Culinary cultural exchange

Featured Image: A group of international and local Virginia Wesleyan University students, in the lobby of Aldo’s Ristorante. Maria Vittoria Chessa | Marlin Chronicle

Aldo’s Ristorante, located at 1860 Laskin Rd, Virginia Beach, offers a dining experience that walks the fine line between Italian and American dishes. As an Italian student at Virginia Wesleyan, my visit to Aldo’s left me with mixed feelings. 

While the food was undoubtedly delicious, I couldn’t help but feel that it didn’t quite capture the true essence of Italian cuisine. The flavors are definitely appealing, but the search for authenticity leaves something to be desired. 

I had the pleasure of dining with a diverse group of international students hailing from all corners of the world. The evening was a true intersection of cultures, forming a melting pot around our table with students from Japan, Spain, France, Korea, Germany and America. 

This global mix added an intriguing layer to our dining experience, as we all brought our unique perspectives on Italian cuisine to the table.

It was a delightful opportunity to engage in lively conversations about our respective perceptions of Italian food. Each of us had our own preconceived notions about what Italian cuisine should be, shaped by our cultural backgrounds and prior culinary experiences. For some, it was all about pasta and pizza, while others had a deeper appreciation for the regional nuances of Italian cooking. 

Aldo’s menu features a tantalizing array of Italian dishes, many of which are executed with care. However, just by looking at the ingredients, I can tell you that for some, only the name is authentic. 

The flavors are rich and the ingredients are fresh, reflecting a commitment to quality. I played it safe and I enjoyed a delicious pizza margherita, which is only $8 on Mondays. The flavors were harmonious, and I couldn’t help but savor every bite. It really reminded me of Italy. 

My friend Yuna Matsuura, an exchange student from Japan, ordered Aldo’s fettuccine Alfredo. While she appreciated its richness, I couldn’t resist mentioning that what she was having didn’t quite align with the authentic fettuccine Alfredo we make back in Italy. It was a small moment of cultural education and a cross-cultural exchange. 

A similar revelation awaited my American friends when they were relishing a dish they believed to be “chicken parm.” To their astonishment, I had to gently explain that this particular dish, as they knew it, doesn’t quite exist in Italy. This light-hearted divulgence left them disappointed with its origin, but not the dish itself.

A luxurious order of cheesy lasagna and wood fire roasted peach cobbler, topped with spiced butter and vanilla ice cream. Maria Vittoria Chessa | Marlin Chronicle

The highlight of the night, for me, was the lasagna ordered by my friend Melina Medjake, an international friend from France. It was a masterfully crafted dish, rich in flavor and layered with delightful textures. However, for those seeking an authentic Italian experience, there is a strong Americanization that takes place on the menu. 

Benedetta Nitti, another Italian exchange student, said that one way to enhance the authenticity of Aldo’s would be to introduce Italian staff or waiters. 

As an Italian, meeting Italians in a restaurant is always a pleasure, and their presence would add a touch of genuine authentic charm. For Americans, it can enhance the immersive experience of dining in an Italian restaurant. 

The atmosphere at Aldo’s, while welcoming and pleasant, didn’t quite transport me back to Italy–albeit a tall order. The restaurant’s decor creates a comfortable and relaxed setting, suitable for a wide range of diners, but it does not fully capture the charming intimacy of an Italian trattoria.

That said, what truly stood out during my visit to Aldo’s Ristorante was the exceptional service. The staff was incredibly accommodating and customer-focused. They displayed a willingness to go above and beyond to ensure that diners had a positive experience. As per Italian culture, I appreciate the value of service that makes you feel like a welcomed guest in someone’s home, and Aldo’s staff certainly accomplished that. 

One particular instance that highlighted their commitment to customer satisfaction was when my friend from Germany, Clara Reining, who happens to be vegan, was having trouble finding something that she could eat. The waiter provided her with a few options that weren’t on the menu and prepared a custom meal for her. “It made me feel understood,” Reining said. 

Aldo’s Ristorante is a place that offers a delicious culinary journey that bridges the gap between Italy and America. The food is of high quality and pleasing to the palate, even if it may not fully embody the true Italian cuisine. 

For those who love both Italian and American flavors, this might be the ideal dining destination, as it marries the best of both worlds. Nonetheless, as exchange student Erik Jangenmalm said, “I would definitely go back.” 


By Maria Vittoria Chessa