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photo:Martin Benjamin

Italian for Adventure
By B.A. Nilsson

Lorenzo’s

1733 Van Vranken Ave., Schenectady, 370-5455. Serving Sun, Tue-Thu 5-10, Fri-Sat 5-11. AE, MC, V.

Cuisine: exotic northern Italian

Entrée price range: $13 (spaghetti pomodoro e basilico) to $23 (grilled filet mignon); and one dish at $48 (filet mignon-lobster combo)

Ambiance: intimate but casual

 

You have to look outside to remind yourself that, yes, you’re on Van Vranken Avenue in Schenectady, epicenter of Italian dining in the Capital Region—yet what’s before you is a very different take on this classic cuisine.

Chef-owner Daniel DeLorenzo is betting that what he offers, which is a gourmet approach to (mostly) northern Italian fare, will complement what’s been here for so many years, and I’ll add my money to his. With the arrival of Lorenzo’s (which actually occurred a year ago), a fresh wave of talent promises to lift all the boats in the harbor.

And it’s good for the clientele, offering a chance, to put it gently, to expand some horizons. “Adventurous dining” and “Schenectady” don’t often appear in the same sentence.

So why is DeLorenzo here? This is a guy who parlayed a Culinary Institute degree into work for Wolfgang Puck: In San Diego, DeLorenzo opened Puck’s first Italian restaurant. And he’s put in time at fancy resorts in Las Vegas and Key West; so Schenectady would seem to be a last resort. But he has family here, strong ties that have persuaded him back over the years, this time to stay.

The menu changes according to season and customer response, but there are some favorites you can count on enjoying. Veal Lorenzo ($19) layers medallions of the meat with spinach and mushrooms and Gorgonzola, with roasted red peppers adding color as well as a contrasting sweetness.

My otherwise environmentally sensitive daughter has discovered the appeal of veal, and tested its flavor against the hearty competition of prosciuto and sage by ordering saltimbocca ($20), which is one of the finest preparations of this classic dish I’ve sampled in the area. Those other flavors roared on through without diminishing the quieter contribution of the veal, all of it finished in a lemony wine sauce.

What also sets this dish apart is a chunk of melt-in-your-mouth polenta, with wild mushrooms and a touch of heavy cream added to the cornmeal mixture.

The few beef and chicken dishes tend to be similarly inventive. Even the filet mignon-lobster combo ($48) gets some added foie gras and is served with white truffle butter, but more interesting are items like the pollo piccata ($16), pairing sautéed chicken with sundried tomatoes and mascarpone-enriched polenta.

Or the entrée my wife enjoyed on one of our visits: chicken alla forno ($17), noted as a Tuscan-style preparation, in which the skin-on bird is roasted until crisp and served with a mix of white beans and tomatoes. It’s a dish that exemplified not only the persistence of flavors of fresh, well-seasoned ingredients, but also an uncluttered but attractive presentation.

The restaurant itself is like that. DeLorenzo designed its refurbishment, which meant replacing the wall between the two small dining rooms with a friendlier divider, rebuilding the bar, installing new carpet and painting the walls—in a black-and-white scheme that carries over onto the tables as well. It works, and it can suggest intimate or casual dining.

And it’s not surprising that the chef’s talents should also extend to the look of his restaurant. “You eat with your eyes,” I was repeatedly told during my own chef’s training, and getting each plate to give a come-hither stare can be a challenge.

What, for example, do you do with four fat scallops? Contrast the color, for one thing, with the green of an emulsion made from sweet peas. Array them near a slice of that useful polenta. And while you’re enjoying the complex, varied flavors of this $20 entrée, you’re interacting with a kinetic work of art. These plates prove that food needn’t tower to be attractive.

I mined the pasta and risotti list during both of the visits I paid, first to enjoy risotto Milanese with duck confit ($18), which also includes sundried tomatoes and the flavor of red wine—Sangiovese, to be specific.

Without my cheaters, I thought I read “peasant’s lasagna,” and so ordered the $18 dish, wondering at its relatively high price. “Pheasants lasagna,” it turns out to be, although I’m still thinking my first guess was correct. There’s no pheasant in it, but it’s filled out with shredded chicken, veal and duck meat, with added mascarpone cheese, leeks and wild mushrooms. A rich and filling dish that puts your old sausage-and/or-beef lasagna to shame.

Entrées are served with an excellent house salad, but the appetizer list may be too tempting to resist. We sampled the artichoke hearts sautéed with anchovies ($10) and asparagus wrapped in prosciuto with a shaved parmigiano cheese and a cream sauce ($9), and they were worth the take-out containers they cost us at the other end of the meal.

Lorenzo’s is a welcome, welcoming place that stretches the dining boundaries in an area long overdue for such a gift. Good thing family loyalty can be so strong.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Microbrewed beer is back at the Van Dyck (237 Union St., Schenectady), with 60 kegs of ale already in the fermenters and another 20 being brewed this week. The first batches, now on tap, are an unfiltered pale ale and a full-bodied brown, with a blond ale to follow next week. A porter, amber and wheat beer will be on tap in the weeks to come. Troy’s Michael Beauchea is the Van Dyck’s brewer, and the brewery itself is the only true German brew house in the Capital Region, with the precise temperature control necessary for the production of pilsner-style beer. Brewery tours will be available, as well as beer tasting for private and corporate groups. The Van Dyck is open 4-11 Tuesday-Thursday and 4-midnight Friday-Saturday; for more info, call the restaurant at 381-1111. . . . Also in Schenectady, the Farmer’s Market continues until the end of October, with local farmers selling their wares Tuesdays at St. Luke’s Church at 1216 State St. and Thursdays at City Hall on the corner of Franklin and Jay streets. You’ll find everything from vegetables to flowers to handcrafted candles, and there’s even a chair massage available. . . . 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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