|About Alto Cucina
|Owner and Executive Chef Pat Rodgers educational and professional experience
combined create the experience of Alto Cucina! A graduate of the prestigious Scottsdale
Culinary Institute, Pat gained valuable work experience as the Morning Executive Sous Chef
with the The Sonoran Club at Desert Mountain in
Tastes both local and exotic are Pat's speciality!
Hours and Location:
Tuesday-Saturdays - 4:00pm -11:00 pm.
3531 West Lake Road
Erie, Pa. 16505
|Executive Chef & Owner
Patrick M. Rodgers
|Out to Lunch: Alto Cucina
Setting. OK, I admit I am cheating here. But there are just so many cheap lunches one person can eat in a week.
Now that I have confessed, let me add it isn't too much of a stretch to believe that someone might want to eat a
very late lunch in lieu of dinner, is it? Even though Alto Cucina at 3531 West Lake Road is not open for lunch, it is
open at 4 p.m. and makes a wonderful late lunch place to eat. Of course, there is little on the menu for under $10,
so you got me there again. But cut me some slack, because just walking into the newly renovated, used-to-be
Aviation Club felt great and was the renewal I needed to hit the lunch beat once again next week. Everything in the
restaurant was new and had a the brisk feel of a well-run restaurant. The staff was friendly, and the meals were
second to none.
Fare. Having sampled a few items on the menu, the consensus is there isn't much we didn't like during our late
lunch. Starting out with a special of seafood-stuffed ravioli followed by the gamberoni al spusta (grilled prawns with
sun-dried tomatoes and horseradish cream over Napa cabbage) was a great idea. The prawns were giant, and the
flavors of the sauce, subtle but distinctive. The salsiccia di Marco (crispy Italian sausage with sauteed sweet
peppers, onion, and marinara over ziti) was another winner. Under their chicken selections, we chose the pollo con
pesto, or chicken breast over linguini and sun-dried tomato pesto. Excellent. The nice touches add to the experience
- olive oil and fresh rolls, light and zesty starter salads. I would venture to say that there is very little variation in
quality in the meals. And as you glance through the menu, you are sure to notice all the dishes are named after
Erie locals. You probably know a few.
Price tag. Expensive. You are going to spend some money here, and not the kind of cash you want to spend for
lunch, mind you. The appetizers run $8 to $14. Pastas, are $13 to $24, grilled seafood $24, veal dishes $23 and
higher, and chicken dishes are in the $18 range. Soup or salad comes with your meal, and fresh breads. If you are a
red meat eater, the pork chops, beef, and T-bones are between $19 and $28, but come with sauteed seasonal
vegetables, choice of pasta, potato or basil pesto risotto.
Bugaboo. The pasta fagioli came to the table lukewarm. Our server took it away without even asking why we didn't
touch it. Her notice of the barely tasted soup would have made the experience four-star.
-The Unknown Critic
|Alto Cucina's Italian fusion
The restaurant's chef-owner likes to integrate ingredients from different regions and cultures.
BY FLOYD LAWRENCE
A bowl of pasta e fagiole, a plate of lasagna or spaghetti and meatballs, and Chianti from a straw-covered flask. Now
that's an Italian meal, right?
For many, yes. But Pat Rodgers, owner and chef of Alto Cucina, describes his imaginative ingredient combinations as
"Italian fusion." This means that Rodgers integrates various cooking styles and ingredients from different regions
and cultures in order to produce innovative tastes. What's more, the wine list goes well beyond Chianti.
Having spent eight years in the Southwest -- at culinary school and as a chef in Scottsdale, Ariz. -- it's inevitable that
this region influences many of his culinary decisions. His "grumpy pork" entree, for instance, consists of a piece of
marinated tenderloin and includes fresh horseradish, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, and smoked corn relish and
Bill Sontheimer, one member of our party of six who recently enjoyed an evening at Alto Cucina, thought it was the
best piece of pork he's ever tasted.
Consider also my swordfish special, supplied by Girard's Art Peters, purveyor of this area's freshest seafood products.
I'm not easily given to superlatives, but I judge this to be the best example of that fish I've ever tasted. Rodgers
carefully trims out the dark bloodline, tops the fish with an avocado mousse and a couple of pieces of lump crab, and
throws in some tomatillo to boot.
It hardly matters what cultural preferences were at work here. The resulting entree was
Sharron Sontheimer opted for what Rodgers describes as his "upscale chicken Parmesan." The menu calls it "pollo
Ferrito," which reflects the chef's whimsical habit of attaching familiar local Italian surnames to many items.
Breaded and sauteed chicken breast is topped with sweet peppers, mushrooms, marinara sauce, and an Italian cheese
blend. It's served over cremini mushroom ravioli. Sharron thought it was delicious.
Rodgers puts a slight twist on his "spaghetti Polpeti" by making his meatballs with veal and sausage. Michael
Zaycosky gave it high marks. Pam Porter enjoyed the varied tastes of her "carbonara Bagnoni," made with pancetta
and julienned chicken breast with mushrooms and snow peas in garlic cream, and a Parmesan egg liaison (a
thickener) tossed with pipeti pasta.
My wife, Judy, also raved over her choice of a day's special -- duck bracciole stuffed with eggplant carbonara, along
with asiago cheese and wild mushrooms, sitting atop crimeni raviolini and a beef ragout (a type of Bolognese sauce).
Soups, appetizers, and desserts also deserve the highest recommendation. The clear favorite among our two shared
appetizers was "fromaggi di Tullio," a marvelously satisfying blend of four baked cheeses with rapini, macadamia
nuts, and dried cherries, served with an ample supply of
Not far behind was the fresh mozzarella stuffed with asparagus and sun-dried tomato pesto, with a crispy jicama salad
(nice texture with this addition) containing rapini and cilantro.
It would be an oversight not to mention Judy's zuppa de pesce, a wonderful cup of slightly thick, tasty broth holding
calamari, mussels, and langostinos. Likewise for the three salad options: A mesclun mix with a fine house dressing; a
wedge of iceberg with homemade Gorgonzola dressing; or a Caesar with real anchovies
(unless you ask for them to be omitted).
Desserts are made by pastry and sous chef Nicole Henning, a 2004 Mercyhurst College culinary school grad. Her
attractively molded tiramisu, made with round ladyfingers, is constructed with mascarpone, Kahlua, and cuarenta y
tres (a Spanish liqueur).
She's also known for a wicked pumpkin creme brulee, a sour-cherry-and-chocolate brownie, and -- my choice that
evening -- chocolate mint cheesecake.
"You have to like what you're doing, and I do," said Rodgers. "But I have an excellent and dedicated staff as well."
That was certainly apparent in the efficient service provided by Carla Inman, our server.
Call Rodgers' creations Italian fusion, or describe them simply as
1) quality ingredients,
2) prepared with an infusion of joy and skill, and
3) in an atmosphere of unpretentious elegance.
Either way, they make for memorable dining.