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“Great dining experience! Truly a diamond in the rough.”
Review of Ristorante Al Dente - CLOSED

Ristorante Al Dente
Price range: $5 - $10
Cuisines: Italian, Fusion
More restaurant details
Restaurant details
Dining options: Lunch, Delivery, Reservations
Description: Pick your pasta, pick your sauce. It's a simple concept, and one that Morocco native Karim Sellam hopes will bring more life to his Venetian-inspired restaurant in the Ix building. Introducing Al Dente Pasta Cafe, a classic Italian restaurant that's open for lunch, dinner, coffee breaks, and everything in between. Ristorante Al Dente, which Sellam originally opened on the Downtown Mall in 2003, started out as an upscale dining spot, with white linens, votives, and an extensive menu. The concept remained the same after he relocated to Ix in 2008, but after serving up elaborate, authentic Italian dishes for more than a decade, it's time for something different. "Fine dining, especially being authentic, is a challenge in a small town like Charlottesville," Sellam said. Although the restaurant had a loyal group of regulars, moving from the hustle and bustle of the Mall to the more remote location made it even more difficult to sustain the upscale model, and for years it felt like Ix might as well have been in Siberia. But now, as the 17-acre historic warehouse district is developing, attracting more retailers and an influx of local artists to the art park blooming on the property, Sellam decided it was time for something more approachable and affordable. The menu, which Sellam is in the process of transcribing onto the newly-installed black chalkboards above the bar, is about as simple as it gets: 14 pasta varieties (including a gluten-free option), 14 different sauces, plus a smattering of meat and vegetable add-ins. If spaghetti or gnocchi doesn't strike your fancy, there's also a selection of salads and panini sandwiches. A children's menu features kid-friendly pasta dishes, and freshly-brewed coffee and individually-wrapped snacks like granola bars and snack cakes are available all day. Transforming the upscale restaurant into a more casual space, with a long communal table, new light fixtures, and brightly-colored Spanish paintings on the wall was a gradual process. Al Dente is closed on Sundays and Mondays, so when he wasn't next door managing and cooking in his Moroccan restaurant Al Hamraa, Sellam was hauling furniture in and out, installing chalkboard paint, and fine-tuning the menu. Working seven days a week has always been the norm for him, Sellam said, so buckling down on his days off didn't faze him, especially since it meant Al Dente didn't have to close during the renovations. "I've always been that way," he said with a shrug. So, how did a Morocco native find himself serving up Italian food in Charlottesville? Sellam started out cooking traditional dishes from his home country, which he described as rich, complex, spice-heavy, and influenced by Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines. He spent a decade in Italy, cooking and managing kitchens in some of the most prestigious, upscale restaurants in Piazza San Marco, the public square of Venice where elaborate, multi-course meals can run upwards of $5,000. Then he moved to the United States in 2002 with his now-former wife. "When I went to Italy, I found Italian foods really simple. It's just based on simple ingredients, not like Moroccan cuisine," Sellam said. "You can learn it quick. It's like language-if you start from a hard language, other languages are easy. If you start with an easy language, other languages are hard." Because Italian cooking is simple to begin with, the change from fine to casual dining hasn't been much of a transition. "It's still the same quality of pasta and sauces," Sellam said. He noted that every sauce on the menu is made from a classic Italian recipe, with the exception of Alfredo, which is a much heavier, Americanized version of a classic cream sauce, and would never be found on a menu in Italy. Even the bar has been simplified. Sellam decorated it with a colorful display of cookbooks he's received as gifts, and pared down the beverage selections, eliminating the full bar with spirits and cocktails and serving only beer and wine. "When it comes to pasta, it should be wine," he said. "Always simple." Ristorante Al Dente officially became Al Dente Pasta Cafe last Tuesday, and it's open for business 11:30am-9pm Tuesday-Saturday. The restaurant's original menu, with items like black squid ink risotto and veal piccatine, is no longer available, but a little birdie told us that regulars just might be able to get their hands on old favorites if they catch the chef at the right time. Mix and match At Al Dente Pasta Cafe, choose from more than a dozen types of pastas and sauces for your perfect, personalized Italian combination. Pastas Penne, linguine, spaghetti, fusilli, farfalle, fettuccine, gluten-free penne, sweet potato gnocchi, carrot gnocchi, black squid ink gnocchi, arugula and spinach gnocchi, mushroom-filled crepes, butternut squash crepes, cheese ravioli Sauces Marinara, arrabbiata, Alfredo, boscaiola, mare e monte, primavera, puttanesca, amatriciana, Bolognese, polpette, vodka, frutti de mare
Reviewed March 7, 2012

The atmosphere is very Tuscany and the lighting was perfect, ordered the mussels in a spicy marinara sauce for the appitizer, my wife had the spinitch tagaltelli,and I had the sea bass with rizzoto. All the food came out in a timely manner and tasted excellent. Service was funomminal. Aubrey made sure our drinks came out perfect as well as the food. When you want italian you go to al dente, you won't regret it.

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1  Thank JWhitman112211
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviews (27)
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10 - 14 of 27 reviews

Reviewed February 16, 2012

Ristorante Al Dente
IX Buiding
925 2nd Street SE
Charlottesville, Virginia 22902
Phone: -----
FAX: ----- 14 February 2012

EXCELLENT Beyond any possible Expectation. Valentine’s Day dinner for two.
The Maitre D' { Sean } was young, and Exceptionally well suited to the task, skilled beyond his years. [ SEAN served all the courses, personally ]. Three waitresses made sure our water glasses never got below half full .... graciously. The best, 'Sparrow' was fantastically Personable. We ordered our courses { as in Italy } one at a time.

For our Antipasti, we ordered The Bruchetta Fredda to be shared. Two plates were provided without asking. The portion for one was topped with a most generous serving of tomatoes, onion, capers and thinly sliced (Stilton?) cheese. Delicious. Really delicious.

For our shared salad course we ordered the Insalata 'Al Dente". It proved to be as uniquely delicious as one can imagine. A second set of real, antique silverware and a second set of plates were provided, without asking. Our wine order and water glass refills were there before we needed [ as in Italy, where waiters are well respected Professionals ]. We did have to ask for bread (not listed on the special Valentine’s Day menu) however. An adequate portion for two was presented, in a napkin wrapped basket, with dipping oil.

For our entrees, I ordered the Agnello alle Abbiocche e Rosmariino (braised lamb with apricots) and my Lady had the Tagliatelle Verde Aglio Spinaci ( a spiced spinach pasta dish). My Lady's entre came with a red heart on one corner and a rose pedal on the opposite corner of a large, elegant square plate. A third set of silverware was provided.
The Chef deserves the Greatest Applause for two equally well presented and fantastically well prepared dishes. The flavors were powerfully unique and delicious.

The 'Desert' menu was long: but the only item I wanted to share with my Lady was not available. Upon receiving this disappointment, I responded to the Maitre D’, Sean :
" GREAT! This gives us the perfect excuse, to come back"!

BEST VALENTINES DAY EVENT..EVER! And ~ The Best Italian Restaurant Dining Experience that I have had, …Since leaving Italy in 1975.

I offered, gave, and we both received, a warm hug from “Sparrow” before we departed; That beautifully completed a most comfortable Elegant/Personal two hour experience.
In case you have not yet got the message: ----> This evening was one dining experience both Helen and I will hold on to, as a truly fond memory, for many years to come.

The "bill" was reasonable. Our 'Tip' was less so ~ as we are perhaps guilty of having over done the traditional '%. Yet, no less than reasonable, for the Service and Value provided.

Ristorante Al Dente Category: Italian FIVE STARS, per Roy & Helen

THANK YOU, Roy & Helen

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Thank Roy G
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed January 15, 2012

Food was not fresh nor did it bear any resemblance to the descriptions. Some of it was microwaved. One course was inedible. We complained about this and were not offered any kind of compensation. I would never go back. I can make better Italian food at home.

Thank wombat1223
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed December 27, 2011

The chefs are fantastic and the outdoor patio is lovely in the spring, summer and fall. Really good food and a nice sort of Tuscan-ish atmosphere.

Thank ThePixinator
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed June 20, 2011

We have eaten here with friends 4 times before the theater at Ix, a 5 minute walk away, because it's the only convenient decent restaurant. The quality of the food is generally excellent - if you can get it. We have always allowed 1.5 hrs for dinner. Once no food came at all and we left without eating. Most recently after telling the waiter many times about our schedule, he bought us our entrees 15 minutes before the curtain dropped, but then he forgot to return with our credit cards and by the time we got them we missed the beginning of the play. Both times only 3 tables in the restaurant were occupied. And the waiter doesn't seem to care in the least about the problem - he just says it's the chef and he has no control. The other 2 times were OK. What a shame to ruin a potentially fine dining experience in an attractive venue by treating customers so badly.

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Thank BunkyVA
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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