1586 Hancock St., Quincy
Major credit cards accepted
Hours: Monday-Saturday lunch 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; dinner 5-10 p.m.. Closed Sundays.
Trattoria Alba, the new offspring of Alba, is proof that success breeds success. Alba opened four years ago on Hancock Street as a classic American steak and seafood place. Business has been good, so owner Leo Keka recently opened a more informal Italian restaurant across the street.
''I wanted to be my own competition instead of someone else," says Keka. ''I know 85 percent of my customers at Alba by first name. I don't want them to go somewhere else." With Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and Indian restaurants in the neighborhood, Keka thought a casual Italian restaurant was needed.
Keka, who is originally from Albania, has lived here for years, working at Grille 23, Legal Sea Foods, and Anthony's Pier Four. He's a gregarious sort who goes from table to table, greeting people and asking about their meals, or recommending dishes. ''I love the restaurant business," he says. ''This is my passion. I wish I could open 20 of them."
The 92-seat restaurant, the site of a former tuxedo shop, has high ceilings and full-length windows looking out onto the street. You enter the restaurant through the bar area, where there are also some tables for dining. The bar is Italian marble with Albanian tile backsplash. Low-hanging lights and wall sconces make for a dusky room. Sit on a leather bar stool, munch on marinated olives and nuts, and order one of the 20 martinis on the menu.
The dining room is noisy, informal, and affordable, serving traditional Italian food. Chef Jason Tucker cooked at Mamma Maria's in the North End and was sous chef at Great Bay. The menu includes brick-oven pizza, homemade pasta and entrees, in addition to appetizers, salads, and soups.
Start with the salt-cod fritters ($7), tender inside and crispy out, thanks to the panko in which they're rolled and lightly fried. The antipasto misto ($12) is a bountiful and colorful medley of fresh greens, imported salami and proscuitto, asparagus, grilled zucchini, both white and red beets, wonderfully ripe bleu cheese and other garnishes. It's plenty for a party of four to share.
A good entree choice is the day-boat haddock ($16), very fresh and cooked perfectly in a potato crust with a light lemon caper sauce. On one recent night, there was a risotto special ($16), redolent with pecorino, and studded with barely seared scallops and grilled shrimp -- a wonderful comfort dish on a cold night. The lamb bracciola ($17) is rolled with pine nuts and pecorino, with a heady rosemary tomato sauce, served with creamy polenta and sautéed spinach. It's a delicious dish with lots of flavor and texture. If you are a traditionalist, you'll like the chicken parmigiana ($14), an enormous portion with lots of fresh tomatoes and gooey mozzarella.
The grilled pizza here is terrific; we ordered one and shared it as an appetizer. Try the white pizza with arugula salad ($9), and lots of sweet caramelized onions and fontina cheese. We'll be back for the wild mushroom with fontina, white truffle oil, and pecorino ($11).
Don't miss the dessert list; there's an in-house pastry chef and the creations are beautifully presented. There are the old classics with new twists, like the strawberry tart ($6), with mascarpone filling, strawberry slices on balsamic ice cream on the side (trust me, the ice cream is delicious). The panna cotta ($6) is dreamy, served with fresh blood oranges and honey biscotti. We also loved the house-made cannoli ($6), three miniatures with chocolate, caramel and pistachio ricotta fillings. Trattoria Alba is also open for lunch with appetizers, panini, entrees, and pizza.