Restaurant Review – Al Dente – Moorestown, NJ

I should’ve known I’d have issues with this place when I arrived. The menu listed the names of all the dishes in a language I didn’t understand. I discovered this after spending a good ten minutes figuring out how to unfold the menu. To be fair, a detailed explanation of the different dishes did appear in English, but still: I would’ve liked to see the list of options written with clarity.

Spaghetti happened to be one of the few names I recognized. (The official name was Spaghetti ai Carbonara.) As this was my first visit to Al Dente, I thought I’d try a traditional Italian standard. I ordered it with both sausage and meatballs. This meal sadly disappointed me. The menu described it as, “Made with pancetta, egg, parmigiano Reggiano, shallot, fresh basil and cracked three pepper served with spaghetti.” Perhaps, the words three pepper should’ve clued me in as to what I’d get. Let me be clear: I like Italian food and I enjoy condiments with a bit of a “kick” to them. I’ve often added peppers to spaghetti to spice it up, but this dish was so hot I couldn’t finish it. I don’t think I’ve ever had spaghetti either at home or while dining out and left some on the plate.  I’ve tried jalapenos and Thai peppers to name a few, but I’ve never sampled anything so searing.

The meal came with a choice of either soup or salad. While I normally choose the latter, I decided to try something different. I requested the Tuscan Bean Soup with Spicy Sausage. The sausage made Indian food taste as spicy as ice water. Unfortunately, it served as a harbinger of more to come.  I found the sausage uncomfortably hot. At one point I wondered if my teeth would melt. One of the gentlemen I dined with mentioned that bean soup usually has a thicker broth. I concurred. The soup was very light. I think a thicker one may have helped to ameliorate some of the temperature from the sausage.

Before the meal the servers brought bread and olive oil to the table. One of the diners in my group observed that the olive oil lacked flavor. Here’s where I turn into the Jebidiah Atkinson of WordPress. This diner showed much more tact than I can muster. I thought the olive oil as tasteless as the décor. Why use wine racks as a decoration at an establishment that doesn’t serve alcohol? It seemed very odd to me.

In the interest of balance, the other members of my group provided mostly positive feedback. The gnocchi, which I sampled as well, did have a tasty flavor to it. The appetizer portion could’ve been enough for an entire meal. Other diners raved over the freshness of the fish. One found the veal outstanding. He also expressed great satisfaction over the portion, as well.

I spoke to a woman who also ordered the spaghetti. She requested they not use too much sauce. She said her overall meal tasted okay, but the sausage still tasted very hot.

I found the service outstanding. The chef personally delivered one of my party’s dinners. This exceptional display of customer service impressed me. He apologized for taking so long to prepare the meal. I thought that very classy.

A lot of people think very highly of Al Dente. They would argue the dining experience contingent on what one orders. I have to respectfully disagree. I’m at a loss for words to describe an Italian restaurant that can’t prepare spaghetti properly. For that reason alone, I’m reluctant to recommend it.