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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

Pride of the Neighborhood

Scotti’s Restaurant and Pizzeria

1730 Union St., Schenectady, 393-7440. Serving lunch 11:30-1:30 Tue-Sat, dinner 4:30-9:30 Tue-Sat. D, MC, V

Cuisine: classic Italian

Entrée price range: $10 (pasta with tomato sauce) to $38 (veal rib chop)

Ambiance: cozy

 

By B.A. Nilsson

There’s rarely any predicting the numbers your restaurant will do on a given day, but you can count on Saturday being the busiest night of the week. Scotti’s doesn’t take reservations for parties of fewer than six, but the pleasant woman at the other end of the phone promised last Saturday that if I arrived soon—I was calling at 5:30—we’d be seated quickly.

By the time my foursome arrived, we had a 15-minute wait. By the time we were seated, walk-ins were being advised that the wait might be an hour or more. Throughout our meal, no table in the small dining room was empty for longer than it took to reset it. But the place was heavily staffed and the service, though brisk, was attentive.

And the food was terrific.

Scotti’s Restaurant has weathered the changing face of Niskayuna’s upper Union Street since 1966. When I last reviewed it, 20 years ago, it was the neighborhood’s favorite restaurant, lauded to me by a local who wasn’t sure he really wanted the place publicized.

When current chef-owner Guy Sementilli bought it in 1994, he’d already gained familiarity by working at Scotti’s. “It’s really the only job I’ve had,” he says. “I started there in 1989 washing dishes, and went on to wait on tables and do some cooking. And I got to know the clientele.” He got his hotel and restaurant management degree from Schenectady County Community College, did an internship at Disney World, and returned to his old neighborhood as a new restaurateur.

Disney World? “You’d be surprised. To this day, I use the experience and tactics I learned there,” he says.

Key to maintaining Scotti’s popularity has been maintaining the Scotti’s tradition. Although Sementilli changes the menu every three to four months, it’s usually only to add an item. “I don’t dare take anything off, or my regulars would get very upset.”

I can’t honestly say whether the lasagna ($14) is exactly what I had two decades ago, but here’s how I described it: “The traditional layers of pasta and ricotta were there, with the delicious addition of spicy sausage as another layer and tomato sauce as still another. All bubbling under a meaty roof of cheese. The portion looked small. I couldn’t finish it until lunchtime the following day.”

Once again, we left with leftover lasagna among the several take-home containers. The sausage is now menu-described as sweet, but rich is a more apt term for the components both singly and combined.

Other traditional pasta dishes include your choice of macaroni with traditional red sauce ($10), with marinara ($11) and with marinara laced with scallions and garlic ($12). Baked manicotti ($12.50) and cheese ravioli ($11) also are on that list.

If you need to warm up your appetite before the pasta plunge, choose from cold items like tomato and mozzarella salad with roasted peppers ($8.50), shrimp cocktail ($9) and antipasto ($9.75), or such hot fare as crostini topped with a tomato-caper salsa ($8), mussels marinara Fra Diavolo (two pounds of ’em for $15) or hot, seafood-rich antipasto ($16).

Seafood figures into the main courses, with items like scallops Santino (adding Alfredo sauce and broccoli over penne, $19), baked scrod ($19) and several linguine enhancements: shrimp ($17), calamari ($16), clams ($17), shrimp and clams ($19) and—you guessed it—all three items ($23).

Among the classics are veal Sorrento (adding eggplant in a red sauce dish, $17.50), eggplant rollatini ($17), chicken cacciatore ($16.50) and the trio of parmigianas: eggplant ($16), chicken ($16) or veal ($18.50). We sampled the chicken version and found it to be a generous portion that’s as classically prepared as they come, with the sauce enhanced by roasted garlic.

“Garlic is one of our main ingredients,” Sementilli says, and it was especially nice to see so many slices of the roasted variety peppering our dishes. My order of pasta all’Arrabbiata ($16), for instance, was characterized by a generous array of sausage slices in a spicy red sauce that coated a large plate of penne, and the roasted garlic not only eased its flavor through but balanced the other flavors of the dish. Even a relatively simple dish like cavatelli and broccoli ($13), with a crunchy, freshly cooked vegetable balancing the dense, sweet-tasting pasta got a needed lift from its garlic content.

Dinners are served with salads or sides of pasta where appropriate, and the salads sported a good mixture of greens and vegetables. Warm bread is crusty. The wine list offers reasonably priced selections by bottle or glass.

You’re sharing the dining room with close-at-hand neighbors, but the presence of so many others never felt intrusive. Although we were among those waiting near the entrance and thus trying to will the dessert eaters to leave all the more quickly (burning the backs of their necks with our laser-intense stares), once we were seated we grew instantly oblivious to the crowd by the door.

Because this restaurant was so welcoming on a busy night, I’m looking forward to returning on a weeknight when I’ll be ready for my next garlic-and-red-sauce fix.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Schenectady Day Nursery’s 11th annual fundraising event, “A Little Bit of Jazz & More,” will take place from 5:30 to 8 today (Thursday, April 29) in the Fenimore Gallery at Proctors Theatre (432 State St., Schenectady). The “more” part of the proceedings includes a cornucopia of food, including a carving station with turkey breast and roast beef, a pasta station, an hors d’oeuvres display and, if you don’t want to fetch your food, circulating trays with even more hors d’oeuvres, including sesame chicken, a Mediterranean artichoke tart, shrimp Wellington, spanakopita and more. There will be complimentary beer and wine and Chocolates by Lindt. The jazz part is a performance by Colleen Pratt and Friends. The event includes a benefit drawing with a choice of a $500 gift card at either Town TV or Empress Travel, and gift baskets sponsored by the Schenectady Day Nursery Board of Directors. Reservations are $50 per person or $100 for honorary committee status, and may be made by calling Jim Kalohn at 894-6305. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.



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