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“mis representation”
Review of Ristorante Al Dente - CLOSED

Ristorante Al Dente
Price range: $5 - $10
Cuisines: Italian, Fusion
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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 6, 2014

ordered chicken marsela - mushrooms and spinich were not fresh - appeared to be out of a can or frozen. sauce was watered down. the specials advertised were misrepresented.

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Thank vickie s
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviews (27)
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1 - 5 of 27 reviews

Reviewed December 31, 2013

Each time I come to Al Dente, I enjoy it more. Christmas Eve was amazing. Five of us ordered, each something different. We were all very pleased. Even the salads were delightful. I maintain the best Italian food is found in Little Italy in New York City. I don't get there very often, but here in Charlottesville I have found a place that satisfies my taste. I do enjoy the service and decor. And am looking forward to coming to Al Dente when I can have dinner outside in their little garden.

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1  Thank Angela C
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed October 29, 2013

I hardly ever write reviews but dining at Ristorante al Dente tonight was an amazing experience, perhaps my best dining experience in Charlottesville in the 6 years that I've lived here. From decor to ambiance, and of course food, was out of this world! The presentation of food and waiting service were excellent! I can't wait to come back here and bring friends and family.

I also recently travelled to Europe, and the food here was as delicious, if not more delicious than the restaurants we ate at there.

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1  Thank Ali K
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed November 11, 2012

Dear hubby and I ate at Al Dente before going to see an 8 pm show at PlayOn. We arrived at 6:30 pm and there were approximately 20 other patrons already there. The waitress/hostess/sole person in the front of the house, pointed to the table she had for us and asked if we wanted to seat ourselves. She was very polite and apologetic about it, so we did so. About 10 minutes later, we received our menus. We had one glass of wine, one appetizer (Bruschetta) to share and we each had an entree (I had farfalle in a crema di noce and dear hubby had the special - red snapper). We received our entree's at 7:35 (and hour and five minutes after arriving). As the server dropped them off, I told her we needed the check then because we need to make an 8 pm show. She said yes, she understood and then proceeded to assist others. At 7:55 pm, I found her (again, helping others) and gave her our credit card and paid the bill. She was kind and apologetic, but my husband and I both agreed that she was one of those types of people in which a sense of urgency is a foreign concept. In otherwords, she moved slowly. When I inquired if they were simply short a server, she said no, that usually it wasn't this busy (by that time, there were about 15 patrons.) (this was a saturday night). The food was fine and plentiful. I spent several years living in Italy, so "true" italian food does not elude me. My husband appreciated it. Would we go back, probably. Will we allow for a good 2+ hours to get through a two course meal...absolutely.

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1  Thank Liz22902
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed September 9, 2012

My husband and I visited this restaurant during restaurant week. Friends had enjoyed it very much so we decided to try it. First we couldn't find it. But over the tracks and down and around we were delighted we did. Our service was great. The decor somewhat surprising considering the outside looking like a deserted building. Plus we drove in the back entrance so I am sure that added to our low expectations. But we found the decor pleasant, the place was very busy and portions that week were a little different than normal. But our selections were great. My husband does not like salad. That week they automatically served salad and he tried it and loved it. The dressing had a nice light mustard and he is looking forward to returning. There were four of us and no complaints. We enjoyed our own wine with a low corkage fee which added to our pleasure.

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1  Thank Caroline Y
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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