Masterpiece in Brick
McKay St., Pittsfield, Mass., (413) 499-1192. Serving dinner
Wed-Mon 5-9. AE, D, MC, V..
price range: $12 (penne all’Arrabbiata) to $30 (rack
The secret, says chef Davide Manzo, is in the brick oven from
which most of his finished entrées are pulled. But you can
tell that there’s more to it than that. Sure, the oven is
impressive—as it should be, sitting in the middle of the restaurant,
a structure that Manzo himself built, according to an Italian
tradition that insists upon having a chef build his own trattoria
oven. Manzo, who also has worked in construction, imported
the bricks from Italy. The finished product glows throughout
the night, and you’ll marvel at the way in which he glides
the meats and fish into and out of the oven, the cooking times
ticking in a clock in his head.
The kitchen is open for all to see; the dining areas of Trattoria
Rustica are at different sides of it. Part of the magic of
the place is to see each dish achieve its finish, often requiring
a meticulous placement of ingredients. There’s not a lot of
fancy garniture here: Manzo believes that the ingredients
can speak for themselves.
Take the spigola ($29), a special the evening we visited.
It’s a small sea bass, also called branzino, that Manzo
orders from Greece. He stuffs it with garlic and Italian parsley,
seasons it a little, and into the oven it goes. When it emerges,
the skin is crisp (and quite edible), and the flesh is succulent,
yielding a tremendous amount of flavor coaxed by the chef’s
is antichi sapori,” he explains. “The ancient flavors.
I was born in Pompeii, which as you know had a most important
civilization thousands of years ago. There are also recipes
from the ancient Pompano, and I have studied these.” And pared
them down to simple, straightforward presentations that are
Another example was another one of the day’s appetizer specials:
speck ($19), a cousin to prosciutto, is a ham cured
by brining it with garlic and juniper berries, then cold-smoking
it until it achieves dark, rich flavor, reminiscent of pancetta,
but, of course, smoky. A generous array of silky thin slices
shared a plate with fresh, sweet figs and a handful of large
lupini, a bean prized for its ability to neutralize
Trattoria Rustica opened five years ago on a side street in
Pittsfield’s downtown. But Manzo is no stranger to the business:
Eleven years ago, he and his sister opened Trattoria “Il Vesuvio”
down the road in Lenox.
Dinner is offered in a traditional Italian style, with a succession
of antipasto, pasta, an entrée and salad if you choose to
go the distance. Finish with a sweet and a cup of espresso,
then top it off with biscotti and vin santo. And then
toss down a shot of grappa.
With my wife staring at my waistline, I put up a mild resistance.
Which is to say that I skipped the salad course. She took
care of that, anyway, ordering insalata mista ($7)
to start. What could have been a fairly ordinary compote of
fresh greens (not that even that is so ordinary) was set off
by a topping of crisp shaved fennel, and the merest touch
of balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
Expect the obvious: Calamari is going to be calamari,
but the $11 appetizer features long tubes of the stuff, grilled
until tender, served with a lemon and parsley paste that fooled
me into thinking it was pesto. Alongside is a green salad.
There’s no more glorious summer flavor combo than fresh tomato
paired with a basil leaf; add freshly made mozzarella (Manzo
makes it each morning) and you have caprese ($12),
a beautiful way to awaken the palate.
The fine print at the bottom of the pasta page promises linguini
aglio e olio ($10), which is a simple dish that adds
oil and garlic to the noodles. Again, there’s something a
little different here: The garlic pieces are crisped and sweetened
Opt for the puttanesca ($15) and you’ll find large
capers hiding within, along with the requisite array of olives
and anchovies. It’s one of the best flavor combinations ever
to grace a bowl of pasta, so good that you’d be crazy to insult
it with cheese.
Not surprisingly, Manzo stuffs his own ravioli, a classic
preparation with ricotta, simply served with a basil-enhanced
tomato sauce ($16). If it sounds ordinary, believe me: The
flavors are magic, helped tremendously by the look and feel
of the room in which you’re dining.
Terracotta light fixtures hang overhead; a tile floor suggests
the Mediterranean. Artwork and music are carefully selected.
The servers know the menu and are happy to discuss it and
to recommend items.
Antonio, who waited on us, has been with the restaurant since
it started. He has that tip-enhancing talent of reacting to
your order with a surprise that suggests no one more intelligent
than you ever has chosen from this menu.
Although we dined late on a Saturday, with the room clearing
around us and servers clearly ready to call it a night, Antonio
presented my pork loin chop ($22) with a sense that I should
take as long as I wished to finish. Likewise the rack of lamb
($30) that completed our ordering. Both emerged from the brick
oven with a tender, juicy finish, the lamb seasoned with mint
in addition to lemon and parsley, the pork coated with garlic
and oregano. Alongside was a serving of sautéed Swiss chard,
asparagus, and more lupini.
Desserts are displayed in a case by the bar; others, like
the chocolate bombe (chocolate-coated chocolate and
coconut ice cream) that my daughter insisted on ordering,
emerge from the freezer. I contented myself with the biscotti-vin
santo combo, savoring the sherry-like wine as a sense
of complete happiness settled upon me. Fine dining at its
best is a totally engaging experience, and that’s what Manzo
has achieved here.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
André Begnaud, who served as executive sous chef
at two of Emeril Lagasse’s restaurants, will cater
the Ninth Annual Music Haven Community Gala
celebration in Schenectady’s Central Park
from 5:30 to 7:15 PM on Monday (Aug. 28). The
menu includes smoked brisket, barbecued chicken,
green beans with pecans, corn maque choux, Cajun/Creole
potato salad, Louisiana slaw, and dessert beignets.
The Gala marks the last concert of the summer
series, which features zydeco master Geno Delafose
and French Rockin’ Boogie on the Music Haven stage
at 7:30 PM. The Gala’s $55 ticket includes VIP
seating for the concert, the pre-show Louisiana
bayou-style barbecue with dinner entertainment
by the Ramblin’ Jug Stompers (Michael Eck &
Greg Haymes), and post-concert café du monde dessert.
The concert itself is free to the public as usual.
For more information, visit www.music havenstage.org
or call the Central Park office at 382-5152 or
the Chamber of Schenectady County at 372-5656.
. . . Chameleon on the Lake (251 Stafford
Bridge Rd., Saratoga) is hosting a SPAC Food and
Wine Fundraiser at 6:30 PM on Sept. 7 at the restaurant,
which perches picturesquely on the northern inlet
of Saratoga Lake. The event includes not only
creative food and wine pairings but also Latin
music and a complimentary dance lesson. The menu
includes mushrooms stuffed with gorgonzola and
sausage, paired with Sheldrake Chardonnay from
Australia; coconut-crusted halibut with a Thai
curry sauce, together with a Joseph Carr Sauvignon
Blanc from the Napa Valley; and coulat steak with
a morel cherry sauce paired with Joseph Carr 2002
Cabernet Sauvignon. The price is $110 per person,
inclusive, and you can reserve a seat by phoning
the restaurant at 581-3928. . . . Remember to
pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail:
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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.
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
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!
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..