My wife and I went to dinner at Alba tonight for the first time as an early Valentine's. It's in a nice little part of Hillsdale (but be careful crossing the street), a little row of restaurants in an otherwise sparse neighborhood just south of where Bertha and the Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy meet.
The interior is split into three rooms. The largest dining room, painted in Martha Stewart colors, white trim on a pale green wall. It has a tile floor and sort of random art. The middle room seems a little cozier, with warmer colors. The last room is a bar, I think. We sat in the first room.
It's a bit cold and noisy and the chairs are uncomfortable. A cafe feel. But the service and food both surpass the room.
The menu contains a good variety of interesting dishes: tuna stuffed sweet pepper rotolos; mizuna with sauteed duck liver, poached egg, pancetta, and balsamic vinaigrette; housemade cotechino sausage with lentils; tajarin with lamb ragu; pan roasted sweetbreads with a mustard sauce and a ficassea of vegetables; etc. We ordered a mountain of dishes.
For antipasti, my wife got the Dungeness crab crostone ($11) and I got the pork and oxtail terrine ($8). The crab was served on top of a nicely crisped thick piece of baguette-sized bread sliced on the bias. The quality of the crab was excellent and mixed with capers, greens, and a light dressing. The pate was served with greens, mustard, and housemade pickled green tomatoes. It was rich and tasty, but the pickled tomatoes made it special and cut nicely through the richness.
My wife ordered a primi, the agnolotti verde, spinach pasta filled with fontina ($13), while I ordered the formaggi ($8). The pasta were very good, small little pockets of green noodles filled with the creamy salty cheese. They were topped a harder aged cheese, such as pecorino or parmiggiano. Simple, but my wife loved it. The formaggi came with three small portions of cheese, maybe an ounce of each: a blue, a pungent triple-cream, and a harder cheese accented with truffle oil. They were served with some sort of chutney. All were enjoyable.
For our secondi, my wife ordered the duck with balsamic-honey sauce ($22) and I ordered the porchetta stuffed with fennel sausage ($19). Both came with roasted vegetables, potatoes and turnips (I believe). Simple, but nicely done. The turnips were soft, but the potatoes were crispy. My wife's duck came with a leg-thigh piece with crispy skin and a breast sliced into several pieces. The duck was very tender and perfectly cooked. The skin was nicely seasoned. The sauce, while potentially too sweet and sour, wasn't. It was actually quite meaty. The porchetta, in this case only the loin stuffed with sausage, was also nicely seasoned and slightly crusty on the edge. It came as two relatively large medallions. They were perhaps a little overcooked. I prefer pork to have a little pink, especially pork loin, with how lean it is. I don't know how that would have affected the sausage stuffing, however.
We actually had them pack up a sizable portion of our previous courses so that we could get dessert. My wife ordered the polenta cake with an almond zabaglione and I ordered the gelato (each $6). The polenta cake was moist and slightly sweet, grainy and somehow light, like good cornbread. The eggy sauce tasted nicely of, most likely, amaretto. Almond shavings were scattered around the plate along with a dash of powdered sugar. Again, rather simple but quite tasty. I ordered all three flavors of gelato: cinnamon, orange, and caramel. All three had excellent flavors, though all three were quite distinct. The texture was a little icy/grainy, but given the flavors it was easy to overlook. The gelato was served with a nice piece of biscotti.
I'd say portions are sometimes a bit small for the price, especially considering the simple and somewhat skimpy side dishes for entrees. But the quality executions live up to the interesting menu, which is a flaw in many of Portland's Italian restaurants.
Service was attentive, even if a little hurried at times. But they seemed knowledgable, pleasant, and on top of drinks and clearing plates.
A very good meal overall. I wish they'd improve the comfort of the dining room a little more to live up to the rest of the meal, however. But I'd definitely go back.