When Alberto Aletto was looking for a name for his new restaurant, 13 American Table, he decided to not just reflect the hodgepodge of dishes on its menu, but also to honor the country his parents immigrated to from Italy.
The 13 is a reference to America's original 13 colonies and to the number of stripes on the flag. What's not to like about a bit of nationalism with your ceviche?
Aletto and wife Melanie opened 13 American Table in July. They wanted to create a restaurant that was a step up from their popular Tucci's Fire N Coal Pizza, but still attract neighborhood folks looking for a not-too-expensive casual dinner with great wine and beer.
With the help of Boca Raton carpenter Michael Duval — whom Aletto met as a customer at Tucci's — the former Lily's has been transformed into a comfortably chic bar and restaurant. Walls and tables are made of cypress. "We stained together," says Aletto, 36. "It was hands-on for me. My experience in life is always to be involved as much as I can."
Maybe that's why the staffers, from hostesses to servers, seem to have an ownership stake in the restaurant. They don't, but Aletto's attitude seems contagious.
In 33-year-old Anthony Fiorini, Aletto found an executive chef with years of experience expertly crafting elevated tavern food as sous chef to Nick Morfogen at 32 East in Delray Beach. It helps, too, that Fiorini shares Aletto's Italian background. Fiorini was the one who insisted they include Aletto's mother's eggplant on the new menu. The so-called Family Eggplant ($14) is a baked puree of tomato and eggplant served with burrata and slices of crostini for easy dipping.
There's also an incredible fried mortadella sandwich ($13) that was surely created in the comfort of an Italian home kitchen. A fried slice of the deli meat, a slice of provolone, mustard aioli and arugula are sandwiched on a buttery bun. This is good stuff, especially with the accompanying french fries.
Fiorini has also mastered the Josper oven, a piece of kitchen equipment that was new to me. Made in Spain, it's a high-temperature, coal-fueled, grill-and-oven combo that imparts a distinct smoky flavor to anything cooked on it. It also costs close to $20,000, but Aletto was set on adding one to his restaurant when he first saw it years ago at a restaurant show in Chicago. I certainly see its value.
You get incredible Josper-grilled octopus ($15) served with chickpeas, romaine salad, citrus, red onion, poblano peppers and salsa verde. The smokiness is particularly pronounced in a side dish of Josper-grilled vegetables ($10) that include eggplant and peppers. While I'm not sure the Josper is used in corn off the cob ($10), another side dish, the combination of chili aioli, queso fresco, cilantro and lime turns Florida corn into a new kind of deliciousness. Jasper-grilled sausage ($12) sees a plate of three small sausages arrive atop whole-grain mustard aioli with a pickled-vegetable salad on the side.
We ordered way too many items from the small-plates section of the menu. They are nicely sized, so lighter eaters could share three or four and be satisfied. Fennel-spiced seared tuna ($15) is accompanied by Fresno chili, celery hearts, crispy fried capers, parsley and olive oil. The tuna is so rare, it's almost tartare. Florida grouper ceviche ($15) is showstopping in its presentation and taste. The grouper is mixed with avocado emulsion, grilled corn, tomato, chili, red onion, lime and cilantro. Very good macaroni and four cheese ($10) can be augmented with broccoli ($3), bacon ($4), chicken ($6) or shrimp ($8). I'm a mac and cheese purist. Only the house potato chips ($7) with Vermont cheddar fondue were underwhelming. I wanted fresh chips to be thicker, crisper and golden brown.
The Off the Josper section of the menu is where you'll find entrees such as a chewy 8-ounce bavette steak ($24), sliced for easy sharing, marinated Gulf shrimp ($18) and a daily fish special. We had grilled striped bass ($32) with an interesting, almost sour-tasting, side of cauliflower and tabbouleh. There's a list of sauces, including scallion beurre blanc and a cabernet reduction, which can be added free of charge to any meat or fish from the Josper.
Even desserts ($8) — bread pudding, brownie, profiteroles — are good under Fiorini's eye. It's his attention to detail that separates 13 American Table from so many other gastropub-style restaurants. To call this menu comfort food underplays Fiorini's culinary deftness.
With 40 seats inside and another 40 outside, it's an intimate restaurant. Conversation between tables comes easy.
"What I wanted to do is create a restaurant that was very unpretentious, because Boca can be a very pretentious place to live," says Aletto, who's lived here since he was 6 years old. "I want people to feel at home."
41 E. Palmetto Park Road, Boca Raton
Cuisine: Eclectic American
Hours: Dinner Monday-Saturday
Credit cards: AE, MC, V
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Noisy when full
Outside smoking: No
For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu items on request
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free valet or street parking