Very Good Year
Central Ave., Albany, 482-7200. Serving lunch 11:30-3 Mon
Fri; dinner 4:30-9:30 Mon-Thu, 4:30-10 Fri-Sat, noon-8 Sun.
AE, MC, V.
classic regional Italian
price range: $14 (fettuccine with tomato, garlic and
basil) to $30 (veal porterhouse)
while ago, as I drove past the old Blockbuster Video/Friendly’s
plaza near Westgate, I began noticing a sign with the subtle
inscription Grappa ’72. It was clear that this was a new restaurant,
replacing the defunct Carmine’s, but its curious appellation
called to mind earlier movies like Europa ’51 and Boccaccio
’70. As it turns out, the year referenced is homage to
the restaurant’s married owners’ shared birthdate. But my
remembrances of European cinematic influences have held firm
each time I’ve had the pleasure of dining here.
While structurally almost identical to Carmine’s, Grappa ’72
has withstood subtle changes that greatly enhance the atmosphere
of what is essentially a fine-dining establishment in the
back end of a strip mall. Gone are the harsh whites, the uncomfortable
chairs and the vaguely institutional lighting, and in their
place are softer golden tones on the walls, plusher seating,
and subtler lighting. Whether you choose to sit at the bar
or dine at table, the experience is geared to be comfortable,
But the menu has something else in mind. At first glance,
it seems fairly generic. Owner Armand Lule and Chef Dominic
Colose present starters like minestra del giorna, soup
of the day, which diners often pass over in favor of something
more exotic-sounding. But examples such as cold potato scallion
bisque with crumbled bacon, or on a particular sultry afternoon,
chilled watermelon soup, tease the palette, as if to say,
“So, you thought this was going to be just another boring
soup?” Salads are uniformly crisp with vibrant dressings,
such as aged balsamic or the highly recommended house vinaigrette.
House-cured (grappa and lemon) salmon is delectable, as are
house-made chicken liver pâté, prosciutto served with melon
in a fig-walnut vinaigrette, and a show-stopping dish of Prince
Edward Island mussels bathed gently in a spicy tomato feta
The carb counters among us often skip the pasta course, but
you really can’t go wrong with classics like the Bolognese
or the Amatriciana. The restaurant does an outstanding
job with risotto, offering a variety of takes on it including
one with wild mushrooms, Alba truffle oil and smoked gruyere,
and others with seafood. A recent special appetizer of fried
ravioli stuffed with roasted peppers and served with a light
sage cream sauce was delicious and surprisingly light.
I’m a big fan of Grappa’s lunches, which are economically
priced and beautifully portioned. Take, for instance, the
textbook balancing act of taste and texture that is the grilled
fennel sausage served with braised white beans and sautéed
rapini. Recent specials that really impressed included a refreshingly
crisp Greek salad served with tuna carpaccio, and impeccably
grilled scallops with risotto.
We rather cruelly tested the kitchen recently when, on the
spur of a moment, we took the entire family. On a Friday night.
Lule and his staff were the epitome of gracious hospitality,
welcoming our crew and proceeding to usher in a truly remarkable
evening. The formaggio plate, augmented by fresh figs
and grapes, offered a sensation of tastes and textures, and
the prosciutto di parma served with grilled peaches, arugula
and the fig- walnut vinaigrette was equally tantalizing, with
its mix of salt, tang and sweet.
While the littler ones enjoyed the Bolognese, one son opted
for a sort of red snapper puttanesca, which featured a flavorful,
flakey filet and nicely seasoned sauce on the accompanying
pasta. I chose the Cotoletta d’Agnello, grilled lamb
chops marinated in Calamata brine and served with roasted
potatoes and rapini. Never before have I had such succulent,
meaty chops, and the subtle salt of the olive brine was a
revelation. This is how I will make my lamb chops from now
on, provided Chef Colose sends me some pointers. My husband,
who usually heads straight to the roast chicken, debated between
the classic free-range with rosemary and lemon and the Pollo
Filipina, which is a vinegar-and-laurel-braised bird with
baked polenta and greens. Tough choice, but he went the more
adventurous route and was well rewarded with a moist and flavorful
entrée. On future visits I’m looking forward to Grappa’s way
with veal, a meat, which for a number of reasons, has gotten
short shrift of late, as well as an intriguing sounding Anatra
Arrostito, crisp roasted duck with raisin and Lambrusco
The wine list is heavily Italian, with some intriguing and
relatively new varieties, and is augmented with some well-chosen
Californians. And it is very reasonably priced.
Desserts have included an intoxicating cream panna cotta served
with berries, and other traditional Italian sweets like tira
meso [sic], along with cordials and after-dinner coffees.
Grappa ’72 is a welcome addition in a local restaurant scene
that, like the overall economy, has lost some luster of late.
In pursuing a soft opening, the owners have wisely chosen
to hone their exemplary abilities and to further train a very
gracious and professional staff in order to avoid the pitfalls
that too often accompany a splashier but less well-thought-out
entrance. Again, think European cinema, not Hollywood.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
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