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by Richard C. Ross

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Aliano's Ristorante, Batavia, ILIt is no small secret that, when it comes to dining options in the Fox River Valley, there is generally no shortage of venues that specialize in Italian fare.  And I can easily admit that I am definitely a fan of Italian food.  My guess would be that a large part of the reason for that comes from my restaurant experience on the west coast where I met Chef Joseph Insalago, the man who likely had the greatest influence on my culinary abilities, not to mention my love of fine food.  He was a Master Chef in the truest sense of the definition, and I learned much from him in my time at the Abbey, an excellent example of a fine dining Restaurant, in Marina Del Rey, California.

So I would guess that it is also no real secret -- certainly to those who know me well -- that not only do I love to cook as well as to dine out, I enjoy sharing my dining experiences, especially if the experiences are memorable ones.  One such experience took place just the other night.

The bar area at Aliano'sOn the north end of the strip mall on North Island Avenue in Batavia (River Square Shopping Center) is a space that has housed several restaurants previously.  The latest iteration  -- having opened in the Fall of 2011 -- is called Aliano's and, as one may assume from the name, it serves Italian food.  Since I have wanted for some time to give the place a try, all I needed was an excuse.  Actually, I had two: a long day in the office in front of a computer screen is always a reason to not head right into the kitchen and start cooking.  The second excuse came in the form of  of a special promotion that the City of Batavia was running called Restaurant Madness.  It was the City's first such event -- running March 3rd through March 9th -- and offered a coupon that was good for 25% off the dinner bill (with a few caveats with respect to tax, alcohol, etc.) of numerous downtown restaurants.

We had changed our original reservation date due to another of the season's late snowstorms and it was back to the kitchen for me...  The good news is that spring snow amounts in this area fortunately do not last long in early March, so we simply re-booked for a couple of nights later.

One thing that I have learned about restaurants is that parking lots usually tell an accurate story about how well things are going inside.  If that theory held, Aliano's should be doing quite well (and they were); even though it was mid-week, parking spaces that night were as scarce as Cubs' victories.

Inside the restaurant, I was not surprised to see a significant occupancy by diners; although it was just 6:30, the place was already more than half full (as opposed to half empty...).  Lighting was just about perfect -- creating a warm ambiance, wait-staff were professionally dressed in mostly black uniforms, tables were topped with the obligatory fresh-white-paper-over-white cloths, bread & butter plates, salt & pepper shakers and a small candle.  Polished wine glasses and black cloth napkins put the exclamation point on a fine table presentation, and there was adequate space between tables so as not to give a feeling of being cramped.  By 7:30, Aliano's was mostly full.

House salad with balsamic vinegrette dressingIce water, fresh, warm bread and olive oil were brought promptly to our table; we snacked on the bread and sipped a generous cocktail as we perused the menu.  What greeted our eyes was a great cross-section of Italian antipasto (appetizers) favorites, zuppas y Insalates (soups & salads), Bistecca � Maiele, Pollo, Vitello and Pesce (beef, pork chicken, veal and fish) and specialty pizzas, as well as a very impressive selection of Dolci (desserts).  It wasn't overly filled with items but all of them sounded tempting, making difficult a final choice for dinner.

We decided to take a pass on the appetizers, instead opting only for entr�es, selecting the Chicken Marsala (Breast of chicken saut�ed with mushrooms and served with a rich Marsala wine sauce -- $18) and Veal Saltimbocca (Veal saut�ed and topped with spinach, prosciutto, and mozzarella, served with a lemon butter white wine sauce -- $22).   Rarely do I see saltimbocca on a menu, and rarer still, it is never described the same way twice (let alone the way I was taught to make it) and usually doesn't live up to its capabilities in terms of flavor; this version's description was as close as I had seen and the flavor was excellent, the veal fork-tender.  Served with a side of Penne pasta marinara, the Chicken Marsala was hearty and rich with an earthy sauce.   The tasty and ample portions  were more than we could finish and we were too stuffed to even consider a dessert; I guess that leaves a perfect reason for us to return...

Chicken MarsalaThere was good news aplenty to report about our dinner at Aliano's.  I was impressed with many things about the evening: the ambiance, the wait-staff (our waitress was extremely friendly, always smiling and accommodating), the food (large portions that were cooked and plated well) and the prices (except for the pasta and pizza, average prices ranged from about $22 - $35).  I will say that, unless you are ordering pizza or pasta, do not expect an inexpensive evening, especially if you plan to imbibe.

Although I am uncertain as to what specific nights include entertainment (we visited on a Wednesday and a Karaoke-style singer was providing the music), my only suggestion might be to relocate the singer to the bar area where he didn't have to watch everyone eating the excellent food...  Our table was directly in front of his table and the volume was a tad loud.

Undoubtedly my time in a California kitchen with a top-notch chef created a severe prejudice in me;  Chef Insalago's Saltimbocca was, without a doubt, the absolute best version I have ever tasted.  It would not however, be particularly fair to compare  Joseph's dish with that of Aliano's and so I won't.  What I will say is that we were certainly not disappointed with our visit to Aliano's; I am reasonably certain, too, that even Joseph would have smiled and approved.



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