Alex Italian RestaurantBy John & Dorothy Salmon
John and I had a wonderful dinner at Alex in Rutherford with our good friend Mark Farley. It was an evening just before we left for Italy and Switzerland for a long-planned and much-anticipated vacation. Alex is located down the street from the Rutherford Grille, next to the Rancho Caymus Inn, where Ken Frank’s La Toque was located for many years before it moved to the Westin Verassa in downtown Napa.
Alex is romantic, beautiful and, best of all, quiet enough to actually carry on a conversation at your table, which is something hard to find in any restaurant. The food is remarkable. In fact, comparing it to the food that we thoroughly enjoyed on our trip to Rome and Florence, we think that it is the best traditional Italian food we have ever had! Why travel the 6,230 miles to Rome when you can get on Highway 29 and be there in minutes with no TSA, no airline delays and no overnight flights!
Alex is an intimate restaurant, with elegant decor and a staff that lavishes attention on its guests. The warm fireplace blazing in the corner will give the setting a magical feeling for the holidays, making this a special place where you want to take your friends and family. Or, if you are thinking of proposing to that special person in your life, this is the place, or to spend your anniversary or any special, romantic occasion.
Alex features plenty of daily house-made pasta and fresh, locally-sourced seasonal produce, meats and fish. Alex’s Executive Chef, Nick Ritchie, previously was the Chef de Cuisine at Bottega. Joining him at Alex is Stefano Particelli from the Napa Valley Olive Oil Co. in St. Helena.
Alex is magical and it was like stepping into a very elegant world of great Italian food and service, with perfect wine pairings and a real attention to detail. Owners, Alessandro Sbrendola, and his wife, Alessia, offer a dining experience influenced directly by their hometowns in Liguria and Romagna, Italy. As we sat down, Alessandro Sbrendola spent some time with us to provide advice on where to dine in Rome. As the evening went by and the incredible food was served, we doubted that the food in Rome could be any better. We were right, it wasn’t!
If you have traveled to Tuscany (or even dreamed about traveling to Tuscany) make reservations at Alex and you will feel like you are there. Alex seats 67 guests in a single, lovely dining room. Alessandro Sbrendola is a master sommelier who began his career in Italy before he moved to the US in the late 1990’s. He was the head sommelier at Valentino in Los Angeles, while also operating Wine Street, which offered wine classes and diplomas for aspiring sommeliers.
While catching up with Mark about our kids, life and local issues, we enjoyed Alex’s Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil and their fresh and tasty bread, with a bottle of Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc ($54). Mark ordered a great glass of an amazing, 2007 Tantara Pinot Noir from Santa Maria ($14).
Both were fabulous. If you bring your own wine, that is not offered on the menu, the corkage is $20.
For appetizers, Mark ordered the Sformatino di Pecorino con Piccoli Pomodorini ($13), which is an amazing cheese flan, with Pecorino cheese and warm cherry, tomato compote. Dorothy ordered the Sformatino di Pecorino con Funghi della Campagna Trifolati ($14), Pecorino cheese flan, with sautéed wild mushrooms, and John ordered the Insalata di Campo ($11), Belgian endive, local greens, and radicchio with Gorgonzola cheese, walnuts, shaved pear and vinaigrette. Each was wonderful.
We were fortunate to have Alessandro Sbrendola come by to suggest the dishes that he loves the most. We tried them and we do as well! Frankly, after the bread, olive oil and wine, we were impressed. When the salads and first courses came, we were even more impressed, and trusted that whatever he suggested would be amazing. So, we ordered a pasta course next. Mark ordered the Gnudi di Ricotta con Salsa di Pomodoro e Basilico ($16); Ricotta gnocchi with tomato, basil and extra virgin olive oil, which he thought was incredible. Dorothy ordered the Spaghetti alla Chittara con Astice ($27); hand cut spaghetti with Maine lobster sugo, soft herbs and citrus, which was also amazing. John ordered the Lasagnette con Pesto alla Genovese ($16); individual lasagna with Genovese basil pesto and light béchamel.
Believe it or not, we tried more! Next came the Costolette alla Griglia ($27); grilled bone-in pork chop, with fall vegetable gratinata and marsala pork jus for John. Dorothy ordered the Anatra alle due Cotture con Frutta di Stagione ($29), duck two ways; pan roasted breast and confit leg, bloomsdale spinach with pine nut and onion soffrito, fruited duck jus. Mark had the Sogliola alla Vendemmia ($28); sauteed, local petrale sole with grapes, almonds and rosemary, heirloom, cauliflower velvet. All dishes were amazing, and we all said, over and over again how wonderful the ambiance, wine and the food is at Alex.
As we ended the evening, Alessandro brought over three desserts that were over the top. Since he knew we were writing away like mad and sure to tell everyone about Alex and its amazing food, he brought us the Semifreddo al Torrone ($9); a light, frozen, Italian nougat mousse with pistachios and warm, poached pear. We all swooned. Then came the Panna Cotta con Macedonia ($9); vanilla panna cotta with a seasonal fruit soup.We all agreed that it was one of the best we’ve had in Napa.. Lastly, we tried the Tiramisu ($9), made with Espresso-mascarpone mousse, house-baked lady fingers, covered in dark chocolate.
This dinner was definitely not part of Dorothy’s two month juice diet, but well worth the calories. Alex is amazing; fabulous Italian food, a wonderful setting, and THE place for romance. You will not regret it!
Sformatino di Pecorino – (Pecorino cheese flan)
Yield: Makes about 8-10 – 4 oz. sformatinas
1 pint milk
1 pint heavy cream
1 lightly packed quart –
large diced ciabatta, bread, crust removed
2 cups finely grated Fulvi pecorino
8 egg yolks
pinch fresh black pepper (optional)
In a small sauce pot combine the milk, cream and pepper and bring to a boil. Whisk in the grated cheese. Strain through a large holed sieve directly in to another container containing the cubed bread. Let the bread soak in the cream mixture until it comes to room temperature. Using an immersion blender or tabletop blender, slowly add the egg yolks to the bread mixture and blend until smooth.egg yolks. When fully blended, pour into lightly greased 4oz. aluminum soufflé cups. Bake covered with aluminum foil at 300 degrees Fahrenheit au baine marie until just set and beginning to soufflé.
Invert to a warm plate to serve.