Foster Ave., Schenectady, 374-1574. Serving lunch 11-2 Wed-Fri;
dinner 4:30-10 Wed-Fri, 4-10 Sat, 4-9 Sun.. D, MC, V.
price range: $8.50 (pasta with garlic and oil) to $20
(New York strip steak)
why the John Riccitello Restaurant has thrived for so many
decades on its Schenectady backstreet: I’d only ever visited
the place one other time in 21 years, but it felt as if I’d
been there last week. The staff didn’t know me from any other
infrequent customer, but they treated me as if the success
of the place depended on the success of this particular meal.
When you take the long view of a business, one meal does matter.
A chef with whom I once worked observed, “You’re going to
make this dish hundreds of times. The customer’s only going
to see it once. Make it special.”
At Riccitello’s, you don’t get fanfares and speeches; you
get careful attention and terrific food.
Both times I visited (in 1987 and just the other night), Lewis
Riccitello was behind the bar. This has been the case since
1968 when he found time around his teaching schedule and agreed
to help his mother with the restaurant after his dad passed
away. “It’s still a family business,” he said. “My son, John,
is in the kitchen now.”
The room is decorated with a couple decades worth of Travers
Stakes posters, along with family memorabilia, including framed
portraits of Lewis’ parents, John and Mary, the restaurant’s
Seating is comfortable, and the menu is straightforward and
Nothing is priced over $10 on the lunch menu, which includes
hot and cold deli sandwiches, burgers, pasta, seafood, and
the parmigiana trio: eggplant, chicken or veal. 21 years ago,
nothing was priced over $10 on the dinner menu, but now it
goes as high as $20 for a strip steak. Chicken parmigiana
is $15, seafood ranges from $15.50 for haddock or frog’s legs
to $16.25 for shrimp (scampi, marinara or deep fried).
House specialties include chicken livers sautéed with mushrooms
and onions ($12.75), veal or shrimp francaise ($18), linguine
with clams or mussels ($15.25) and seafood fra diablo ($18.25).
On the evening I visited, an osso buco special was available
in two sizes ($18 and $34).
Appetizers include clams and shrimp, soup and fried stuff
available in the $4-to-$9 range. Sautéed calamari can be ordered
($8.50), and there are smaller portions of entrées like fettuccine
Alfredo ($8) and penne with rappini and sun-dried tomatoes
But the dinner comes with plenty on the side. There’s an Italian
loaf and butter served as you sit (or waiting, as ours was,
if you reserve a table). Most entrées come with soup or salad
before the meal and pasta or a potato and vegetable with it;
an order of pasta, of course, only gets you the side of soup
Back in 1987, antipasto was “a large plate on which greens
mixed with spiced ham, prosciutto, salami, provolone, pimentos,
olives and anchovies.” The serving for two hasn’t changed
($11, and is available for one at $7), except that the anchovies
have disappeared (or, at least, I didn’t think to ask for
Minestra is a regular menu item. The soup of the day was corn
chowder, which most of my party opted to try; not surprisingly,
it was very traditional, creamy and thick, drawing much of
its flavor from chicken stock.
We compared two chicken-based entrées. Breast of chicken Riccitello
is a house special ($15.75), and combines long strips of sautéed
chicken with prosciutto, topped with Swiss cheese and presented
in a marinara flecked with herbs and cream. The combination
of prosciutto and Swiss cheese is both sour and salty, and
complements the tomato sauce.
By contrast, the chicken cacciatore ($15) has a more straightforward
marinara, which is fine. The flavor comes from a combination
of chicken, peppers and mushrooms in a classic throw-it-all-in-a-pot
recipe that benefits from careful handling.
Side dishes included a choice of asparagus or eggplant parmigiana;
my wife persuaded our server to give her both in lieu of a
potato. (She’s on an annoying anti-starch kick that I’m sure
will pass by Thanksgiving). This, however, allowed for a glimpse
of the eggplant dish. Guess what: It’s classic, and simply
consists of breaded eggplant, tomato sauce and cheese. A full
order is $12.
While we’re on the subject of classics, consider macaroni
and cheese. Here’s a concept Kraft turned into an artificially
colored horror that you should be ashamed to consume after
adolescence (unless, of course, you’re drunk and crunching
on it right out of the box). The grown-up version is fettuccine
Alfredo, with egg yolks, cream and parmesan cheese clinging
to steaming noodles. A large, well-seasoned portion, it’s
a $12 bargain that you really shouldn’t finish but will find
Sautéed baby beef liver is offered with bacon or onions; our
server had no trouble offering the $13 dish with both. The
bacon was perfect; the onions, though, which should be sweet
with caramelization, had received only a perfunctory trip
through the sautée pan. But the liver itself was a wonderful
return for me to a childhood favorite. Cooked with a pink
center, its flavor was quite unique.
Several varieties of homemade pie are offered for dessert,
but we went with ice cream: a bocce ball-like tartufo ($5.75),
sliced open and served with whipped cream, and a classic dish
of spumoni ($5.75). The ice cream and wine put me in the mood
to give voice to some canzone Napoletana favorites,
but my family hustled me out before I could embarrass them.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
in the midst of a weeklong self-guided Garden
of Eating driving tour of some of the best
independent local farms and restaurants in Albany,
Rensselaer and Columbia counties. Through this
Sunday (Sept. 21), you’re invited to follow a
trail of artisan cheese, vegetables and fruit,
meat, bread, wine, beer and many specialty dishes.
Also, take advantage of the chance to pick your
own produce and shop at country stores for an
array of honey, maple syrup, baked goods and more.
Full information, with farm and restaurant listings,
maps, suggested itineraries and even lodging suggestions,
are at gardenofeatingtour.com. . . . Ever sample
garlic cotton candy? The annual Hudson Valley
Garlic Festival takes place at Cantine Field
in Saugerties on Sept. 27 from 10-6 and Sept.
28 from 10-5. It’s a nonstop party of lectures,
workshops, music, entertainment and plenty of
pungent food. Learn the secrets of growing great
garlic from Rose Valley Farms’ David Stern, sample
Ric Orlando’s pan-blackened string beans and roasted-garlic
bread pudding, dance to the Zydeco Moshers, and
make yourself unsuitable for the company of any
but fellow stinking-rose enthusiasts. USA Today
named this one of the top 10 regional food festivals
in the country. Tickets are $7 at the door. You
can get schedules and more info at hvgf.org. .
. . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.