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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

Mister, Mister

By B.A. Nilsson

 

Max London’s

466 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 587-3535. Serving dinner Tue-Thu 5-10, Fri-Sat 5-10:30, Sun 5-9. (Open daily during track season.) AE, MC, V.

Cuisine: eclectic interethnic

Entrée price range: $6.25 (tapas croquetas) to $32 (hanger-steak special)

Ambiance: artistic

 

The Restaurant at the Italian American Community Center, 257 Washington Ave. Ext., Albany, 456-0292. Traditional Italian fare from the Mallozzi family, including a Grand Italian Buffet on Mondays. Serving lunch Mon-Fri 11:30-2:30, dinner Tue-Sat 5-9, Sun 3-8. Dinner buffet Mon 5-9. AE, D, MC, V.

It’s about time Max London got his own place. The peripatetic, self-taught chef has made significant appearances at places like Chianti and Eartha’s over the years, but attaching his own name to a place means you’re getting his vision on the plate.

And it doesn’t hurt that he’s adjacent to Mrs. London’s, the nonpareil pastry shop long helmed by Max’s father, Michael. In fact, it was a visit to the latter that got me into the former. Needing sweets with which to celebrate a spousal birthday, I steered us to that oh-so-dangerous display. And somehow we eased across the way to a seat in the spacious dining room.

No trace of the former inhabitant, Mabou, remains. “We spent about three years planning it and putting it together,” London explains. “It took a lot longer than we expected.” Enter from the street or the bakery and enjoy a cheerful greeting from the enthusiastic staff.

There’s a spacious bar for cocktails or late-night dining, and a dining area beyond, as well as an array of tables on the other side of a divider. Attractive baskets with dried flowers decorate one side of the dining room, and copper pots sit on glass shelves below the high brick wall of the other, giving the place the look of a swanky Manhattan apartment.

A single-page menu lists regular offerings of antipasto, tapas plates, salads, pizzas and pasta. Each day a specials menu adds more tapas, as well as entrée-sized offerings. The Sunday I visited arrived in the wake of an unexpectedly busy Saturday, forcing a diminution in the specials menu.

“They went through everything.” explained sous-chef Dan Spitz. “We usually have more than the three big plates you see listed.” But one of them was a grilled lamb burger ($16) of Spitz’s creation. He formerly was chef at the Beekman Street Bistro, and so, like London himself, is remaining Saratoga-centric.

Befitting its big-plate designation, the lamb burger was a good-sized portion of delicious meat, a reminder yet again of the vast flavor difference between commercial, grain-fed meats and their grass-fed counterparts. And the burger bun? A soft slab of focaccia, made in-house, alongside homemade sweet-potato chips and a serving of greens.

But let’s look at the Saturday specials for a more representative list. Orecchiette (“little ears”) pasta with prosciutto and peas ($19), duck confit with wild mushroom risotto ($27), grilled hanger steak ($32), hebi (also know as shortbill spearfish) grilled and served with sweet-potato-lime mash ($27), along with preparations of chicken and veal.

White anchovy crostini ($6.75) is one of the regular-menu small plates, a pair of homemade toast roundlets topped with the piquant fish and drizzled with olive oil. If you know anchovies only from the jar, you’ll be amazed at the broader and more subtle range of flavor here. Accompanying olives and roasted garlic complete the Mediterranean-themed array.

An order of garlic shrimp ($9) proved surprisingly plain: A small terra cotta dish with a handful of paprika-dusted, tailless crustaceans swimming in oil. Tasty, yes, but not up to the standards of the other stuff—like the salumi small-plate special ($9). Lardo is an Italian delight, a thin strip of cured pig fat served over thin crostini, so subtle in flavor that you almost need to meditate your way into it. After which, you can enjoy the stronger flavors of capicola (from the pig’s neck) and lomo (cured pork loin), all of it made on the premises.

You can customize your salumi order, choosing from always-available ingredients like speck, serrano, chorizo and finnochiona, along with a selection of cheeses including parmagiano, manchego, drunken goat, cana de dabra and more ($6 for each; $16 for three; $25 for five).

Other small plates include chickpea polenta fries ($7.50), crudo (fresh raw fish, $8.50), mussels Cazuela ($10) and serrano-wrapped dates with blue cheese and almonds ($6.50).

Mixed-greens and arugula salads are always available, and the specials menu promotes what’s especially seasonal. Like the early-summer vegetable salad ($9) that sported yellow squash and red peppers alongside sprouts and peas, olives and feta. The strawberry salad ($9) gives the fruit a refreshing context of mint and balsamic vinegar, set off with the sweetness of ricotta.

“I spent some time in Spain, especially in Barcelona,” says London, “and there’s a completely different way of dining there. It’s not just the food—it’s the whole tapas approach that lets you sample so many things. That’s why I decided to do it here.”

He also spent time in Naples, learning, among other culinary pursuits, to make pizza, which is offered at his restaurant, baked in a wood-fired oven. They’re personal-size (but large), priced from $13 to $15, and topped with a variety of exotica, like the homemade sausage and ricotta that we enjoyed. And what a terrific crust! Other toppings include salumi, clams, speck, and mushrooms, each placed in a vivid context of accompaniments.

With a box of Mrs. London’s pastries to enjoy back home, we forewent dessert, but every aspect of this meal was so enjoyable that we actually might fight what we foresee as being enthusiastic crowds in order to get back.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

It’s the 25th anniversary of Café Capriccio (49 Grand St., Albany), and the restaurant is saluting the occasion with summer prix-fixe menu offered in addition to the regular menu. For $25, you get a salad, a choice of one of four pasta dishes, and dessert. And those pasta dishes comprise primavera (pasta tossed with vegetables in cream); filetto di pomodoro alla Genovesi; calamari fra diavolo; and risotto with mushrooms, roasted peppers and spinach. It’s a terrific bargain to enjoy in the restaurant’s newly expanded space; reserve seats or get more info by calling 465-0439, or visit cafecapriccio.com. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (food@banilsson.com).



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