This review of Al Dente is more than a month old now, but I haven't yet gotten past the insulting and outlandishly inaccurate description of a unique neighborhood restaurant. Reading this review, I genuinely wondered whether Tamarkin had ever even been to Al Dente.
In the second paragraph, he writes that "...the neighborhood has already embraced it: People descend in big groups..." I walk by Al Dente nearly every day, often at prime dinner time and at least 3 times on a Friday night. The unfortunate truth is that there is almost never anyone in the place excepting the chef and a couple of staff members who look longingly for a customer to cross through the door. Perhaps by pretending that Al Dente is the latest trendy hot spot, Tamarkin seeks to make the pretentious case that his trained palate knows better than his hoards of imaginary Irving Park simpletons "congregating over Perez’s ... solid food".
Even more bizarre is the fourth paragraph, where Tamarkin makes the befuddling case that Al Dente's menu is an also-ran copycat of legions of other Italian joints. He writes that "gnocchi with boar ragù is a dish that seasoned diners have seen again and again—probably at Spiaggia, Tuttaposto or Cibo Matto. To that end, very little, if anything, is surprising on this menu." This is where I not only wonder if he actually visited the restaurant, but if he even bothered to read the online menu. The chef at Al Dente is Mexican, and his menu is a Mex-Italian fusion unlike any other I've come across. Grilled calamari are marinated in guajillo; a Romaine lettuce salad has cilantro dressing; fries are served with habanero aioli; salmon is served with Oaxaca-style adobo negro sauce. For Tamarkin to leave readers with the impression that Al Dente is just another neighborhood Italian place, and to not even mention the Mexican influence on the menu, does them a terrible disservice. For God's sake, there's queso fundido on the menu.
Did David Tamarkin's intern accidentally write down the address for Leona's instead of Al Dente?