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The More The Merrier
By B.A. Nilsson
Photo By Sylvia Aronson

Sergio’s Italian Restaurant
780 Route 9, Saratoga Springs, 583-8877. Serving Wed-Sat 5-10, Sun 1-9. AE, CD, DC, MC, V. Food: ***½ Service: Excellent Ambience: Accommodating

A few miles north of downtown Saratoga Springs, Sergio’s is a northern outpost for Sergio Lazzinnaro, who also has a restaurant in Queens. It’s an accommodating place where you’re probably best off with a party of four or more, although the restaurant will accommodate you with smaller portions (and prices) than the menu lists.

The main dining area is a large, attractive room, unobtrusively decorated. We dined to the strains of Sinatra, Chopin and Schumann, among others—an eclectic mix. Part of the ambience is other diners (the emphasis here is not seclusion but rather sociability), but we picked Super Bowl Sunday to visit—one of the loneliest dining-out nights of the year. However, we met our friend Liz at the restaurant to make it a foursome (counting our 5-year-old), and we decided to go all-vegetarian in order to accommodate our guest.

Family-style Italian dining, which enjoys a boom nearer New York City, has enough Capital Region outposts now that it shouldn’t be too foreign a concept. Still, it’s a little like shopping in a foreign country: You need to constantly calculate in order to translate price and portion size into what you’ve been used to seeing.

Each item you order is large enough to serve several, which means it’s very large—after all, most of what passes for normal-sized portions in our area will serve at least two. So the meal makes the most sense when you’re with a party of at least four. As a twosome, count on plenty of leftovers. Needless to say, the menu is priced accordingly.

A long list of appetizers ranges from $10.50 (spolini salad, fried eggplant) to $22.75 for the seafood salad, and includes favorites like antipasto (hot or cold), stuffed mushrooms, mussels, clams and calamari.

The suggested sequence is appetizer, pasta and main course. We obliged. Having restricted ourselves to vegetarian items, the choices were easier, and our server assured us that he’d make extra sure of the meatlessness of what we’d be served.

Although a wine list was at hand, it listed no by-the-glass availability. “What would you like?” our server asked. A red, I suggested. “Try the merlot,” he said, murmuring a maker’s name I didn’t recognize. A generously filled, quite satisfactory glass arrived.

So did four warm rolls, and we had a choice of butter or olive oil with which to moisten the bread. Our appetizer platter of mozzarella and tomato slices was layered with strips of fried red peppers ($18.75; it’s $16.75 without the peppers). The sweetness of fresh mozzarella is partnered so well by the acidic tomato that it has become one of those indivisible combos, like prosciutto and melon. Olive oil and seasonings finished the simple array, which is as good a salad as you’re likely to get, even with off-season tomatoes the norm right now.

Although pasta is considered the middle course, it arrived only moments before our entrée. Portobello mushroom slices added their robust earthiness to a hillock of fettucine ($22), and the brothy sauce was just the right accompaniment. Anything with tomatoes or cream would have been too oppressive. (And that was a characteristic of all the courses. Nothing got out of hand in the heaviness department—our great fear when confronted with so much carbohydrate-rich food.)

The eggplant parmigiana ($19) was no beauty star—when you’re going for quantity, there’s no disguising a mass of layers of eggplant, tomato sauce and cheese—but the platter did have an unexpected elegance about it. And it, too, was refreshingly light (as far as such a dish can get, of course). Extra care obviously is taken in preparing the eggplant itself, which needs to lose its bitterness and gain a layer of crispness before it meets the other ingredients. At this point we were sampling only the merest tastes, and finally collapsed amid the towers of uneaten dinner.

Our daughter, however, was game for something sweet, so we ordered a single serving of tartuffo (a
chocolate-covered ball of vanilla ice cream with cherries) that the waiter thoughtfully sectioned into quarters for us.

Service throughout was particularly attentive. Not surprising, of course, what with the slow night, but I could see a system at work that tells me you won’t be neglected even when the floor swings into high gear. And the servers were so dignified and well-spoken that it added a layer of classiness to the proceedings.

I would suspect that this place really hops when the Saratoga season kicks in, but it’s ours for the rest of the year, and it’s worth a try for your next family event. Dinner for three, with a kid on hand and massive amounts of leftovers, not to mention dessert and coffees and a couple of glasses of wine, was $106.

TABLE SCRAPS

Schenectady Day Nursery
celebrates its 100th birthday with a jazz party from 6 to 9:30 PM Thursday, Feb 28, at the Glen Sanders Mansion, Scotia. The celebration features hors d’oeuvres and a gourmet dinner along with a silent auction, live jazz by Colleen Pratt and Friends, and a cash bar. And there will be a birthday cake with 100 candles. Choose from roast prime rib of beef, boneless breast of chicken Alexander or a vegetarian entrée. Tickets are $75 per person; honorary committee tickets are $100. Reserve seats by calling 374-3995 or 374-3092. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.

—B.A.N.


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