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Shannon DeCelle

sam’s italian and american restaurant
By B.A. Nilsson

125 Southern Blvd., Albany, 463-3433. www.go-sams.com. Serving lunch Tue-Fri 11:30-2, dinner Tue-Thu 4:30-9 Fri-Sat 4:30-10. AE, MC, V.

Cuisine: traditional Italian

Entrée price range: $8.50 (pasta with marinara) to $19 (veal vodka)

Ambiance: casual and cheerful

 

Sam’s has occupied its corner of the Albany culinary scene—and its corner of Southern Boulevard and Kehoe Street—since 1965, an incredible record. A grocery store at first, it evolved into a restaurant by 1971. Although Salvatore “Sam” Rappoccio and his wife, Angela, have since passed away, their son, Paul, is executive chef, and daughter Carmella Daubney still runs the floor and keeps it all feeling like you’re part of this dedicated family.

The cooking is red-sauce Italian at heart, but the range of entrées is vast and varied. Veal and chicken dominate the menu, insofar as you can get those cutlets cooked alla Milanese, Parmigiana, Sorrento, Marsala, Primavera and much more ($13 to $16 for chicken, $16 to $19 for veal).

Eggplant can substitute in some of those dishes. Shrimp features in many of the seafood dishes, along with calamari, scrod, lobster and scallops. There are the baked dishes you’d expect. And plenty of ways to enjoy pasta.

Get yourself started with a small antipasto ($10) and look the place over. If you’re not too distracted by the neat array of different salami, set off by some good provolone, you’ll note that the long bar by the front door has the look of a place where a gamut of emotions has been aired over the years, but where camaraderie prevails.

A few tables sit nearby. Others fill the rooms, large and small, that make up the rest of the restaurant. As you spear some lettuce, dressed with a house balsamic-vinaigrette, you’ll notice that people at adjacent tables more often than not know each other, probably sharing the neighborhood as well these seats.

And there’s an easy familiarity among servers, who have worked with each other for many years—some of them for decades—and know many of the customers equally well.

Yet there’s no sense of entering as strangers. It’s not as if anyone’s pretending to know you, as you might find in a snootier place. It’s simply a great sense of welcome.

Ironically, this makes it easier to kick up conversation at your own table. Not that it’s usually lacking where I sit, but I tend to dominate the proceedings. In a place like this, suddenly my wife is inspired to hold forth. We were joined by a trio of friends, and the table was awash in chatter.

We also found time to try many items, like the dozen steamed clams ($9), a stripped-down version of the more popular clams alla Sam’s ($13), which are steamed in oil and garlic and served with marinara and sherry sauce. Steamers alone force you to deal with the purity of the bivalves, and, if you’re in search of that seaside flavor, there’s a good argument for that.

Although the conversation was shared, the escargot weren’t. Even my adventurous eater of a daughter demurred at the sight of the critters, six of which are sautéed and served on mushroom caps ($6). A cup of pasta e fagiole ($2.75) takes you to the classically Italian, and here it’s classically done, macaroni and beans afloat in a rich broth.

It was easy to talk my daughter into trying the lasagna (kid’s portion, $9), especially when the server offered an accompanying meatball. Need I note that the lasagna assembly boasted what for me is a hard-to-achieve balance of pasta and meat and cheese.

You can order an Alfredo sauce, that rich blend of egg yolks, parmesan cheese and cream, over your choice of pasta ($11), but why mess with anything other than fettucine? The wide noodles are an ideal vehicle for the artery-busting brew, and the flavor has the freshness of a wallop of cream.

My wife eyed her chicken primavera askance after a few bites. She ordered the $14.50 dish with pesto (add $3), but noted that the compote of meat and vegetables was richer with oil than she prefers.

Veal saltimbocca ($18) is another classic, a Roman dish that usually combines a sautéed cutlet with prosciutto and sage and, sometimes, cheese. Although I didn’t find a sage leaf, it was otherwise as tasty as I’d expect, adding sautéed spinach below the veal and a cream sauce on top. Putting it, you might say, over the top.

I was leaning toward a steak when my server suggested the sausage and peppers marinara ($14.75), which I ordered with penne rigate. Homemade sausage is always a good selling point, and certainly defined the flavor in this otherwise simple, down-home dish.

We left the restaurant pleasantly full, laden with take-out containers, and ready to buy a house down the street were one available. It’s that kind of place.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

One of the best in-state summer trips is a tour of the Finger Lakes wine country, where you can set up in a bed and breakfast and travel the length of the lakes. Add another stop to your journey by visiting the New York Wine and Culinary Center in Canandaigua (right on the lake, in fact). This newly opened facility features a training kitchen, a 44-seat demonstration theater, and a tasting room featuring the best of the state’s wine. There is also the Taste of New York Lounge, where you can pair food and wine samples, an outdoor orchard and vineyard, an exhibit hall with interactive displays and a retail center. It’s located at 800 South Main St., phone (585) 394-7070. . . . 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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