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Alberto’s: Upscale Italian Comfort Food at Alberto in Forest Hills

By Suzanne Parker

It has attracted and kept a loyal local following for over 30 years. Among a certain well-heeled crowd in my nabe, it almost borders on being a club. Ask my friends and neighbors the name of their favorite Queens restaurant, and Alberto's would be the name to most frequently spring to their lips. On a recently bitterly cold, wintry night, not wanting to wander too far afield myself, I set out to discover what inspires such devotion.Alberto's is handsomely decorated with exposed brick, an intricately beamed ceiling and signature stained glass. The tables are close together, but not oppressively so, the “deuces” are roomy enough so that you don't feel cramped and the high ceiling adds a feeling of airiness. The chairs are rather Spartan, and should be replaced with something soft and upholstered. The noise level was high during our dinner, a testimonial to their success, with every table filled on such a blustery evening. Alberto's longevity has enabled them to fine-tune their operation into a well-oiled machine. The service is both personalized and efficient. You are neither rushed nor neglected, a balance that is disappointingly rare in many establishments. Special requests are cheerfully accommodated.”So how is the food?” You well might wonder. We began with a “stuffed artichoke” and a Caesar salad. The artichoke was gratineed with breadcrumbs and cheese, and sauced with a rich sauce that filled the cavity in its center. A stuffed artichoke should be stuffed with stuffing – not sauce. The richness and quantity of the sauce overwhelmed the artichoke, making the dish soupy. The presumed intent was for the diner to dip the artichokes leaves into the sauce, but this made the dish messy to eat. As leaves were removed, the sauce ran all over the rest, making it impossible to control the amount of this very rich sauce eaten with the artichoke. The Caesar salad was adequate, if not memorable.We chose tortelli Alberto, Alberto's signature pasta from Piacenza for our pasta course. The tortelli were heavenly little handmade pasta pockets filled with cheese and blanketed in an Alfredo-like (butter and cream) sauce. The pasta had a wonderful slightly chewy texture, and the cheese filling was light and delicate. Pasta the way pasta was meant to be.For our entrees we chose a classic, saltimbocca alla Romana, and tres moschettieri (three musketeers). The saltimbocca, that is veal and prosciutto sauteed in white wine with light garlic and sage, was melt-in-your-mouth tender and very mellow. The musketeers didn't let us down. This trio of veal, chicken and fillet mignon in a shallot, mushroom and dry sherry sauce was another winner, although the sauce could have used a little more seasoning. The chef has a light touch. Both entrees included a side vegetable, which happened to be a fluffy souffle of broccoli and zucchini.While sipping our espressos with complimentary anisette, a visit by the dessert cart reinvigorated our flagging appetites. The zabaglione seemed to be calling our name. Zabaglione, a simple Italian dessert made of egg yolks, sugar and Marsala, is served here in a large goblet over luscious jumbo strawberries. An appropriate ending to a very satisfying meal.The Bottom LineAlberto's excels at upscale northern Italian comfort food. Most of their menu is very rich (I wouldn't like to pay their butter bill), and gently seasoned. The emphasis is on familiar dishes that don't push any boundaries. Combine that with solicitous service and pleasing surroundings, and it's no mystery why so many regulars keep on coming back. Alberto's98-31 Metropolitan Ave.Forest Hills718-268-7860Cuisine: Northern ItalianSetting: Largish, attractively decorated exposed brick.Service: Highly professional and accommodatingHours: Dinner Wednesday to Monday (closed Tuesdays)Reservations: Weekends a must, recommended other timesAlcohol: Full barParking: StreetDress: CasualChildren: WelcomeMusic: NoTakeout: No menuCredit cards: YesNoise level: Noisy when busy (which is most of the time)Handicap accessible: YesRecommended DishesAsparagi alla Milanese (fresh asparagus sauteed w/ butter & parmesan)É$8.75Tortelli AlbertoÉ$16.00Lasagna (Northern style with meat in tomato and bechamel sauce)É$16.00Cuscinetti di vitello (pillows of stuffed veal with prosciutto & mozzarella sauteed in white wine & mushroom sauce)É$23.00Saltimbocca alla RomanaÉ$19.50Tres moshettieriÉ$24.00

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