When longtime Berwyn mainstay Trattoria San Nicola closed abruptly last April due to a supposed “expired lease”, some eyebrows were raised, especially when the space was quickly snapped up by Alfred and Barbara Giannaccari of Newtown Square Alfredo’s fame. Though it is perhaps unfair to the Giannaccaris to immediately compare the two restaurants, it is only natural to do so when they are so similar in concept. Luckily for both Alfredo’s owners and their patrons, however, the new team brings a freshness and creativity to the Southern Italian concept that – though there is nothing wrong with what places like San Nicola are doing – is a nice breath of fresh air into the local Italian scene.
The dining area’s setup is quite similar to it’s predecessor, with two small dining rooms separated by a grand passageway, both with large windows overlooking the street. The decor has been spruced up a bit with warm, orange and brown tones. The atmosphere is bustling, and while owner Barbara informs us that they’ve recently taken some measures to curtail noise, we saw no problems with the atmosphere or service.
As mentioned, the menu is Southern Italian – lots of pasta, seafood and meats like veal and chicken – and though it can be difficult to bring a great deal of creativity to these dishes while maintaining authenticity, it is nice to see Alfredo bringing some new ideas to the table. For example, we started with the arancini, a Sicilian risotto fritter that we’ve been been making in my family for generations, but that has only recently begun to appear on US menus with any regularity. They certainly weren’t as good as my mother’s, but they were true to the old world style, and worth a try if you haven’t had the pleasure. Our only complaint was that the marinara they came with was cold — an unnecessary error that dampened our enjoyment of the dish.
The selection of pasta entrees is short but enticing, and several called to us on this first visit. Rigatoni Amitriciana, the classic Roman staple of tomato, pecorino and pancetta (why is it so hard to find guanciale around here?) was wonderful, as the rich flavor of the bacon mixed ever so well with the pungent cheese and tangy tomatoes. I’d prefer to see this with the traditional long-cut bucatini, or even just spaghetti, but that’s certainly a nit. Elsewhere, I was worried that the Agnolotti Alfredo – half-moon shaped pasta filled with ricotta cheese with cream sauce & spinach – would be too heavy, but in fact it was just the opposite. The pillowy pasta melted in the mouth, and the ingredients for the sauce were used delicately to create a succulent, must-try dish. Lastly, spaghetti and meatballs was simple but delicious, however the meatballs were rare in the middle, a relatively minor but elementary kitchen error that, along with the cold sauce on the rice balls, left us perplexed, especially considering the excellent highs we saw from the same kitchen.
Aside from these few execution snafus, Alfredo provides the quintessential neighborhood experience – casual, simple fare in an upbeat, casual environment. The menu is not huge (unlike some other local Italian joints), but it offers a nice variety and some dishes that are new to the local circuit. Prices are extremely reasonable, and the BYO factor certainly adds even more value. Here’s to hoping this new Berwyn Italian mainstay lasts as least as long at the last one!
NOTE: On January 12, 2011, Alfredo will be hosting a benefit for “Coats for a Cause”, accepting monetary donations and used coats. More info on Facebook.
Alfredo Italian BYO
668 East Lancaster Avenue
Berwyn, PA 19312