It in the Family
West Sand Lake Road, Wynantskill, 283-1291. Serving dinner
Tue-Sat 3-9. AE, D, DC, MC, V.
price range: $11 (spaghetti or ziti) to $21 (filet mignon)
Villa Valenti is very old-fashioned. Turn a team of market
analysts loose on this place and I’m sure the recommendations
would be many: Replace the booths and tables, lose the salad
bar, install a plethora of TVs, hang gewgaws from the walls
and get rid of the fresh pasta.
Yet it’s every one of those undisturbed features that makes
dinner at this restaurant such a pleasure. It’s a formula
that works, and has been working pretty much the same way
in the 15 years since I last wrote about it—and the 55 years
that the restaurant has been in business.
Nothing fancy is going on here, but you’re in a world of comfort
as soon as you’re seated, with friendly, knowledgeable servers
and a menu of solid Italian fare that is surprising only insofar
as the food is so consistently good.
If you spend $13 on the seafood-rich hot antipasto, you’ve
hit the highest price on the appetizers menu, where everything
else is under $10. With the small but nicely appointed salad
bar as part of most dinner orders, the cold antipasto ($10)
is a bit superfluous but does offer the cold meats and sharp
cheeses you expect from such a platter.
Stuffed mushrooms, stuffed artichoke hearts ($8 apiece), pasta
e fagioli and minestre ($7 apiece) highlight the
list; we sampled the fried calamari ($8) and found the fish
to be wonderfully tender and the finish crunchy and well-served
by the accompanying marinara.
Which is as good a time as any to remind you that Villa Valenti’s
most popular sauces (traditional, primavera and hot and spicy)
are bottled and sold in local supermarkets, with proceeds
all going to Prevent Child Abuse America.
Leading the entrée section of the menu is, unsurprisingly,
pasta, with lasagna ($15), ravioli ($14) and baked ziti ($12)
among the offerings. And there’s fresh, homemade pasta that
can be substituted, for a small charge, into a dish; we had
tortellini ($2.75) and gnocchi ($2.50) with our entrées, and
gloried in the texture. The gnocchi had the consistency, like
a thick custard, that makes their little potato dumplings
such a treat.
employees make most of the pasta,” manager Ralph Valenti explains,
“and I farm out some of it. Basically, if I find someone who
makes an excellent product, I’ll use it.” He credits part
of his success to a lack of the overhead that plagues other
restaurateurs. “This building is paid for, so I have my parents
to thank for that. That means I have the budget to spend on
the best ingredients I can get.” Which includes the hundreds
of pounds of semolina the restaurant uses each week in its
Want to go traditional? Dress an order of spaghetti or ziti
($11) with your choice of accompaniment, including peppers,
onions, sausage or, as we sampled, meatballs, which are hearty,
not too bready, and impressively large.
I passed up a page of chicken-based entrées to try a beef
specialty: braciole ($18), in which thin-sliced steak is rolled
around a stuffing of herbs and cheese with plenty of garlic
to set off the flavor. Topped with tomato sauce, it’s one
of the better examples I’ve tasted of this simple but artful
dish. (And it’s available in a smaller version as an appetizer,
Among the half-dozen veal dishes, the Valenti version of parmigiana
($17) offered no surprise but certainly was no disappointment.
It was precisely the dish we expected, with a bonus of the
mouth-filling flavor of the tomato sauce over both the veal
and the neighboring pasta.
Part of my challenge in visiting restaurants is to put together
meals that are representative of what the place has to offer,
and this allows me not only to take command of what everybody
orders but also to taste their dishes as well. The only person
I can’t control as much as I’d like is my daughter, the veal
parm fan, so it was with regret that we forewent the veal
Rosina ($17), in which medallions of the meat are served in
a sherry-laced cream sauce. Next time.
Of course there’s linguine with red or white clam sauce ($17)
among the many seafood offerings, but I recommend the pescatore
($21), also available with a red or white sauce. It’s a simmering
broth of lobster and crab, shrimp and scallops served over
linguine, and the sauce itself is out of this world. The white
version mixes white wine and cream, garlicked just to the
right notch of flavor.
All of which is a testament to keeping a formula that works
well for you. The original Valenti-family restaurant was the
Volcano, opened in Troy in 1908 and run for 70 years. During
my 1990 visit to Villa Valenti, I spoke with Ralph’s father,
now retired. “But we’re keeping it in the family,” he said.
“I’m the third generation, and I’m hoping my son, who’s now
in high school, will take it over after me.”
He laments the restaurant’s location, which is another thing
those market-analyst types would reject, but notes that it’s
very difficult to get a table there on weekends. As the many
fans of the restaurant already know, it’s worth the drive.
We’re trained to throw over the old-fashioned in favor of
whatever technology hands us; here’s a good reason to question
that dangerous approach to life.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
the royalty of bubblies at the Veuve Clicquot
Champagne Dinner at Provence (Stuyvesant
Plaza, Albany) at 7 PM on March 16. Chef Scott
Krause will prepare a five-course dinner paired
with selected champagnes from this venerable house,
and the event will be hosted by the winery’s Guillame
Boisvert. Among the courses: belon oyster with
cracked pepper granita and osetra caviar; diver
scallops meunier with cauliflower purée, kumquats
and capers; roasted veal tenderloin with almond
mascarpone polenta cake; braised rainbow chard
with golden raisins and thyme jus. The cost is
$90 per person, not including tax and gratuity,
and space is limited, so call the restaurant at
689-7777 for reservations. . . . BFS Restaurant
(1736 Western Ave., Albany) is celebrating
its 15th year in business with a new 14-page menu
and a new website (bfsrestaurant.com). The menu
includes many new and old Mediter ranean favorites,
as well as an expanded selection of wraps and
vegetarian items. BFS has been named a heart healthy
restaurant by the Center For Preventive Medicine
and Cardiovascular Health of the Primary Care
Physicians, P.C. For more info and to make reservations,
phone 452-6342. . . . Remember to pass your scraps
to Metroland (e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org).
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very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's
at Ogdens. You review described my dining
experience perfectly. This wasn't the case
with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or
Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree
that a restaurant can have an off night
so I'll give the second unit on Central
Avenue a try.
yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back.
Second, I haven't had a chance to visit
Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading
would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant
- it's not that far away. People traveled
from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam.
From his background, I'm sure the chef's
sauce is excellent and that is the most
important aspect of an Italian restaurant.
Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on
the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm
looking forward to trying this restaurant
- I look forward to Metroland every Thursday
especially for the restaurant review. And
by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam
location and is opening a new bistro on
Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running
in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake
Bistro. It should be great!
comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants
being as "standardized as McDonald's"
shows either that you have eaten at only
a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or
that you have some prejudices to work out.
That the physical appearances are not what
you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing
on the food. And after all, that is what
the main focus of the reviews should be.
Not the physical appearances, which is what
most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on
Central Avenue, may not look the greatest,
but the food is excellent there. And the
menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian,
chicken, and more..