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photo:B.A. Nilsson

Quality, Quantity, Family
By B.A. Nilsson

bambino’s ristorante

154 Erie Blvd., Schenectady, 347-2782. Serving lunch Mon-Fri 11-3, dinner Mon-Thu 11-9, Fri 11-10, Sat 4-10, Sun 1-8. D, MC, V.

Cuisine: Italian-American

Entrée price range: $10 (pasta with meatball or sausage) to $22 (steak pizzaiola)

Ambiance: publike

Start with the fact that the Geloso family has been operating or working in restaurants throughout the Capital Region and beyond for many years, then take an unlikely spot in downtown Schenectady—a spot that variously has been a couple of bars and several restaurants. In hindsight, it seems like it was only a matter of time before these entities collided.

And that’s to our culinary benefit. When Bambino’s opened last September, it filled a void in that city’s downtown dining scene, providing something Schenectady thrives on: a solid Italian restaurant with a cheerful, family feeling.

Geloso and chef Joe Pisano worked together at the Country Inn Diner in Rotterdam, creating a pleasant period of time during which the food and service quality rose high above expectations. “I always wanted a place of my own,” she says, echoing an attitude that runs through the family. Her father opened Joe’s Pizza on Hamburg Street, a restaurant now run by her brother. Her uncle operates Mike’s Pizza in Fonda. Her sister works in Scotia at Riverstone Manor.

It’s all about food and family here.

Choosing entrées proved more complicated than usual during a recent visit owing to the plates we saw ferried to neighboring tables, each more food-laden and appetizingly aromatic than the last.

I don’t equate quantity with quality—in fact, I think it’s a culinary trap used by mediocre restaurants. But here, at least, you can count on quantity and quality.

And there are characteristics of Pisano’s cooking that I don’t practice. Chicken Milanese ($16), for instance, is a sauté dish, but the huge, breaded cutlet we were served had the earmarks of a trip through the fryolator. This gives a different, crisper quality to the cutlet, something some purists may decry—but I actually rather like it.

But let’s take a look around Bambino’s before we continue with the meal. Outside, it’s a small, unassuming brick building on a street struggling to keep commerce alive—where Sears and Ruby’s Diner and Wallace Armer once thrived. Inside, the place is about evenly divided between bar and dining room (the bar is vast), with images of Sinatra, Dino, Marilyn Monroe and, of course, Babe Ruth on the walls.

Michelle and her crew gutted the place, and the new walls—a mix of brick, paneling and drywall—and ceiling are part of a nice package that includes comfortable tables and chairs and a generally welcoming decor. It’s not in the least fancy, which is part of its proletarian charm.

The two-page menu is more succinct than in many similar restaurants, so the agony of committing to a meal is lessened. I was headed in the seafood direction until I sniffed a passing steak, but, for the record, there is a $19 seafood Fra Diavolo in which clams, shrimp and scallops—and calamari, if you wish—are served with the marinara in which they simmer.

Linguini with red or white clam sauce ($16) is available, of course, along with shrimp scampi ($18) and stuffed flounder ($17).

Ravioli, lasagna, fettuccine or tortellini Alfredo and eggplant parmigiana are among the Italian entrées listed thusly, ranging from $10 (pasta with meatball or sausage) to $15 (cavatelli with broccoli and mushrooms).

Among the meat dishes are a couple of pork preparations, popular chicken items and the obligatory selection of veal dishes, from which we tried the parmigiana ($17). Again, it’s a huge portion, crisply fried and nicely appointed with sauce (like all sauces here, homemade) and cheese.

And then there’s the steak. “I wasn’t even going to open the place without a charcoal broiler in the kitchen,” says Michelle, and she showed me the new, efficient cooking line she had installed behind the swinging door. A stock pot simmered on one stove burner; marinara bubbled nearby.

Steak pizzaiola—a pizza-like steak—is one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes. I learned why. The beef itself, a 14-ounce strip, was thick enough to emerge rare (as requested) after sustaining a flavorful burn packed with that evocative charcoal flavor. The extras—mushrooms, peppers and onions—are a flavor bonus, “and I season those, too,” says Chef Pisano.

That the soups are made here was obvious from the flavor of the chicken and vegetable blend we were served (entrées carry a choice of soup or salad). I expected to taste a lot of chicken, but the vegetable array added its own striking presence. Similarly, a cup of greens and beans, here fashioned as a soup, aligned the classic flavors with a goodly amount of garlic filling the broth.

You need something sweet to accompany a post-prandial espresso, which is why I discovered that Bambino’s brings in a good spumoni; with that and a calzone to see us into the night, we left laden with leftovers packages.

“You’ll never leave hungry,” the menu warns, and it’s no idle promise.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Saso’s Japanese Noodle House (218 Central Ave., Albany) will be offering sushi classes at the restaurant. The next one takes place on April 30 from 11:30 AM to 1:30 PM, giving students the opportunity to make and eat a lunch that’s as fresh as it gets. Call the restaurant at 436-7789 for more information. . . . 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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