There are few salads in the world that can be described as sexy, but that might be the perfect adjective for the Alto Salad at Alto Forno in Peabody.
Wild arugula is topped with crispy potato coins, deep-fried tidbits of pancetta, a bright and earthy truffle vinaigrette, and shaved Parmesan. Each component is perfect, and combined, they are simply tantalizing.
Alto Salad & The Crostini E Fici
That sexy salad is right at home in Alto Forno. The décor is fin de siècle meets Manhattan loft: A wall of windows sets a contemporary urban vibe, while crystal chandeliers and tufted dining chairs evoke stylish decadence. The combination is alluring—as is the menu, rife with extravagant ingredients from duck to black truffles. But under the sure hand of executive chef Tony Bettencourt, dishes flirt with excess while never overwhelming, starting with the Crostini E Fici. Ricotta is whipped into a light, creamy spread and topped with roasted mission figs and balsamic vinegar. Served with some grilled ciabatta, it is the perfect nosh while perusing the menu over one of bar manager Alyssa Zajac’s pre-Prohibition–style cocktails. Try the classic Boulevardier, or lighten up with a Chartreuse Smash, a refreshing combination of mint, lemon, and green chartreuse—an herbal liquor crafted in secret by French monks for centuries. The Smash also pairs unexpectedly well with a surprising new take on Calamari Fritti. Bettencourt tosses a portion of crispy calamari rings with some bitter frisée and grapefruit that has been briefly pickled in a mixture of vinegar, sugar, grapefruit juice, and a hit of Thai chilies. Topped with a drizzle of green goddess dressing, it is refreshing and satisfying.
Moroccan spiced lamb confit pizza
Knowledgeable staff are happy to share details about the cocktails or the interesting wine list, which tends toward the big and bold. It’s not surprising. Carefully trained staff and a dedication to top quality are hallmarks of owners Daniel and Daniella Mammola, as reflected in their other two restaurants, multi-BONS winner Pellana Prime Steakhouse and Daniella’s Café and Market.
The third in the group, Alto Forno is Italian for “high oven”—and a gorgeous WoodStone oven, fired by hardwood and gas, casts an alluring glow over the long curved bar. While the oven’s primary mission is turning out perfectly crusty flatbreads with exotic toppings like Moroccan spiced lamb confit, Bettencourt and his team are getting used to cooking in front of an audience, experimenting with finishing other dishes, and roasting red peppers and corn in the oven, which gets up to 800 degrees.
The scallop entrée takes full advantage of that fire-roasted corn. Three jumbo bivalves, perfectly cooked, perch atop a bed of it, mingling with pancetta and maitake mushrooms. The result is umami—layering sweet, savory, and earthy all at once.
Chef Tony Bettencourt?
For an even earthier, more autumnal dish, try the Garganelli, which Bettencourt brought with him from the critically acclaimed Restaurant 62 in Salem, which he closed a few years back. Dressed with duck that is slow-braised in red wine and cocoa and finished with just a hint of butter, the house-made pasta—similar to penne but prettier—is finished in the sauce before being served, using the starch to thicken the dish.
Fans of Bettencourt’s work at Restaurant 62 and A Mano will be happy to know that at least one dessert has made the jump from Salem to Peabody: Bettencourt’s luxe Warm Toffee Pudding, a moist cake made with melted dates and topped with toffee caramel sauce and barely sweetened whipped cream, dancing just this side of completely indulgent.
Daniel and Daniella Mammola, Peter Pantazelos
On the Menu
Calamari Fritti $14
Crostini E Fici $13
Alto Salad $14
Agnello Pane al Forno $16
Sticky Toffee Pudding $12
Chartreuse Smash $12
43 Cross St., Peabody, 978-871-2942