When Aldo Los Altos opened in 2005, it was a risky business move. Downtown was on the quiet side, the restaurant scene even quieter. That's all changed now, but Aldo's hasn't. It's still a go-to place for lunch or dinner, a solid place for families, social meetings or just good Italian food.
Neighborhood restaurants survive on repeat business. The formula is simple enough: above-average food and service and pleasant ambiance (not to mention managing expenses at a time of spiraling rents and escalating labor costs). Aldo's adds oversized portions with sane prices to boot.
Donato De Marchi and Alan Moll partnered to open the 78-seat restaurant and oversaw major renovations to the century-old building, including installing lofty front windows, wood floors and an open kitchen. The name Aldo was derived from the first two letters of their names. Later, De Marchi became sole owner.
De Marchi graduated from the Culinary Academy in Bellagio, Italy, on magnificent Lake Como. He served as chef at four- and five-star hotels in the region, then on cruise ships, where he met his future wife, Marlene. Marlene, who hails from Palo Alto, prompted De Marchi to move to San Francisco, where he opened a restaurant and a pasta factory. For the past 12 years, Los Altans have been the prime beneficiaries of his culinary expertise.
Besides a menu of soups, salads, pastas, meat, fish and poultry dishes, Aldo's serves a long list of cicchetti, tapas-like small-plate appetizers that originated in Venice as bar snacks. Aldo's cicchetti are served in larger portions than their European counterparts, but every bit as tasty.
I particularly liked the gnocco di pane ($4), a puff pastry filled with mushroom and fontina cheese and drizzled with sweet balsamic vinegar.
The fried zucchini and artichokes ($6) with lemon aioli sauce were crisp and fresh-tasting. The calamari fritti ($7), served with marinara sauce, fresh lemon, and lemon aioli, was crunchy and served piping hot from the fryer.
The straccetti di maiale ($6), two slow-roasted, overstuffed, shredded pork tacos with chopped tomatoes and onions and a slightly piquant sauce, was not exactly Italian, but why not?
With intense color and deep flavors, the generous bowl of rustic Tuscan-style vegetarian tomato-bread soup, pappa al pomodoro ($6), brimmed with aromatic chopped tomatoes, basil, garlic and olive oil.
Of the dozen pasta offerings, the pappardelle ($15) came loaded with chunks of prosciutto, porcini and peas, and was bathed in a light cream sauce -- just enough to coat but not pool.
Rolled, rather than layered, the lasagna arrotolata ($15), was spinach lasagna filled with ham, gruyere, Parmesan cheese and loads of fresh spinach, all baked in a soothing four-cheese cream sauce.
There were more than a dozen secondi, or entrees, to choose from, and all the portions were large. The grilled pork medallions ($19) blanketed in a creamy portobello, porcini and cremini mushroom sauce, were earthy and delicious. The plate came with fried potatoes and a knot of steamed spinach.
After the other dishes, the veal osso bucco ($27) was so large I could only manage a couple of bites and took the rest home. The meat was succulent, almost sweet, and sauced with tomatoes, celery, carrots and onions, over a bed of creamy polenta.
The fish and house-made chips ($21) could have been exceptional except for the sweet balsamic that was drizzled over the entire plate. It would have been fine just dripped over the crisp potato chips, but it clashed with the cod. It was the only misstep from the kitchen.
Aldo's wine list was solid and affordable with mostly Italian selections and several from California. Most wines were available by the glass or bottle.
There was one service slip-up. After the entrees were cleared, the table top had sauce drips, bread crumbs and water drops. The wait person never wiped the table but plunked the dessert menus atop the mess. Besides that, service was friendly and prompt.
To conclude, the budino di panettone ($8) was warm bread pudding using bits of panettone, with raisins, apricots, a splash of rum, a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a squiggle of caramel. The panettone gave the pudding a pleasing chunky texture.
Limoncello zabaglione ($8) consisted of lady fingers, fresh raspberries, and whipped cream mixed with the zabaglione, a gently cooked blend of egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest. It was light, refreshing and a good way to end any meal.
Aldo's has everything a good neighborhood Italian restaurant should have. That's why it's remained an anchor on Main Street for over a decade.
Aldo Los Altos
388 Main St., Los Altos
Hours: Lunch, Monday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; dinner daily from 5-10 p.m.
Reservations: yes (by phone only)
Credit cards: yes
Alcohol: full bar
Happy hour: no
Outdoor dining: no
Noise level: moderate
Bathroom cleanliness: good