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All in the Famiglia
By B.A. Nilsson

Casa Mia Ristorante

385 Route 9W, Glenmont, 463-4331. Serving Tue-Fri 11-10, Sat 4-11, Sun 4-9. AE, DC, MC, V.

Cuisine: classic Italian

Entrée Price Range: $10 (pasta with marinara) to $23 (12-oz. filet mignon)

Ambiance: pleasant and comfortable

Try as they might, the chain rest aurants still can’t duplicate what makes a neighborhood Italian place work. Casa Mia is a case in point, a restaurant that has operated for a dozen years along what’s now a booming stretch of Route 9W, with big-box stores nearby and the oppressive specter of a Chili’s just across the street.

“It hasn’t really affected us,” a server said when I asked about the new neighbor. “We’re still as busy as ever. I don’t know who goes there.”

Consistency and reliability are key factors in the success of any restaurant. You can as easily predict the style of an Italian- restaurant menu as you can the Applebee’s-Chili’s-Ruby Tuesday type of place; what’s unknown is how well the food will live up to those expectations.

Casa Mia offers no disappointments. It’s not the world’s lightest fare—my dish of stuffed mushrooms swam in so rich a buttery sauce that the bread practically dived in after it—but it sure is satisfying. Were I in the neighborhood more frequently, I could see making regular visits.

Very classic dishes dominate the menu, but seafood is noted as a specialty, so I cast aside a hankering for something sautéed in a wine sauce and instead opted for a special of stuffed salmon ($19)—seafood stuffed, not surprisingly.

Served over rice were two good-sized filets wrapped around a predictable, bread-rich filling, all of it topped with a creamy lobster sauce that threatened to herald a total excess of flavors. Yet the components worked together, the white rice particularly good for spreading the impact of that sauce.

The main dining room reveals its charm after a little study, once you notice that the table colors—they’re draped in white and dressed with green—are picked up by the window curtains, the pinkish flowers on which echo the shading of the walls. Dark wood paneling and a series of midroom columns add some intimacy to the dining experience.

Upon the entering the restaurant, you’ll see a roly-poly chef statue bearing a specials board; veer right and there’s a large bar and some tables in a room beyond. More than likely, you’ll be seated in the room I described, which is to the left.

Twelve years is a long lifetime for a restaurant these days, but, as chef-owner Ray Cecunjanin explains, the family has been in the business for a lot longer than that. And what a family! They’ve spread a dynasty of similar restaurants throughout the Northeast, beginning in Bridgeport, Conn., where Mario’s I still thrives on that city’s Main Street. Locally, family members also run Mercato’s in Delmar, and they have places further north in Lake Placid and Saranac Lake.

“The menu will be about 70 percent the same from place to place,” Cecunjanin explains, “but each place operates independently.” So the recipes, including sauces and baking, have stayed in the family, passed from member to member as each new eatery takes shape. The chains can only dream of such a legacy.

Consistency also requires a good buying strategy, which accounts for the excellent cut of meat in the veal Napoli ($17), another special, but one that shows up often. “I pay a little extra for my veal,” Cecunjanin explains, “because it has to be tender. You have to be able to cut it with a fork.”

It’s paired with sausage slices and mushrooms in a wine-rich sauce, a simple dish that marries its component threesome well. We have noted with some dismay a proliferation of too-chewy veal medallions; this is how it should be. A side of pasta rounds out the dish.

Order an entrée of pasta and you’ll pay from $10 for a marinara-topped serving to $14 for a clam sauce or carbonara. Add the salad and bread that come with the meals and you might well be set for dinner.

Many of those dishes are meatless; they’re joined by a quartet of entrées on another menu page specifically touted as vegetarian, including a $13 vegetable lasagna.

That’s not the one we sampled, though. The same price gets you the classic casserole layered with meat and cheese, about as complete a meal as you can find in so compact a form. Even though other baked pasta dishes like ricotta-stuffed cannelloni and manicotti are available ($12 each), I’m firmly in the lasagna camp.

It may be true, as my wife insists, that I’ll like anything with cheese melted in or on top of it; still, the spedini appetizer ($8) was a winner not only because it gives you triangular wedges of breaded and fried cheese (oh, sin of sins!) but also because it’s served with a compote of mushrooms, prosciutto, capers, olives and roasted peppers that itself could have been an appetizer.

There’s plenty more to choose from, what with a page and a half of chicken, veal, beef and seafood items, but you’ve dined in this kind of place before and know exactly what to expect. What puts Casa Mia on a par with the best of them is its food quality and friendly, efficient service—and the sense that there’s a family that loves food looking out for you.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

The Hudson Valley Council of Girl Scouts will hold its 17th Annual Trefoil Awards Gala at The Desmond in Colonie from 7 to midnight Friday, April 8. The evening includes a champagne reception, seafood presentation, hors d’oeuvres, an elaborate stationed buffet and delicious desserts made with Girl Scout cookies. Also taking place are the Trefoil Awards presentation, silent and live auctions and dancing with Jill Hughes and Friends. Tickets are $100 per person. For more info, call Sharon Smith at 489-8110, ext.105, or e-mail ssmith@girlscoutshvgsc.org. All proceeds will benefit the programs and services of the Girl Scouts, Hudson Valley Council. . . . Chef Yono Purnomo is chairing a celebration of Asian cuisine at 3 PM on Sunday, April 10, at Franklin Plaza in Troy. The event benefits the tsunami relief fund and SUNY Cobleskill’s Culinary Arts program, and brings together four prominent chefs to provide a five-course food-and-wine pairing. Chef Thomas Gisler of Cooperstown and Saratoga is Swiss-born but worked for years at resorts in Japan. He will prepare the appetizer and soup course. TV celebrity Joe Poon of Philadelphia will prepare a Chinese dish, while Purnomo will prepare a dish with an Indonesian influence. The dessert will feature the culinary skills of chef A. Jayapal (AJ) of the Edison Club in Rexford. The menu will be paired with wine by sommelier Dominick Purnomo. Faculty and students of SUNY Cobleskill will assist in preparation and serving of the dinner. All involved are donating their time and talent. The five-course food and wine pairing has several levels of sponsorship beginning at $75 per person. Required reservations may be made by calling 234-5425. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail: food@banilsson.com).


We want your feedback

Have you eaten at any recently reviewed restaurants? Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...

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What you're saying...

I 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.

Mary Kurtz
Castleton

First, 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 the reviews.

Pat Russo
East Greenbush

I 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!

Peggy Van Deloo
Schenectady

So happy to see you finally made out!! Our experiences have always been wonderful, the staff is extremely professional, the food subperb, and the atmosphere very warm and comfortable. Let us not forget to mention "Maria" the pianist on Friday and Saturday nights.

Charlie and Marie
Michaels Restaurant

I have been to Michael's several times and each time I have enjoyed it very much. The food is delicious and the staff is great. Also, Maria Riccio Bryce plays piano there every Friday and Saturday evening, a nice touch to add to the already wonderful atmosphere. It is also easy to find, exit 27 off the thruway to 30 north for about 5 miles.

N. Moore
Albany

Wonderful!

Elaine Snowdon
Albany

We loved it and will definitely go back.

Rosemarie Rafferty

Absolutely excellent. The quality and the flavor far surpasses that of other Indian restaurants in the area. I was a die-hard Shalimar fan and Tandoor Palace won my heart. It blows Ghandi out of the water. FInally a decent place in Albany where you can get a good dinner for less than $10 and not have tacos. The outdoor seating is also festive.

Brady G'sell

Indian is my favorite cuisine available in the area--I loved Tandoor Palace. We all agreed that the tandoori chicken was superior to other local restaraunts, and we also tried the ka-chori based on that intriguing description-delicious.

Kizzi Casale
Albany

Your 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..

Barry Uznitsky
Guilderland



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