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Old Standards
By B.A. Nilsson

JG Roman Villa
61 Duanesburg Road (Route 7), Schenectady, 355-2090. Serving dinner daily 4-10. MC, V.

Cuisine: traditional Italian and pizza

Entrée price range: $10 (many pasta dishes) to $39 (surf and turf)

Ambiance: neighborhood eatery

A party of five, sitting at a nearby table, was deep in a friendly but gesticulation-filled conversation—happy to be with one another; breaking into the various two- and three-person conversational permutations that such a group invites.

And then the food arrived: five entrée plates, neatly arrayed on a tray that the server carried high over her head. She deftly swung the tray down onto an unfolded stand and, with the help of the hostess, distributed the dishes, each to the person who ordered the item, without resorting to the “Who ordered the linguine?” line of questioning.

What was most compelling was the expression on the face of each of the diners whom I could see. Needless to say, the conversation stopped. The eyes widened. Faces brightened as the aromas, a swirl of garlic and onions and hot tomatoes, spread. One woman did exactly as I ritually do when a plate is placed before me: She rotated it slightly to better align it as a work of art to be considered before the initial gustatory plunge.

They were so delighted to see this banquet spread before them that the joy was infectious. I wanted to join them. I saw a wine bottle make its way around the table. And then they began to eat, their conversation now a series of hushed ahhs of admiration.

You have to understand that there’s nothing fancy about this restaurant. The large dining room looks pleasant, but it’s dark, and the decor is a little heavy- handed. Beyond is a bar area where you also can dine if you need TV screens as companions. Nevertheless, it’s very comfortable, which is also a factor of the very pleasant servers who never fail to attend to your table.

Originally started back in 1978, in a strip mall on Rotterdam’s Curry Road, Jerry and Leah Guidarelli’s Roman Villa moved to its present location as the moribund mall lost its anchor store, replacing a tavern called the Rustic Loft.

The business has a tripartite persona: There’s the full-service restaurant; there’s a take-out business that sends a lot of pizza (among other items) across the counter; and there’s catering available. During a couple of recent visits, we tried to get a feel for the more formal end of things, which is still comfortable-casual.

You probably want to be assured right off about the pizza: It’s excellent stuff. The homemade crust is thick and pleasantly yeasty, adding a welcome crunch to the proceedings. My daughter has yet to attain her old man’s fondness for pepperoni—or perhaps she’s simply saving me from myself. Whatever the case, she likes broccoli on a pizza, but wants it with a red sauce. So be it. I persuaded her to add sausage, and those toppings work well together (add $1.50 per to an eight-cut pie, itself $8.50).

Most of it was boxed for us because, by then, we’d consumed the better part of an order of chicken wings ($7), which are as expected, but commendably served without too much drippy sauce. Boneless wings were a special that evening for the same price, but we agreed that the gnawing-off-the-bone routine is a pleasurable part of the dish.

The menu covers a traditional array of Italian favorites, beginning with antipasto ($10 for two, $12 for four), and ranging through soups, other salads, the usual appetizers, pasta dishes (featuring, in some cases, homemade pasta), seafood, chicken, veal—you know what to expect.

A basket of Italian loaf and garlic sticks hits the table once you’re seated, and there’s garlic-infused olive oil, as well as butter, as an accompaniment. Salad or soup comes with most entrées, and the salad is an especially good mix of greens that even included beet greens during one of my visits.

An $8 order of steamers was no surprise—a nice array of clams served with drawn butter on the side. Another seafood starter, this one pure dietary evil, is scallops wrapped in bacon ($7)—plump sea scallops drinking in the bacon fat, and served with honey mustard in case you need more. I sampled a very seasonal special of broccoli rabe ($7), the pungent bitterness of the greens tempered with garlic and vinegar.

Nothing is more satisfying (again, let’s forget the diet for a moment) than fettuccine Alfredo, that wonderful mixture of pasta and cream and cheese ($13). Homemade fettuccine made it even better. The cream and cheese combo was a little thick for my taste, but it didn’t stop my enjoyment.

Homemade linguine accompanied an order of veal Francaise ($16), featuring tender scalloppine cuts that are breaded and sautéed, and served in a lemony white wine sauce laced with garlic. Textures were good, but I wouldn’t mind some bolder flavoring in the dish. You could call it undersalted, but I don’t think salt is always the answer. Experimenting with herbs and pepper usually leads me to the flavor I seek.

One of the evening’s specials was a pork roast dinner ($12), an excellent value. A generous array of pork slices is presented, prepared as promised. Again, it was lighter on flavor than expected, but its context—a wonderful medley of carrots and celery and some big slices of roasted potatoes—made it a toothsome meal.

There is an accommodating wine list to help you flesh out the meal, and a serviceable selection of outsourced desserts to finish. Service, as noted, couldn’t have been friendlier, and it’s clear that this restaurant is a boon to its community.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

The Shaker Museum and Library will open the 2005 season with its annual Herb, Garden & New Food Festival on the museum grounds (Shaker Museum Road, Old Chatham) on Saturday (May 28) from 10 AM to 4 PM. The festival will feature a tasting tent celebrating the culinary talents of various area chefs and food purveyors; there will also be lectures, recipe demonstrations, children’s activities and a book signing by author Linda Dannenberg (True Blueberry Recipes for Soups, Salads, Desserts, and More). Also, vendors will offer a wide selection of herbs, plants and other garden items. Admission is free for museum members; otherwise, adults are $8, children under 12 $4. . . . 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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* E-mail address not required to submit your feedback, but required to be placed in running for a Van Dyck Gift Certificate.

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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