Al di Là

Northern Italy in the North Slope.

It’s Saturday morning, but behind a red door on Carroll Street and 5th Avenue, Anna Klinger is hard at work. As chef and co-owner of Al di Là, one of Park Slope’s most heralded restaurants, she has a lot to accomplish before 5:30, when guests fill her dining room.

So much indeed that she has enlisted the help of her four-year-old son, Sasha, who is one pear away from finishing his peeling duties. Anna keeps a watchful eye on him as she tosses a handful of flour on a seasoned lamb shank and browns it in a sauté pan. At the sight of the flour, Sasha delightedly abandons his post and rushes over to help. Anna’s unsurprised. “You should see him smile when we make pasta dough.”

Sasha isn’t the only one smiling about her pasta. Anna’s beet casunziei, a ravioli-style pasta originally from Cortina d’Ampezzo, has developed a cult following not usually inspired by the oft-maligned vegetable. Since the restaurant opened in 1998, crowds agreeably commit to wait upwards of two hours (Al di Là doesn’t take reservations) for a few precious mouthfuls of her poppy-seed- studded, butter-drenched love letter to those ruby roots.

Anna’s recipes are her interpretations of the foods she experienced in Northern Italy. While eating her way across the peninsula with a fellow cook, she accepted an unexpected offer—from her future husband, Emiliano Coppa—to work as a chef’s assistant at his cooking school, 15 miles outside of Verona. After a year and a half in the Veneto, she packed up her knives and her deepened knowledge of Italian cuisine and returned to New York.

Emiliano joined her two years later, and the couple moved into the first floor of a brownstone on Sterling Street. They shared their dream of opening a small, family-run trattoria with their “mad-scientist” landlord and to this day express heartfelt gratitude and genuine bewilderment that he invested in their dream.

They also feel indebted to the press. Food & Wine knighted the eatery “Where to go next,” and Anna cites Eric Asimov’s original review in the Times as the restaurant’s major turning point. We couldn’t agree more with Frank Bruni who titled his review, “Go Ahead, Brooklyn, Be Smug.”

But while such uncharacteristically enthusiastic ink brings visitors from Manhattan and beyond, it is the modestly priced but extraordinary food, from our favorite green salad in the borough to the ineffable gianduitto, that keeps diners coming back, and back, and back. See you there.

WINTER WHITE SALAD
by Anna Klinger, Chef & Owner of Al di Là

1⁄4 c. champagne vinegar 1 t. salt
4 oz. Castelmagno cheese, (or more if you like), divided. Castelmagno can be difficult to find. You could substitute ricotta salata, or Maytag blue
1 c. extra-virgin olive oil
2 Jerusalem artichokes, scraped
1⁄4 head cauliflower, trimmed
1 leek, white part only
1 small turnip, peeled 1⁄4 head celeriac, peeled
1 large parsnip, peeled 1 stalk salsify, peeled
1⁄2 fennel bulb, cored
1 large white Belgian endive

In a blender, combine the vinegar, salt, half the cheese and oil. Blend until smooth. Set aside while you prepare the vegetables.

Slice all the vegetables except the endive as thin as possible on a mandoline. The Jerusalem artichoke, turnip, celeriac, parsnip and fennel are straightforward: trim them into a manageable size and slice on the thinnest setting. Slice the cauliflower lengthwise to produce beautiful lace-like slices. Slice the salsify lengthwise into long strips. Slice the leek into rounds, then rinse in several changes of water, and dry. Quarter the endive lengthwise, core and slice lengthwise into julienne strips.

Combine all the vegetables in a large bowl and dress with the vinaigrette. Season liberally with freshly ground pepper and salt.

Divide among four plates, mounding the vegetables in the center and arranging some slices to display all the different shapes, and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Note: All the vegetables can be prepared in advance except the endive, which should be sliced at the last minute because it turns brown and bitter quickly after cutting. Cut salsify and Jerusalem artichoke can be kept in acidulated water but must be dried thoroughly before dressing or the vinaigrette will be diluted.

Chef Anna Klinger with sous chef Adam. Adam makes dough for spaghetti alla chitarra (“pasta guitar”). Grating fresh horseradish to top braised heritage pork osso buco with gremolata. Expeditor and waiter ferry dishes to diners. Eggs for pasta dough.

Owner and manager Emiliano Coppa (husband of chef Anna) in the dining room. Making malfatti (Swiss chard and ricotta gnocchi). Thinly slicing raw beef for the carpaccio appetizer.

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