Restaurant Roamin’ with Roman: Alleia

Authored By Roman Flis

With the Chattanooga fine dining mecca of St. John’s Restaurant and Meeting Place already under his belt, chef Daniel Lindley embarked on a new culinary quest in 2009. Tying the fresh pasta of Italy to the abundant thread of local resources around the Southeast Tennessee Valley, would Alleia succeed in capturing a rustic pairing of Italy and the Scenic City in a sleek, high-end fashion?

Alleia

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Address
25 E. Main St.
Chattanooga, TN 37408

Phone
423-305-6990

Hours
Monday-Thursday
5-9:30 p.m.

Friday-Saturday
5-10:30 p.m.

Sunday
Closed

Star Rankings
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An epic dining experience: world-class service, décor and menu options.

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A superior dining experience: high-quality attributes you’ll want to come back for again and again.

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A solid dining experience: great characteristics but also some minor issues.

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A mediocre dining experience: may have a few good highlights but major flaws.

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A terrible dining experience: stay far away unless it’s the only place left to eat to avoid starvation, and even then, question if it’s worth it

Atmosphere and service
As I roamed through the antique door at the entrance, I was immediately transported into a sylvan yet lustrous atmosphere with flames dancing atop torches and candles. The back of the restaurant had a large community table overlooking a massive melted candle wax piece and a full view of Alleia’s open kitchen.

The front area was more intimate, with smaller tables and plush couches. I felt fully relaxed in this ambiance, further aided by my genial server, whose knowledge of the restaurant helped guide my journey through Alleia’s evolving seasonal menu, which is complete with a quality wine list.

Appetizers
My server gave glowing praise for the bacon-wrapped dates ($8), so I wisely took her advice. These palm fruits were oblong orbs of natural sweetness, lustfully accompanied by the sweet pork belly meat with its smoky, lightly blow-torched char. This courtship was further intensified with quality aged balsamic and extra-virgin olive oil, lubricating each date with a rich, fragrantly sweet essence.

A house-baked, Italian-style bread loaf was brought out immediately. This loaf had a firm crust with a cottony interior, and olive oil, garlic and herbs were toasted into each cut. The savory balsamic and olive oil mix left over from the dates was also a direct sopping target for these steamy slices.

Main courses
There are few things more heavenly to me than truffles. Put them on a pizza? I’m in. While these were preserved truffles, minced and very liberally scattered, this 12-inch pie was a mere $13-an abundance of fresh truffles could’ve skyrocketed the price to $100 and up. The nutty truffle essence was combined with cremini for more fungal bulk.

This pizza came out perfectly un-perfect, like a pizza truly done in an old-world, Neapolitan style should. The light, crispy crust had random bits of flavorful char fusing with the aromatic tomato purée slightly slathered along its plateau.

Creamy fresh mozzarella slices were melted down into parts of the pie, and, after baking, ambrosial olive oil was drizzled throughout. This pizza was a fun vehicle of coalescing flavor extravagance fit for the truffle, the monarch of Kingdom Fungi.

Primo
Alleia’s housemade pastas are offered in a half-size primo course or as a main entrée. The pappardelle with braised veal breast ($18 for the full-size dish) was my selection from this section.

Flat, wide noodles rose layer by layer into a messy, magical island, with the tender fibers of young protein and piquant tomatoes cascading beefy, acidic juices throughout the isle’s cavernous base. The robust flavor bouquet of the veal jus pool was trapped in this reef of pasta ribbons, gracefully assimilating into their delicate domain. A web of milky, gradually melting cheese strands coated the peak of this enchanting pasta entrée.

Secondo
From their main course menu, I sampled the grilled Maple Leaf Farm’s duck breast ($25). Wisely suggested by my server, this breast was cooked perfectly medium rare (although fowl, duck is actually red meat). As an aquatic bird, the fat content ducks possess for buoyancy can be a great culinary attribute, and Lindley is no quack chef, so, of course, Alleia knew exactly what to do with this duck.

A crispy skin perfectly encapsulated the fanciful fat layer and juicy, saturated breast. A strawberry mostarda accompanied, emanating a candied berry and pome tartness throughout the duck meat and grilled, simple sides of mild red cabbage and lightly seasoned new potatoes. A sprig of rosemary was also present as a flavorful garnish. This dish was rustic yet refined, mellow yet striking, and luscious in every aspect.

Dessert
Alleia has a wide variety of housemade gelatos available in multiple flavors. But for this dessert course, I decided to sample the flourless chocolate cake ($8), which was paired with cinnamon gelato. 

Without the presence of wheat gluten, this cake came together in a moist, mystical extravagance, its tinge of sweetness not overshadowing the dark richness of the chocolate itself-the cacao bean used to make chocolate naturally contains little sugar, so the sweetness can be tinkered with during production.

Lindley wisely went with a chocolate mix that wasn’t a blast of sugar. Fresh strawberries and a thick, slightly sweetened whipped cream were provided on the side to add more sweetness for whatever one’s whimsy. A mint leaf was also there as a fresh aromatic, if desired.

The ball of cinnamon gelato plopped next to the cake was not only a great complement but also threatened to steal the show. The freshly grated cinnamon sticks smacked my palate like a baseball bat, driving home the soft, creamy sugar rush running through its base. This dessert further added to a meal that showed why Lindley’s dishes are among the big leagues of Chattanooga cuisine.

Final thoughts
I’m giving Alleia 4 strong stars. Lindley’s collision of Italy and Chattanooga’s surrounding regions is not a mere experiment: It’s a calculated onslaught on the city’s palate with a fusion of ingredients bursting into a unique fission of flavors.

The exquisite ambiance and exemplary service add to this experience, and though pricey, this is a great place to splurge on a special occasion for those on a tight budget-you’ll spend a similar amount for pizza of lesser quality at many places around town.

Roman Flis is a wandering writer, focusing on Chattanooga’s food scene. You can find him at romanflis.com or on Facebook and Twitter, or you can contact him at [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.