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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

Plenty to Go Around

By B.A. Nilsson

Visit the buffet here during the next two Mondays, and you’ll be served not where I was seated, but in the ballroom. No doubt you’ll see construction going on in the dining rooms as the restaurant prepares for a May 6 reopening.

Meanwhile, the buffet becomes a moveable feast, appropriate to a meal that otherwise requires its participants to do the wandering. “We figured it was time to give the place a makeover,” said hostess Peggy, whose welcome station you’ll find just to the right of the bust of Columbus that welcomes you at the door.

The 35-year-old Italian American Community Center notes that its restaurant is a kind of nerve center of the operation, but the facility itself has sought a consistent identity through many changes of management.

It’s now been run by the Mallozzi family for more than two years, and they’re bringing a welcome consistency to bear upon the operation. This isn’t surprising, as the Mallozzis made a name with their eponymous Rotterdam eatery, now almost exclusively given over to banquets (of which more below); made a snazzy downtown Schenectady venue out of Villa Italia, a bakery that rivals its native Italian counterparts; and run the restaurant at the Western Turnpike Golf Club, as well. They’re even opening a swanky place in downtown Albany soon, when the Brown Derby debuts near the Palace Theatre at 22 Clinton Ave.

“Come on in, have a seat at your table or at the bar and we’ll get you something to drink while you wait,” Peggy suggested when I showed up in advance of the rest of my family. No cooling your heels in the hallway here.

As a veteran of many a buffet line, ranging from cheap Chinese to swanky resort, I’ve suffered the familiar indignity of the eternal pause while some indecisive endomorph considers the appetizer options, thus blocking my way to the entrées.

Here it’s been laid out in a much more sensible manner. Each of the four stations is in its own location. Antipasti straddle a dining room and the bar; pasta dishes (primi) are assembled at the other end of the dining room. You’ll pass the cheerful torment of the dessert station en route to the secondi, or entrées, which is in a separate dining room.

My party assembled soon enough, and a friendly server gave us the lowdown, pointing out the stations. “At the pasta table, your request is made to order, and can be finished in a vodka cream sauce, with marinara, with Alfredo sauce, or with garlic and oil.”

“Carbonara?” I asked, being a wise guy.

“He doesn’t have the pancetta or eggs there for carbonara,” said the server, deftly putting me back in my place, “but I’m sure you’ll enjoy one of the other options.”

I did. I visited unflappable Matthew Smith, veteran of other area restaurants, who ignited a sauté pan of vodka for an impressive start to the proceedings, and added the right amount of creamy tomato sauce along with the extra garlic and hot pepper I requested, so that the finished dish of rigatoni was very aromatic.

You sacrifice some of the traditional flavor values when making a dish this way. Garlic doesn’t have the same chance to sweeten and blend its flavor as it does in scratch cooking; pre-cooked pasta gains a mealier texture. But that’s the buffet-line sacrifice, and this is a far better approach than offering the stuff in chafing dishes.

The stuffed manicotti you find at the secondi station, being a baked dish, works better in that context, as do the parmigiana dishes—chicken or eggplant—that also are available. Steamed clams seemed to be moving fast enough to keep the selection very fresh, and the baked scrod (which I didn’t sample) looked plump and tasty.

I did take advantage of the carving station’s generosity and heaped my plate with both the thin-sliced beef round and the herb-crusted roasted pork. And, although they didn’t need much help, it seemed only right to avail myself of the spicy dijon sauce and the creamy horseradish.

A vegetable medley rose above the norm, with the mix of beans and squash and peas not at all sodden and subtly seasoned. And the three-cheese mashed potatoes aren’t to be missed, mixing parmesan and provolone with an unlikely partner of blue cheese—and some pesto dressing the top of the trayful.

Speaking of cheeses, some hearty chunks of blue adorn the appetizer station, where fruit and bread are joined by several salads (a few varieties of chickpea salads among them) and a standard green salad with lots of veggie sides. Dressing? Italian, of course.

The $17 buffet fee is almost worth it for the dessert alone. You’ll recognize Villa Italia pastries and confections, and the array of cakes and cookies (and, yes, fruit) makes it more than any single sensibility can handle. Pace yourself. Nobody will rush you.

And if Monday isn’t enough, you can catch the buffet again on Wednesdays when it’s presented at Mallozzi’s Ballrooms and Catering, 1930 Curry Road, Rotterdam. In true buffet style, there’s too much of a good thing.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

You can make a difference in the lives of those affected by HIV/AIDS by dining out tonight (Thursday). Dining Out for Life is an annual one-day fundraiser held in to 47 cities across North America to benefit locally based HIV/AIDS service organizations; participating restaurants donate a generous portion of proceeds from the day’s checks to their local AIDS charity. Local venues include Bayou Café, Beff’s, BFS, Cheesecake Machismo, DeJohn’s, Grandma’s Restaurant, Justin’s, Magnolias on the Park, Nicole’s Restaurant, Provence, Scratch Bakery Café, Milano, Brindisi’s, Hattie’s, Longfellows, Mexican Connection, Olde Bryan Inn, Tiznow, Ambition, Flavour Café and Tosca Grill. Call ahead and mention Dining Out for Life. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (food at banilsson.com).



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