Restaurant Alba, Malvern, PA – A Review

by artfuldiner on September 20, 2017

in Artful Diner Review, Pennsylvania, Review, Wining and Dining

Restaurant Alba

7 West King Street

Malvern, Pennsylvania

(610) 644-4009

Alba - Entrance to BarAlthough it hardly seems possible, Restaurant Alba, a mainstay on the Malvern dining scene, has been packing them in for over a decade. Originally opening its doors as a BYOB, in December 2011, Alba expanded into the corner property at King Street and Warren Avenue and acquired a liquor license. The result was a warm & intimate bar/lounge that now serves up inventive cocktails, an award-winning Italian wine list, first-rate bar menu, and “Happy Hour” specials Tuesday – Saturday.

Chef/proprietor Sean Weinberg, a graduate of the CIA, continues to do an absolutely superb job of giving vent to his passionate and inventive culinary spirit. His eclectic menu – ranging from Italy to Mexico, with numerous intriguing ports of call in between – features slow-braised game, homemade pastas, and the scintillating sensuality of meats and seafood kissed by his open kitchen’s wood-fired grill.

Alba - BruschetteTo start things off, nothing quite beats the Bruschetta. The five options include: smashed avocado; wood-grilled pancetta, cipollini onion butter; garlicky fava bean, aged pecorino; sheep’s milk ricotta, local honey & sea salt; and mozzarella burrata with charred green onion. Diners may mix and/or match, ordering 1 for $4.00, 3 for $10.00, or 5 for $15.00. Three is just right for two people; five, unless both have the capacity of a ravening hyena, is a bit too much. Just for the record: The rich and savory garlicky fava bean proved to be the table favorite.

Alba - Roasted Beets & PeachesIf greenery is more to your liking, the Baby Gem Lettuce is adorned with radishes and finished with a green goddess dressing; while the Arugula & Radicchio is companioned by pickled grapes, shaved Manchego, and tossed with a zesty sherry vinaigrette. The real winner, though, is the Roasted Beets & Peaches (pictured), with fennel & arugula and an intriguing hazelnut goat cheese adding their own unique contributions. Equally recommendable is another form of greenery: Wood Roasted Broccoli garnished with lime tahini, raisins, sumac, and ground almonds.

As you move on to the main courses, some interesting choices await. However, if you happen to be feeling Italian and lyrical, the rotating pasta dishes are always worth a look-see. I’ve sampled a number of these over the years and have yet to be disappointed. The current batch includes tempting dishes like Rabbit Agnolotti; Hand-Cut Spaghetti with shrimp and broccoli rabe; Cencioni (oval & petal-shaped pasta) with fava beans, mint, and pecorino cheese; and ethereal Gnocchi (pictured) adorned with San Marzano tomato and Parmigiano Reggiano.

Alba - Sauteed Halibut w Lemon & Chili Roasted PotatoesThe current entrées proper lean heavily upon pork and matters piscatorial with a Grass-Fed Flank Steak thrown in for beef lovers. At the top of the seafood chain, the Sautéed Halibut (pictured with a side of lemon and chili roasted potatoes) is perfectly prepared and beautifully and simply presented. The exterior is pan seared to a golden brown, the interior flesh pristinely white, and the texture invitingly succulent. The filet is crowned with an onion fondue, sided by roasted cherry tomatoes, and swims to table in an aqua pazza. In Italian, the phrase literally means “crazy water.” However, the term generally refers to an herb-infused broth… in this case, basil. Finny creatures are best served by those accompaniments that intrude the least; and Alba’s halibut is a marvelous example of what a top-notch kitchen can do with a minimum amount of carefully chosen ingredients.

The Wood Grilled Lancaster Trout is also quite good. The trout itself is presented skin side up with the flawless kiss of the grill much in evidence. The flesh is extraordinarily flaky and rife with that unique “trouty” flavor. Embellishments include a delicious hazelnut brown butter, grilled escarole, and red grape segments. My only quibble is that the smattering of hazelnuts is a bit too generous, detracting from rather than enhancing both the dish’s eye appeal and combination of flavors.

Alba - Slow Roasted Suckling Pig w Broccoli RabeMoving on to meatier matters, the Overnight Berkshire Pork is characterized by an incredibly moist, cut-like-butter consistency. Fennel and radicchio add a nice “bite” and splash of color, while the burnt orange vinaigrette contributes an ever-so-subtle hint of sweetness. But even better, in my opinion, is the incomparable Slow Roasted Sucking Pig (pictured with a side of garlicky broccoli rabe). It is served up with a variety of stone fruit and a marvelously contrasting tzatziki sauce, a sauce made of salted strained yogurt mixed with cucumbers, garlic, salt, olive oil and various herbs, usually dill.

All main courses, with the exception of pastas, come with a choice of contorni, one side dish per diner; additional sides are $5.00 each. Unfortunately, these appear to be something of a culinary afterthought, lacking the precision and presentation of the restaurant’s appetizers and entrées. The Garlicky Broccoli Rabe with parmesan and red pepper flakes was inordinately chewy; while both the Honey & Thyme Roasted Sweet Potatoes and the Lemon & Chili Roasted Potatoes simply lacked spark. The pick of the litter proved to be the delightfully creamy Sweet Corn Pudding that surprises the palate with a pleasant hint of spice.

Alba - Peach Bread PuddingDesserts are right back on track. Tasty possibilities include the alternating Fruit Crostata (Italian tart) highlighted by seasonal local fruit and vanilla ice cream; Sticky Date Cake with toasted walnuts and orange-star anise anglaise; Butterscotch Budino (pudding) with caramel sauce and toasted pecans; and Affogato, a scoop of vanilla ice cream “drowned” in a shot of hot espresso and splash of Frangelico. The Peach Bread Pudding (pictured), however, reigned as the table favorite. Fabulous crust; generous dollop of vanilla ice cream.

 As noted at the outset, Alba sports an award-winning wine list, so be sure to take advantage of the interesting variety of Italian vintages. Of particular note is the 2016 Kerner, a lovely and distinctive white wine from Abbazia di Novacella. If you would prefer red, the 2014 Planeta “La Segreta” from Sicily is a beautiful blend of Nero d’Avola, Merlot and Syrah. Both are in the $60.00 range; and the La Segreta may also be ordered by the glass for $14.00.

Bon Appétit!


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