The streets of Saratoga around the holidays are picturesque, like a postcard of New England. Strings of lights adorn the tree-lined streets. On a Saturday night, downtown is remarkably empty—in stark contrast to the general bumper-to-bumper pace of Silicon Valley. Nearly everyone is inside a restaurant or shop, making it a perfect backdrop for the romantic evening that dining at East Coast Alice provides.

It’s hard to imagine having a cold beverage on a chilly night, yet the North East Bramble ($11) was just the right drink for the occasion. Berries, lemon juice, syrup and ginger ale balance the Gruven Vodka, and the waitress had no problem accommodating my request to replace ginger beer with ginger ale.

A commonly expected bread basket at the beginning of service was notably absent, but it was made up for by the addition of a garlic bread triangle served with almost every dish. The steamed clams ($16) and garlic bread ($5) appetizers arrived in time, and each bite of soft cheesey garlic bread was enhanced by a warm and satisfying dip in the white wine sauce. The clams themselves were sweet and juicy.

The kitchen was running behind, but we hardly minded thanks to the cozy lighting and warmth of the small cabin-like dining area—and, of course, the North East Bramble that facilitated conversation through the night. Our waitress paced about the refurbished wooden floors to frequently check in on us.

When the entrees were served and we found ourselves polishing off a Halupki casserole ($18). Like a very structured slice of Hungarian goulash, the Halupki is a mixture of ground pork and beef with brown rice, layered between cabbage leaves and cooked in a sauce of stewed tomatoes and brown sugar. The serving size was perfect, as there is only so much beef and cabbage that’s palatable in one meal, even if it’s as good as this casserole.

The pasta menu had simple classic dishes echoing the restaurant’s mantra to serve comfort food from American/Italian family recipes. The Amatriciana ($17) with added prawns was a fulfilling portion of bucatini pasta and pancetta in tomato sauce and romano cheese. It also comes with a slice of garlic bread. If I were Italian, I would say this dish is just how grandma used to make it. The Puttanesca pasta ($17) was a take-out order and held up very well by the time we got home. The anchovies could hardly be seen or tasted and it was chock full of kalamata olives and capers, giving it just the right amount of salty seasoning from the respective brines.

As the old adage goes, “It’s all about location, location, location,” and East Coast Alice hits it on the mark with the streets and building. If homestyle, American/Italian comfort food is the intention, that’s definitely what is achieved. Crossing over the threshold of the front door is like walking into someone’s well-decorated home, with rooms divided by wide doorways and windowpanes. Most pasta dishes do not come with meat unless added as an extra. Some entrees like the Halupki and Pierogi casseroles are not common for Italian restaurants in this area and are a must-try. If the other cocktails are anything like the North East Bramble, the bar program is also worth a visit.

East Coast Alice
14560 Big Basin Way, Saratoga
Italian, $$