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Martin Benjamin

That’s Amore
By B.A. Nilsson

Mario’s Restaurant & Pizzeria
2850 River Rd., Niskayuna, 347-0002. Serving Tue-Fri 11-10, Sat 4-10. AE, D, DC, MC, V.

Food: * * * *
Service: Cheerful
Ambiance: Comfy

It’s true that the predecessor here was called Mari’s, a Japanese restaurant now located in Burnt Hills. But the current restaurant didn’t choose its new name on some economical basis of adding an O to the signs.

“I joke about that,” says Katrina Isopo, who owns Mario’s with her husband, John. “But we named it after our son, who’s named after John’s father.” The restaurant has been open for four years, tucked into a corner of Niskayuna you’d have no reason to explore if you didn’t live there.

But the place does a terrific business. My wife, Susan, heard about it from a friend, and we tried a couple of times to get in over the past few months, but were stymied by the crowd packing the place—and this was on a couple of weeknights!

“It gets a little slower during the week when school starts,” Katrina explains. “But Friday and Saturday are still awfully busy.”

It’s a small, very unprepossessing place, nicely appointed to make anyone from a dating couple to a full-fledged family feel comfortable. Everyone seemed happy to be there, from the hostess who seated us to the bartender who cheerfully helped jump-start my car when we left.

There are a dozen or so tables in the room adjacent to the bar. When we visited, there were almost no tabletops on view, what with all the food plates and platters. And the aroma of fresh bread only added to the appeal.

Here is a case where the antipasto for one ($7) really is sized for a single eater, albeit a hearty one. Nothing terribly special here: The meats are standard-issue sliced salami, with pepperoni slices and provolone, served over an OK mix of lettuce. Dressing is a vinegar-rich vinaigrette.

And, because my entrée entitled me to a salad, I got a salad as well. There’s a routine to be followed. I can’t really complain, however, because service was so cheerful and attentive that this hardly seemed to matter.

My daughter, Lily, and Susan shared an order of 10 chicken wings to start ($6), crisp and moderately spicy, as requested, with celery sticks and blue cheese dressing on the side. Appetizers are otherwise impressively varied, aimed at light dining and beer accompaniment as well. You can get an order of fries for $3, mozzarella sticks or bruschetta for $5, calamari rings for $6 or a small, generously topped pizza for $7.

Hot submarine sandwiches, which range from $6 to $8, feature a variety: pepper and egg, sausage, meatballs, grilled chicken, veal or chicken parmigiana, and a few variations on the aforementioned. Cold subs, in the $6 range, offer a typical range of sandwich meat and/or cheese, and all of the sandwiches are on fresh-out-of-the-oven bread—similar, I expect, to what’s served with the dinners.

We didn’t order a pizza—there was so much else to sample—but noted lots of pizzas going by, including John’s own creation, a large, long Sicilian ($12) that should feed several. Stuffed breads ($7) can include broccoli, sausage, ham, pepperoni—you get the idea. Plenty of pasta choices, including ziti, ravioli, lasagna, gnocchi and rigatoni, with all manner of toppings and stuffings. I like the combo of gnocchi with garlic-enhanced broccoli ($11), but was lured elsewhere on the menu.

My daughter, however, a big fan of restaurant-served spaghetti and meatballs, was on the verge of ordering that when her mom pointed out that sausage was another companion option. She decided that, having never paired the two before, she’d do so.

The vast serving that appeared had a Bunyanesque log of sausage over the Matterhorn of pasta—but we were charged $5.50 for a supposed child’s portion! As a leftover, it provided two more meals.

Susan chose one of the evening’s specials, a why-didn’t-I-think-of-that-before zucchini parmigiana ($11) in which breaded strips of the squash get the full parm treatment. It’s an incredibly effective way of dealing with the overabundant vegetable, and the portion size guarantees that the garden will empty quickly.

I chose Veal Mario ($15) chiefly because it was named for the restaurant, which I figure means it’s considered extra special. The promised sautéed veal turned out to be small but tender strips well-mixed with tri-colored tortellini, all of it tossed in a cream sauce featuring flavors of garlic and sherry.

And that was it for us. It was the end of a long day, so we had our leftovers wrapped, passed on dessert (although the lineup sounded appealing) and made our way to the car, which has since acquired a new battery.

Dinner for three, with tax and tip, a beer and some sodas, was $63.


TABLE SCRAPS


Daniel’s Café
offered a terrific, eclectic mix of continental and Middle Eastern fare in Albany’s downtown—and then vanished. Moved, it turns out, to 4 Central Ave., Albany, occupying the ground-floor space and serving the same great menu every day from 11-10. Steaks, veal, poultry and lamb, shish kabobs and vegetarian entrées—and the Israeli platter salad is a knockout. Call 694-5320 for more info. . . . Justin’s (301 Lark St., Albany) has a new autumn menu. Among the entrées are grilled escolar (a rich fish also known as walu) on a parsley and parmesan noodle cake; roasted salmon filet with a tamarind barbecue glaze; acorn squash stuffed with corn and red rice risotto; and old faves like Jamaican jerk chicken and ropa vieja. Call 436-7008 for info and reservations. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland. Use the handy e-mail address: food@banilsson.com.

—B.A.N.

 

(Please fax info to 922-7090)

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