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Restaurant Alba, Malvern -- Main Line Restaurant Guide

Restaurant Alba, Malvern

May 18th, 2010

restaurant-alba

The combination of fresh, local ingredients, creative, innovative Italian-American cuisine, comfortable-yet-refined ambiance and brilliant service make Restaurant Alba one of the most exceptional restaurant experiences in the western suburbs.

Food: Things kicked off with a complimentary amuse of sunchoke puree with extra virgin olive oil. This robust oil was also served next to crusty Italian bread.

We started out with the “Batsua” ($12) – a crispy fritter made from braised pig’s feet and belly, served with a mustard crema. These had a wonderfully “porky” flavor; though we expected it to be like bacon, it was closer to a smoked pork barbecue. Though frying this concoction seems excessive, it was certainly worth trying. We also sampled the Antipasto ($15pp – changes daily), a sampling of 5-6 “chef’s choice” appetizers. All were excellent — but our favorite was the goat cheese & grilled ramp bruschetta.

Wood Roasted Goat, served alongside grilled whole grain polenta and soffrito braised greens ($31), was tasty and savory. To make this dish, a whole goat is slow-cooked overnight on the dying embers of the previous night’s fire and then braised before a quick reheat on the grill. It’s a uniquely flavored meat — closest to lamb but not quite as gamey.

The Berkshire pork shoulder, served with crispy spaetzle & peas, charred fennel and a bit of Tupelo honey sauce ($26) is cooked in similar fashion to the goat, and the quick grilling just before serving gives it a texture almost like a crusty bread — crispy on the outside but light and fluffy inside. In contrast to the goat, the honey and cider jus gave this dish a subtle kick of sweetness.

A grilled rib-eye special was served with sea salt and fine tuscan olive oil alongside crispy potatoes and a mixed green salad. It was a simple dish — the “crispy” potatoes were really cold homemade chips, which was a bit disappointing — but the steak was well-cooked and quite tasty.

Alba also offers 4-5 pasta dishes such as Veal & Sweetbread Ravioli, Morel Mushroom & Vegetable Soffrito ($20) and several fish entrees like the Atlantic Tilefish with Nettle & Potato Gnocchetti, Grilled Meyer Lemon & Caper Brown Butter ($29). The menu changes seasonally.

For dessert, we tried the Chocolate Pot de Creme with Almond Torrone Whipped Cream ($8), which was light and slightly minty, creating a palate-cleansing feeling. It wasn’t spectacular, but we still cleaned the plate.

Bar: Once only a BYOB, Alba now offers a full bar. (BYOW is still allowed at $10/bottle.) A small list of beers focuses on local crafts from Victory. The wine list, on the other hand, culls mostly from Italy, with a large variety of hard-to-find small producers (or at least as many as you can get through the PLCB system). They also make house-infused grappa for those with fortified stomachs.

Service: Though the food is excellent, the attention to service at Alba is what truly sets this restaurant apart from others in the suburbs. Clearly the staff and management understand how to handle any issues and resolve them quickly and satisfyingly. Our very first dinner at Alba, shortly after they opened, showcased their attention to detail. A pork chop originally came from the kitchen extremely undercooked, so much so that it was inedible. A passing waiter (not our own) quickly noticed that I looked unhappy and offered to take the plate back to the kitchen. Never a good situation to have one plate of hot food on the table and not the other, our waitress quickly reappeared with a small appetizer to tide me over until they could fix up the chop. Obviously I was unhappy with the fact that my food was not prepared well at first, but the professional and caring way that the entire staff handled the incident was brilliant.

On a more recent visit, our waiter once again illustrated how seriously Alba takes service. There were no errors from the kitchen this time around, but our waiter answered every question we had about the menu (there were quite a few) with a level of knowledge and detail as if he would be personally preparing each entree. He had no hesitation to help us choose the entrees that would be suit our interests and needs.

Ambiance: Artsy and comfortable, bustling yet romantic. There are two rooms, the main one which features an open kitchen, and a more private side room. The main room is perhaps a bit more compelling because of the large wood oven in view, but there isn’t a huge difference.

Value: As with many restaurants that move from BYOB status to bar status, the value proposition at Alba has gone down a bit. It’s nice that they offer a BYOW option, but the $10 corkage is quite steep. Wine bottles are not outlandishly priced (at least compared to other restaurants), and value can be found with some digging, but most bottles are at least $40. Entrees haven’t dropped in price since the bar was added, so expect to pay upper 20s or even low 30s. It is hard to complain when the quality of the food and experience is consistently excellent, but Alba is certainly no longer your neighborhood restaurant for a casual Friday night.

Details:
# of times we’ve eaten there: 4
Reservations: Yes (recommended even on weekdays) OpenTable
Bar: BYOB
Cards: MC/Visa
http://restaurantalba.com/
7 West King Street
Malvern, PA
610-644-4009

31 Responses to “Restaurant Alba, Malvern”

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  1. selma says:

    Had another great meal at Alba. Love the octopus and suckling pig. My husband raved about his shrimp dish. Always friendly and attentive service, the wine list keeps growing as well. We had a great dolcetto for $42.00.

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  2. paoli paulie says:

    I have eaten at Alba plenty of times. Every meal I have had has been great. And although I was surprised and disappointed to find they got a liquor license, I was also happy that they still allow BYO without charging a huge cork fee. (can’t recall what it was – but it was like $5-10)
    Service has always been great, and the food has always been very good and very interesting. Nice to have a restaurant in the area that serves sweetbreads and quail. I do recall most of their ingredients are local.

    Can you please get some Foie Gras on the menu? And I don’t want to hear that it’s inhumane. It isn’t. Geese and ducks have throats designed to swallow alot of food. And you already have veal on the menu. Thanks.

    Oh – and please be more catering to those of us that are lazy or spontaneous and don’t make reservations until the last minute. You are always turning us away. Sometimes I see empty tables.

    If you want to get clientele mid week, cater to the local businesses that have business travelers from out of town.

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  3. Bridget says:

    Had a reservation to dine here on a Friday night for party of six. Called to cancel reservation and the lady on the phone was very unpleasant and rude, informing me that the restaurant would not be able to rebook that table now, and suggesting that usually they secured a credit card number for this very reason. Definitely will not be trying this restaurant, if this is any indication of the service we might get.

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    • Kvander says:

      Yea……I hear you. I’ve been there twice. Both times I had the feeling like the management felt as though the diners should feel privledged to have the opportunity to dine at their restaurant.

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  4. Leon Tunish says:

    Too expensive for me.

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  5. MLB says:

    It’s been a couple of years since we last dined at Alba. Happy to see the reviews that extol its culinary delight, although we were less than impressed by our several experiences there regarding aloof service, improper temperature of served food, and the crowded conditions at the dining room/kitchen entrance area. In fact, I recall a curtain divider that was most unappealing. I am still hesitant about returning, especially because of the Chester County Health Department 2009 rating of only 82 on a scale of 70-100. If the cited conditions in that report have been corrected, that’s great, but if not, well……

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  6. Chris says:

    Alba is absolutely fantastic. A true sensory experience. It is my top choice of restaurant on the Main Line.

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  7. paoli paulie says:

    I went here about a year and half ago and can’t really remember it, I remember it was good. Went here again a few weeks ago, and I’m not going to lie to you I had an absolutely fantastic meal. I also like the corkage fee for byob. I like choices. Fantastic food and nice atmosphere.

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  8. Larry Livers says:

    Since this was rated at four spoons out of five, they have mis-placed three spoons. Drinks tasted as though they were watered down. Two of four meals costing $275 without desert were unsatisfactory. Service was slow and tedious. Very few smiles and help seemed to be stressed. Did not receive itemized bill. Only good part of meal was appetizer—but it was very costly. Vastly overated. Have eaten there twice and it is very unlikely I will return.

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  9. selma says:

    I recently dined at Alba and asked the owners what was going on with the liquor license. They said that if they do get one they will remain a byob for wine with a $5 corkage fee. Very excited to hear this as I too enjoy bringing my own wine. They also said they have no intentions of putting in a bar, because they do not want to mess with the atmosphere. Also excited to hear this as they have one of the best rooms on the main line.

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  10. Anon says:

    I’ve heard that Alba is acquiring a liquor license. This will be a shame. I love that it’s a byob. Hopefully it’ll be dropping it’s food prices if it drops the byob aspect.

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  11. Karen Taghavi says:

    My husband, Amin, and I LOVE Alba. We are never disappointed with food or service and it is so nice to see the same faces each time we go back. We are forever bringing in new friends to introduce them to the restaurant because we don’t want anyone to miss out.

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  12. RM says:

    My husband and I have been to Alba at least half a dozen times since it first opened and have always had a terrific meal and great service. We feel the portions are sized appropriately and are very similar to portions we’ve been served in many European countries Overall a great restaurant and one we will continue to return to.

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  13. Elizabeth says:

    I was disappointed. I had heard about how wonderful this restaurant is and made a reservation to take my husband there for Valentine’s Day. We were sandwiched in between two tables in the main dining room along the wall and every time anyone got up they practically had to drag their backsides across our table. My husband and I had a difficult time having a conversation because of the closeness of the tables. WAY TOO INTIMATE WITH STRANGERS! The interesting part was that it wasn’t crowded at all except for the few couples (like us)who were slammed up against the wall like sardines. I was disappointed with the food as it seemed way overpriced for such meager portions.We were were very disappointed because we had heard such great reviews from friends. We live in Malvern but I doubt that we’ll go back!

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  14. joe bongovanni says:

    I have only been once but I thought the food and service were great. We had a sea bass which was very flavorful and the waitress was always pleasant. I would go back.

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  15. steve says:

    Alba has become my favorite, can do any day of the week, restaurant. I have been well over a dozen times in the last two years and have found their progression to be refreshing as they hve improved significantly since the summer of ’06. I have read with interest the prior reviews and agree with many of the things said but believe them to be time bound, things now are not as they once were.

    Generally, I think the food, service, and atmosphere are excellent. The clientele is usually varied although my one consistent complaint is that the tables are too close, so when the people at the next table are screaming about their wonderful kids in soccer for two hours or the people behind you start barking like dogs, one wishes for deliverance every moment. As for the apparent two hour rule, I do find this annoying in principle, but to be fair, the reservation is made each time with an explicit statement regarding the need to turn the table because another reservation at x time exists. Always. Conversely, even when busy (such as just before Christmat 2007), I have never waited beyond my reservation time to be seated. Service has always been very good except for the first few times I was there, any issues seem long in the past.

    On food, the menu does change every 5 or 6 weeks with some items remaining due to popularity or the ubiquitous necessity of being a “signature dish” such as the hangar steak, which I agree, is disappointing. The amuse bouche is always interesting and flavorful (without using sea foam), the antipasto is always great if not terribly adventuresome, and the pork ragu pasta appetizer may consistently be the best thing on the menu. All recent entrees have been excellent, particularly the veal medallions. Dessert is OK, coffee is better.

    Both rooms are pleasant although I prefer the antechamber as it seems to be a little less crowded. This is the best BYOB in the area, leaving Majolica in the distance but not yet a true challenger to Birchrunville Cafe. Their ambition and direction seem right.

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  16. Ed Kessler says:

    GAIL EVANS SAYS: Also went to Alba last night (New Years Eve) and had a completely different experience. First of all the charge was $65 not $75 — small point.
    The Amuse Bouche was a little “fishcake” made with potatos and house made salt cod. Best fishcake I have had in years. Shame it was only the Amuse Bouche.
    The first regular course which everyone received was a seafood antipasto with five different items ranging from seared shrimp, grilled octopus, and cold lobster among others. Each was about two or three bites,
    The second course offered a choice of soup or a pasta/rice item. We had a wonderful risotto flavored with Meyer lemon. Well cooked and the flavors worked very well together. We also had a small lasagna with very thin pasta, wild mushrooms and black truffle bits. Great!
    For out main course my wife had a duck two way platter that was excellent and quite large. I had a very tender venison chop topped with a nice sized piece of duck Foie Gras. I felt sorry for the duck till I tasted it. It gave it’s life in a good cause.
    Desserts were fine, if not memorable. We were kind of full by the time we reached dessert.
    Anyone who walked away from this meal hungry whould consider Old Country Buffet next time.

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  17. Gail Evans says:

    We went to Restaurant Alba last night for New Years’s Eve and were disappointed. We had eaten there before and enjoyed it so we felt the $75./person ticket for New Year’s was fair. The service was good but the portions were tiny. The lobster bisque was a broth with no heartiness or meat at all and no lobster to taste. The entrees were tasty but again minimal in size. The dessert cheese plate was laughable with three dollups of cheese. Our group felt totally “ripped off” having spent $175./couple and still hungry.

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  18. Holly says:

    We’re in our mid-30s, so we not only look like a young couple — we ARE a young couple! And we’ve never encountered the problem described above. Service has always been attentive and friendly (we’ve never dined in the other room though).

    Yes, Alba is like Majolica where they will indeed boot you out of the table after two hours. But I can’t say I’ve ever ever felt rushed through dinner. In all honesty, I think the policy is intended to ensure people arrive for their table on time. Two hours is pretty standard.

    The food and the atmosphere are excellent. Very warm, cozy. And the chef is extremely creative. The menu changes seasonally, and while I notice he’s better with some things than others, the food is still always superb. We’ve been six or 7 times now and have always been pleased.

    Also, the previous reviewer makes it seem like this is the Blue Bell Inn or something by referencing “snow caps”. Nonsense. It’s a very mixed crowd — but mostly middle aged folks in their late 40s.

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  19. Kasette says:

    I have wanted to eat at Alba since it opened and finally got the opportunity.

    The service was rushed: the appetizers arrived before we had a chance to finish the amuse bouche. That night, it was a very well-flavored bean soup. It’s a nice touch to be offered a tidbit while waiting but, please!, servers, don’t ask me whether I want the cup removed before I’ve had time to enjoy the contents. Same with the appetizer plates: the main course plates arrived before one could savor and enjoy the appetizer courses.

    My breast of duck was very nicely done. And so were the seasonal vegetables — nice knife work. But the plate came with a confit of duck in a crepe envelope. Which was quite burned on the bottom. Unfortunate to have a nice confit preparation inside the envelope ruined by a too hot fire in the pan under the envelope.

    Deserts sounded wonderful and very creative on the menu. That promise was not realized on the plate in terms of taste.

    We had a reservation for 7:30 PM. I had the feeling the whole time we were there that we were being hustled along to eat and be done as quickly as possible. Having just returned from a trip to France, where dining is done at a leisurely pace with plenty of time to enjoy the food, the wine, the company and the atmosphere, and service is impecable, perhaps I was expecting too much.

    It was obvious that whoever is cooking, knows how. It’s the gaps in the delivery which need attention.

    We will go back and hope our first visit last week occured on an off night.

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  20. Franz says:

    We have eaten there 4 times as we live a block away. A little lacking in diversity but decent in the “approach”. The Hanger Steak leaves a little to be desired, but the local cheese appetizer was the best thing they offered. Fish dishes are so-so, not a ton of flavor and some of the “types” of fish are not too yummy. They try Desserts have been good but not consistently good. 3 stars on the food, 4 stars for the “attempt”, 2 stars for service.

    First time we dined there the waiter was rushing around likea speed freak and we told him we wanted to take our time. He responded with “Well good thing you came in at 8:30pm, otherwise you would be in trouble as we would HAVE to turn your table over”. I am surprised I ever went back but being so local I thought I’d give them time to grow up.

    Second time was fine, my friend and me were in for wine and light foods, all was good.

    Last two times we were seated by the bathroom/kitchen both times and the waitress (some one both times) basically ignored us. She brought the wrong main course out and then argued with me over getting it right!

    My wife and myself look like a young couple, and are often treated like kids when we go there so that may have something to do with the less than professional dining experience we often get…and Alba is now known by the local entrepreneurs that I dine with as a great place to dine if you are a “snow cap” or if your lower jaw extends a good inch out from your upper. Otherwise I guess you have to know someone that works there to feel comfortable there. it is not the kind of experience I like to pay for, but hey, being an ex-chef I have a certain level of expectation and unfortunately 3 out of 4 visits does not win praises from me and as long as honest reviews a reposted they will only get better from the constructive criticism.

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  21. selma says:

    I dine at Alba every thursday and I can tell you the menu changes every 4-5 weeks. The only time I have ever seen a salad on the menu is in the spring when the chef can get local salad greens. I have always been able to choose from a wonderful selection of 6-8 appetizers.

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  22. cos82 says:

    Have been to this restaurant 5 or 6 times over the past 2 years and have enjoyed it very much. Nice ambiance, good food, byob, and competent staff. Minor complaint, and why I will not return for quite a while is that the menu does not seem to change. I would like to see a few more and different choices; particularly among the appetizers which are mostly salads and always seem the same. Need some variety and some non-salad additions.

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  23. Stu Katz says:

    This was our second visit to Alba. The first was over year ago. The meal was okay but not exceptional. My halibut was a bit overcooked and the desserts were average. The antipasto appetizer was expensive and lacking in flavor or any real creativity (they sounded good when described by our waitress). My gelato was served melted and the Chocolate Crème Fraiche Layered Cake was dry. We won’t be rushing back.

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  24. Joan K. says:

    We’ve eaten there twice and both times were truly wonderful. Ashley, our waitress both times, was exceptional and really looked after us. Our dinners and amuse bouche were delicious. We finished with the cheese tray (we got it for one because we really just wanted a bite) which was the perfect way to end the evening! The chef was very amicable (both visits) when we stepped up to the open kitchen. I’ve eaten in both rooms. I do prefer the room with the open kitchen – just seems more lively. Bathrooms were wonderfully clean too!

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  25. hc says:

    We gave it another shot before Christmas and it was quite lovely. Great pasta app over pheasant, fabulous veal… Hooray!

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  26. Ed Kessler says:

    We ate there last night (new years eve) and both the food and service were at a four spoon level. Duck, quail and lamb were all wonderful. Might be headed for five spoons in the new year. Happy new year to all.

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  27. hc says:

    I’ve eaten at Alba three times over the last year and I REALLY want them to hit their stride. The first time was outstanding. The second was still terrific, although not quite as exceptional. The third time, every member in our party of five felt it was just “okay”. I’m not sure if they’re better with fish than beef or maybe they’re better with some seasonal items over others. But I’m willing to give them a shot again to find out… Hopefully they’ve found a pastry chef since my last visit in Feb 06 — desserts weren’t anything too exciting…

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  28. ed kessler says:

    I think they finaly have it right. Both the service and particularly the kitchen are moving to that four star level. We knew you could do it. Good luck.

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