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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

Upper Crust

By B.A. Nilsson

Pasquale’s

261 New Scotland Ave., Albany, 459-5077. Serving 11-10 Mon-Thu, 11-11 Fri, noon-10 Sat-Sun. MC, V.

Cuisine: pizza, sandwiches, Italian entrées

Entrée price range: $9 (baked hero sandwich) to $20 (12-cut fancy pizza)

Ambiance: casual, friendly

You have your Halloween in dulgence, I’ll have mine. As my wife and daughter plied the streets of Albany with a passel of costumed friends, a friend and I went in search of good pizza. And did we ever luck out.

The Web site alloveralbany.com voted Pasquale’s pies the best in its 2008 Tournament of Pizza, and the restaurant is again one of the top contenders in this year’s contest, the results of which will be announced as this issue of Met roland hits the streets. While I can’t weigh in on Pasquale’s from a tournament-style perspective, I can anecdotally laud it for a superior product in a high-competition field. Of course, the general standards aren’t all the highest—there’s plenty of mediocre pizza out there, and even me diocre pizza can be satisfying if it’s late and you’re hungry.

But, how nice to be greeted with one of the more perfect crusts I’ve encountered. Only a thin crust from a wood-fired oven tops this, in my opinion, and even that has to be made and cooked correctly. For a crust that emerged from a traditional pizza oven, this was superb, and even sported the cornmeal dusting typical of the wood-fired variety.

The back page of Pasquale’s four-page menu lists the many varieties they’re prepared to prepare, including several varieties of white- and red-sauce pie, with fresh tomatoes, fresh garlic and fresh basil among the many toppings. A plain cheese pizza starts at $11 for a six-cut, with extra toppings at two bucks apiece. Eight-cut is $12/$2.50; 12-cut runs $13/$3. The specialty pies average $16/$18/$20, with predetermined garnishment.

The Margarita, per tradition, sports fresh tomatoes, basil and mozzarella; the primavera gives you spinach, broccoli, tomatoes and mushrooms. Varieties you might expect include Buffalo wing, chicken barbecue and chicken Parmigiana; there are creative constructions like lasagna or pesto pizza, and my favorite wacky pizza: Hawaiian, topped with pineapple and ham.

“How come the Meat Lover’s Pizza doesn’t have chicken on it?” my friend asked me, probably rhetorically, as he studied its lineup of pepperoni, ham and sausage. I found an answer by ordering the Italian chicken, which adds tomatoes and fresh garlic to the (I love putting it this way) titular meat. In the flavor department, the tomatoes and garlic were stars of the show. Chicken may be the common referent for light-bodied flavors, but it’s really a starting point for its own creative flavoring, deriving benefit from grilling or sautéeing, marinade and/or sauce. The chicken on this pizza was suitably flavor-enhanced, but its contribution was more in the way of texture. The chunks themselves are a bit unwieldy, tending, at least when I’m wielding the spatula, to leap off the slice that I’m ferrying to my plate. As far as complaints go, though, this is pretty niggling.

There’s plenty else on Pasquale’s menu. You can make a meal of a $9 baked hero, available with a variety of fillings all topped with tomato and cheese. Salads include the usual variety (Greek, spinach, Caesar, Caesar with chicken) for $7 to $9, and the antipasto ($10) that we demolished built a nice array of prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, olives, eggs and apple slices over baby lettuce.

The entrée list is a variety of chicken, veal, eggplant and shrimp items, with parmigiana, Marsala, saltimbocca, Francese and scampi among the descriptors ($14 to $16). Classic baked dishes comprise manicotti, ziti (with or without eggplant) and lasagna, running $11 to $12.

We were shrewd enough to choose a pasta preparation, pasta carbonara ($11), which more than made up for whatever fat content I was losing by not skimming my daughter’s trick-or- treating haul. It’s an easy dish to prepare badly, so how much nicer to find the component penne sporting a rich, cheese-intensive sauce with a plenitude of prosciutto within. It was impossible to finish and, when I reheated it on the morrow, an impressive amount of butter separated away. But that’s what this dish is about!

Other pasta dishes include accompaniments of marinara ($10), meatballs or sausage, Alfredo sauce, pesto, broccoli and garlic, and vodka cream ($11 each). They’re all prepared with penne, which, according to chef-owner Victoria Gelaj, is for ease of service when the restaurant is busy. “But people are always asking for something else,” she said, “so I’m going to add cappellini soon.”

I know it’s inane to extrapolate an ethnic tendency on the basis of one or two people, so I’ll do this only in a lighthearted manner. Many years ago, I cooked in a busy kitchen alongside a fellow from Montenegro, an excellent chef named Haziz who taught me, among other things, how to coordinate the tempo of my inner music to the task at hand. He was as versatile at the stove as anyone I’ve ever met. So I was not surprised to find that Gelaj, also from Montenegro, is similarly culinarily polymathic. I watched her working and it was clear that her inner music is as rhythmically complex as it is melodically gorgeous. Her restaurant, nicely situated at the corner of New Scotland and Grove, is a pleasant, welcoming place, and the pizza alone makes it a worthy destination for me.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Halloween is just the prelude to All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, celebrated in Mexico as El Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead—an upbeat holiday in which departed loved ones are expected to visit their still-quick relatives, who honor the dead with an altar and special offerings. El Loco Mexican Café (465 Madison Ave., Albany) holds its fourth annual observance of the Day of the Dead with a traditional celebration from 4:40 to 9:30 PM on Sunday (Nov. 1). The altar will be decorated with sugar skulls, flowers, candles, and pictures and other mementos of the departed. Guests are invited to bring photos or other objects meant to honor their deceased loved ones (pets included); also honored will be those in the public eye who passed away in the last year. And there’s a culinary incentive: All who bring something to share at the altar will receive a complimentary piece of pumpkin-pecan cheesecake. More info: 436-1855. Web site: ellocomexicancafe.com. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.



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