When an Italian restaurant decides to call itself "Aldente," it's probably not unreasonable to expect its pasta to be served, well, al dente.
But the tagliatelle (180 CZK) I ordered at the Aldente trattoria in Old Town one evening had definitely been in the pot for too long. The zucchini in the accompanying sauce were even mushier, their pulp greyish from overcooking. The saffron promised on the menu was indiscernable, and a few chunks of bacon fat didn't do much to help the dish's general blandness.
Another trip showed the tagliatelle in much better form, cooked perfectly al dente, smothered in a juicy fresh tomato sauce and sprinkled with salted ricotta cheese (180 CZK).
Owned and run by Italian expatriates, this is a cosy, pleasantly kitschy neighborhood joint. The larger half of the restaurant, Aldente, serves pasta and meat dishes; its adjoining side, Alforno, does pizza. Both are warm and well-lit, the yellow walls and red and white checked tablecloths creating a homey Italian atmosphere.
But it doesn't take many visits to figure out that Aldente, for all its singsong service and cutesy charm, is frustratingly inconsistent. Pizza could be ordered in the Aldente side one week, but not the next. A plate of lamb chops (380 CZK) was tender and tasty on first try, but fatty and unappetizing the second time around. Pasta dishes were made either carefully or carelessly, depending on your luck.
Then there's the fact that the lamb was accompanied only by a large lettuce leaf and some sliced raw tomatoes on the first visit; the next tasting saw the addition of a few extremely greasy slices of potato. There's nothing wrong with uncomplicated food, but this just feels lazy.
And that's really too bad, especially when some of the dishes here are truly impressive. The fried zucchini flowers (180 CZK) were doughy, crisp, and mildly sweet, and the desserts (120 CZK apiece), including an espresso-drenched tiramisú and a fragrant amaretto cake, are simple and delicious.
The pizzas are good, too: I sampled a vegetarian version (130 CZK) that came laden with chopped zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers, and mozzarella. Its thin crust was nice and crisp, though I missed the earthy flavor characteristic to pizzas made in a wood-fired oven (Alforno doesn't have one).
So are these Italian conjoined-twin restaurants worth visiting? I'm not sure. The atmosphere, particularly in the Aldente half, is great. The service seems very decent -- until you take a closer look at your bill. Dishes and drinks aren't specifically itemized, so it can be hard to tell whether or not they've tacked anything extra on to your order.
On two of my visits, I had a mysterious charge on the receipt, labeled "ostatní" ("other"), that couldn't be accounted for. Together, they added up to 250 CZK. I've heard other diners make similar complaints, so I feel pretty safe in assuming that overcharging is done systematically at Aldente (they also charge a couvert of 45 CZK per person, so that free glass of prosecco they give you at the beginning isn't so free after all).
How stupid of them. I was just about to recommend that you risk the chance of overcooked pasta and bad cuts of lamb for the sake of the authentic Italian atmosphere. But if authentic Italian means cheating the customer, I don't want to have anything to do with Aldente.
And neither should you.
Aldente Trattoria Italiana / Alforno Pizzeria
Prague 1 - Old Town
Tel: 222 313 185
images: aldentetrattoria.cz, praguespoon.com