopods.) Instead he got polenta, tepid, molded by a bowl and topped by a little portobello hat. Very nice. Ditto diner number three. Fourth member of our party got a cheese plate with pears, slices of fig loaf (a sort of figgy salami), honey and pecorino di fossa, a sheeps milk cheese from Romagna that is aged in caves. This was spectacular.
I should have had the strawberries for dessert, but I went for an apricot jam crostata that was only so-so. I did enjoy a glass of brachetto, a red bubbly dessert wine.
I wish I could tell you what dinner came to, but I was treated.
The place is cozy but comfortable, lots of wood and faded wallpaper. I would like to spend a rainy afternoon there working my way through the wine and cheese lists.
Aliseo is at 665 Vanderbilt Place near Park Place in Prospect Heights. There's no sign, but it's the only place on the block that looks like it could serve pecorino aged in caves.