On Friday nights, Alimentari has a special: three pastas for $20. I imagined this would be a plate with tastes of each pasta—until a full-size portion of gnocchi in tomato sauce arrived. It was tepidly flavored and texturally imperfect and, knowing there were two more pastas on the way (not to mention the familiar-but-satisfying prosciutto-strewn burratawe’d already had, or the eminently straightforward filet of salmon that would cap off the meal), we took a few bites, lingered over some wine, then allowed the busser to clear and replace the plates and silverware, as he had done multiple times already throughout the meal.
A plate with four plump tortelloni stuffed with squash puree and ricotta came next. This time, when the busser arrived, there was nothing left on the plate; the delicate, light packets exhibited finesse that was lacking from the rest of the food we’d ordered. The busser—attentive but never intrusive—cleared the pasta dish and, given to pattern, it was evident he would momentarily reach for our small plates and flatware. “It’s okay; we’ll hold on to them,” I said. He gave me a gentle but serious look that I interpreted as: “There is no way I will allow you to eat your next course off a dirty plate.”
Maybe it’s the number of meals I’ve eaten lately where I’ve had to ask for new plates, or where dishes have been cleared but I’ve been instructed to hold on to sullied forks and knives, or where even asking for small share plates elicited a look of exasperation from a server. It could be that, but it’s also plain to me that between the busser and our genuine, bubbly waitress, the service at Alimentari is phenomenal. So, yes, this restaurant’s very-average Italian food is an odd, dated indicator of how far Randolph Street has come. But it’s also a reminder of how far it has to go. 621 W Randolph St (312-382-8880,alimentariosteria.com). Dinner (closed Sun). Average main course: $14.