March is a busy month for the dine-around bunch. There’s an anniversary in the first week and a birthday in the second.
It was this second celebration in honor of our Dieter that brought us all to Alta Cucina, a longtime favorite of mine because of this restaurant’s special ability to make any occasion a memorable one.
This ability is due to Alta Cucina’s chef-proprietor Moe Aliabadi, whose prowess in the kitchen produces Mediterranean cuisine of remarkable nuance and flavor. It also produces the after-the-meal sensation that, if you weren’t so full of Moe’s cooking just now, you’d like another helping of everything, please.
Moe occasionally goes off-menu and prepares some truly memorable dishes, as was the case when we rolled up for the Dieter’s birthday celebration. As the evening’s chill was driven off by the cozy fire on the restaurant’s patio, our server Jordan showed us to a snug nook in the street-side dining room. Though Alta Cucina has an excellent bar service and wine cellar, we had to leave that particular celebratory method for another visit.
While seeing to our table’s necessities, Jordan informed us of the evening’s specials and helped us with our entree choices and side orders. The Dieter was intrigued by Jordan’s enthusiasm for the off-menu Stuffed Chicken ($15) and chose it as her entrée. I ordered an old favorite of mine, the Meat Lasagna and a Caesar salad ($16). That sounded good to the Retiree, who opted for the Vegetarian Lasagna without the salad ($12).
The Carnivore, taking a suggestion of mine to heart, chose the Veal Parmigiana with a Caesar salad ($17). In a festive mood, my dining partner ordered the Shrimp Piccata ($18).
As we waited, Jordan made sure we had plenty of Moe’s fresh-baked focaccia bread and saucers of delicately flavored herbed olive oil to dip it in. The salad course was excellent; a Caesar salad of ice-cold, crunchy-fresh romaine lettuce in a garlic-rubbed bowl topped with freshly prepared Caesar dressing and thin shavings of aged Parmesan cheese. A look down the table got a smile and a nod from the Carnivore, busily demolishing his own Caesar salad.
The kitchen’s timing was impeccable as always, with the salad course finishing just as the entrees arrived. My Meat Lasagna dish was as I remembered it; a half-brick sized stack of pasta, Italian ham, pepperoni and spiced ground beef layered with mushrooms, onions and mozzarella cheese. A thick coating of Moe’s signature creamy marinara sauce frosted the stack, with more sauce in a puddle on the plate.
The Dieter’s Stuffed Chicken entrée was so melt-in-your-mouth tender I had to beg a second forkful just to make certain I got every last bit of flavor. The Carnivore spared me a slice of his veal, though what I got was more breading and sauce than actual veal. An inquiring look from me got a shrug in return as another, much larger slice of veal was making its way past a contented smile. Oh well.
The Retiree’s Vegetarian Lasagna was also disappearing one slow bite at a time, a stray bit of the marinara adding character to another smile of approval. My dining partner was very pleased with her Shrimp Piccata. Moe did not scrimp on the shrimp, which were plentiful, or the piccata, laced through a quantity of angel hair pasta and garnished with sliced lemon rosettes. If ever you need a dish to chase the winter blahs away, Moe’s Shrimp Piccata should do the trick.
We finished our meal with a slice of Alta Cucina’s incomparable tiramisu, garnished with a birthday candle and five forks. After blowing out her candle, the Dieter barely got a single celebratory taste before the rest of the bunch selflessly “saved her diet” for her. As our celebration was winding down, my dining partner set the capstone on our evening’s festivities.
“There’s only one word that can describe our meal this evening. That word is ‘Yum.’ ”
1200 N. Roan St.
Sun-Thu 11 a.m-9:30 p.m.
Fri-Sat 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Credit cards accepted