The Flaming A. Aldo’s was a continental restaurant in Sacramento up until about a decade ago. It was a great place. Reviewers often bemoaned the fact that the quality was variable, and in the many years since Poul Culatte, Aldo’s original chef, retired, they may have had a point, but I invariably loved the place.
It was owned and presided over by the inimitable Aldo Bovaro, one of the most elegant gentlemen I have ever known. He was a good friend of my father’s, and, though ten years might have passed between my visits, he would always greet me with a hug and kisses on the cheeks and treat me as though I was his most prized guest. I think that everyone at Aldo’s always felt like his most prized guest, and that is what made the place so very special.
Aldo was Italian born but most recently expatriated from Uruguay. Aldo was a citizen of the world. He spoke numerous languages perfectly and fluently and he had traveled everywhere. Aldo and Poul were my first inspirations to pursue a cooking career.
The focus of Aldo’s restaurant was tableside service with lots of flambé. The restaurant was appropriately dark, waiters wore black dinner suits. In the spring and summer, Aldo would wear a white dinner jacket, and in the cooler months he, too, would wear a black suit. There was a pianist, Mario Ferarri, who was excellent, and, for a period of time, on Thursday nights, Aldo would sing Italian songs in the bar, accompanied by Mario. Mario would woo the young ladies, but their hearts belonged to Aldo.
I remember being impressed when my parents went in one evening, and were seated at a corner table – the matre d’hotel gave them menus and exchanged pleasantries with them. A couple of minutes later, Aldo appeared and seated himself at our table, and began to visit with them in earnest. When the waiter came by, he would not allow my parents to order, instead, Aldo took their menus away and gave them to the waiter. He said, “I will take care of you. I promise, you will have a fine dinner!”
I do not remember all the details of the dinner, but I do remember that it was excellent. I had escargots, because it was one of the few places in Sacramento where I could get them. I also remember the pheasants that were decorated with their own feathers and, around the time that the dessert zabiones were being served, Aldo brought a service cart out and prepared Caffé Diable. It was a flaming and alcoholic coffee beverage, served in demitasse, and it was tremendous. It remains to this day, my favorite after dinner beverage.
I could go on for days, reminiscing about Aldo and his restaurant. It was a heartfelt loss when I drove by one day and it was gone. It was one of the major inspirations in my life, and I pay tribute to it every time I prepare a meal.