Some of the best places to eat in Japan are the hardest to get to. L'Albero is a great pizza restaurant, but it's 25 minutes' walk from Kumagane station (JR Senzan line) where trains only stop once every two hours, or nearly an hour's bus ride from Sendai Station. The buses do stop very close, though (get off at Kamiayashi-shougakkou-mae), and they go to either Sakunami Onsen or Johgi temple, so you could combine a trip! A car is your best bet, if there's a free space to park – L'Albero may be out of the way, but it's very popular.
One of the first things I noticed about L'Albero was the logs outside. They cook all of the pizzas in a real pizza oven; you can see the flames dancing as your food is prepared. Inside, style meets originality in the shape of a big, decorative centerpiece. It's a fake tree, and hanging off it are colorful, bauble-like spheres of wool. Surrounding it are lampshades of all different kinds, which gives the restaurant character. Even the tables have personality – some of them are re-purposed foot-driven sewing machine stands.
Pizzas come in three sizes, small, regular and large, which are 15, 23 and 32 centimeters wide respectively. There's a lot of variety to choose from, including some eat-in exclusives that aren't available for take-out. Besides pizza, there is pasta and risotto; amongst the drinks are many coffee-based ones. In the afternoon, between 15:30 and 17:00, is cafe time – you can't order pasta and risotto. Take out is also not available.
I ordered one of the eat-in pizzas, with 10 seasonal vegetables and capers. The smallest size is ¥900. I also ordered a half serving of foccacia at ¥300, which arrived at my table first. It was warm and fresh, as advertised,with a light residue of oil. Although it was thin, it was both crunchy and chewy. I did find the powdered cheese a bit salty salty and thought it was better eaten warm. The pizza followed surprisingly soon after (although the restaurant was very quiet at around 5pm). The freshness was immediately obvious. It was a delightful mixture of crunchy vegetables, earthy olives and rich egg yolk. I saw mushrooms and radish, and other vegetables I couldn't identify, but enjoyed eating.
After looking at the dessert menu, I couldn't resist, and decided to finish my meal with sfogliatella, a traditional dessert from Napoli, which was served with vanilla ice-cream for ¥500. How often do you see that on a menu? I am suspecting that a lot of research, care and attention to detail went into this place. Although the ice-cream was average, the sfogliatella was delicious. It had the flaky pastry in its characteristic layers, covering a delicious lemon-y filling. It wasn't too sweet, and the tried-and-tested mixture of hot and cold really added to the experience.
I couldn't resist a second visit to try more of the menu. I ordered another eat-in exclusive, a white sauce-based pizza with chives, shiitake mushrooms, capers, white sesame and mozzarella. Biting into it, there was a juicy layer of what looked like spinach, which provided a very satisfying bulk. My dessert was a very impressive kumquat tart with chamomile ice-cream. It turned out to be a stunning combination of unusual, but incredible, flavors.
After checking my bill (placed in a cute, animal-shaped bill-holder) and thinking back on my meal, I thought that the prices were very reasonable considering the freshness and quality of the food. L'Albero is truly a hidden gem of the Sendai food scene.