A strip shopping center in Glen Burnie hardly seems like the place to go for excellent Italian food in attractive surroundings. You'll probably still doubt the recommendation when you arrive, seeing a plain building brushing shoulders with Route 100 and two doors down from a Domino's.
But, once inside Trattoria Alberto, you'll start to change your mind. And you won't have to go much past the first course to begin believing that this is a fine restaurant.
This is also a subtle restaurant. There isn't a bit of traditional Italian red or a checkered table cloth in sight. Rather, the decor goes to pink and mauve with soft, though direct, lighting and gentle watercolors gracing the walls. There are about 10 tables in each of the two side-by-side dining rooms. It is formal without being snooty.
The tuxedoed waiters, too, are a bit formal -- one, even arrogant at first -- but very accommodating and, later, even friendly.
What I noticed first about the Trattoria's handsome menu was the veal dishes, and I'm not even a veal fan. There are 10, including veal Marsala, veal Sorrento, veal in salsa and a wonderfully titled dish, "Fantasia In Frack,'' described as "veal scaloppine sauteed in butter, Marsala wine, Gorgonzola cheese, fresh mushrooms and tomato." All the veal dishes were either $13.95 or $15.95. There was also a veal entree among the nightly specials.
We opted, however, for a fettuccine dish and a special, fresh tuna. But first, I ordered Minestrone Primavera ($3.25) and my husband tried Funghi Alla Romana ($5.25), mushroom caps stuffed with and smothered in five different cheeses. The dominant flavor was bleu, but it did not overpower the succulent mushrooms. Delicious!
The minestrone was very good, though nontraditional. It had a clear, savory broth full of celery, carrots and zucchini. It was nicely spicy and quite different from most minestrone I have had.
Next, we shared a Caesar Salad for Two ($8.50). The fresh romaine was thick with a good Caesar dressing, but the portions were small.
I had fresh tuna ($18.95), grilled and covered with paper-thin slices of pimento, mushrooms and peppers. The 1/2 -inch thick tuna was exquisite -- sweet, flaky, perfectly fork-tender, as cookbooks say it ought to be. It was served with good Chinese cabbage, an interestingly different vegetable to accompany -Z tuna.
My husband decided on Golden Fettuccine al Funghi ($10.50), one of nine pasta dishes that included linguine with clam sauce, homemade cannelloni and manicotti stuffed with ricotta cheese and spinach. His fettuccine was simple: a thin, homemade pasta tossed with mushrooms, butter, garlic and Parmesan cheese. Again, it was not a big portion, but the portion had a big taste.
We surveyed the luscious dessert tray and finally settled on the traditional Italian dessert, tiramisu ($3.50), and fresh raspberries, which were served with whipped cream and a healthy sprinkling of Chambord ($5.95).
The tiramisu was moist and captivating. The lady fingers were so saturated with brandy that they were almost unidentifiable, except by taste.
Raspberries in the dead of winter are nearly heaven, and these were there singing with the angels. Served in a long-stemmed snifter, they were beautiful amid the whipped cream and delicious. The Chambord enhanced their flavor.
The chairs were comfortable, the coffee good and the atmosphere soothing. After a satisfying dinner, we did not hurry away from Trattoria Alberto. But we will think about hurrying back.
Our bill, with two cocktails, two coffees and a bottle of wine, was $92.85. We had eaten plenty and well and we had been served likewise.
Besides showing that it can serve excellent Italian fare, Trattoria Alberto proves something else: In restaurants, unlike in real estate, location isn't everything.
Hours: Lunch served Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner served Monday through Friday 5 to 10 p.m. and
Saturday and Sunday 5 to 10:30 p.m.
Reservations: Recommended on weekends.
Credit cards: Major credit cards accepted.
Handicapped access: Accessible.
Smoking: Separate areas "depend on the number of people."