By B.A. Nilsson
Bellini’s Italian Eatery
New Scotland Road, Slingerlands, 439-6022. Serving lunch daily
11-4, dinner Sun-Thu 11-10, Fri-Sat 11-11. AE, CB, D, DC,
* * * *
as we notice the dark shadow of genetically engineered food
peering over our hungry shoulders, we’re seeing another marvel
of engineering that seems to be almost DNA-based: restaurants
in which all aspects have been perfectly designed.
It’s most obvious in the better chain restaurants, where a
nationwide presence requires design consistency. Bellini’s
was created by the Marrello Group, owners of a couple of Houlihan’s
franchises—locally, in the Crossgates Mall—so they’re familiar
with that look and feel. They’ve done a brilliant job with
Bellini’s, which serves its niche well with excellent food,
attentive service and a comfortable dining room—all it lacks
is that great intangible, soul.
Which usually is the product of the personalities that make
up a restaurant. A gregarious owner or server can make the
difference between a great meal and one that’s truly memorable;
in the overengineered places (chains, especially), there’s
so much by-the-book behavior that it can seem robotic. Beginning
with, “Hi, my name is (so-and-so) and I’ll be your server,”
a phrase that should be forbidden from all food-service establishments.
But back to the good stuff. The plan was to meet my friend
Al for lunch, which shifted toward an early dinner as we procrastinated
our respective ways toward the appointment. He knew of the
restaurant (new to me), and we discovered that it not only
remained opened throughout the afternoon but also offered
its dinner menu all day.
Bellini’s is tucked into a strip mall anchored by a Price
Chopper in Slingerlands. It may remind you a little of Stuyvesant
Plaza’s Provence, although the latter is stronger on that
elusive quality of personality.
Seating divides between tables and booths, but even the booths
are comfortable for a hefty guy like me, so we settled near
the back of the dining room. Dark wood, mid-wall lighting
and pleasing colors and artwork add to the comfort.
The menu is an amalgam of Italian fare, plain and fancy, and
sports more Italian terminology than is really necessary,
reminding me of the way my 5-year-old daughter proudly counts
to 10 in Spanish just to show that she can.
The starters (antipasti) range from bruschetta ($7)
to a full-fledged seafood medley ($16); similarly priced are
the salads, where a Caesar or a fancy array of mixed greens
will set you back $9. Panini and pizzas are available, running
$7 to $10, while the dinners themselves are listed as primi
or secondo (sic), the former featuring some manner
of pasta ($11-$19), the latter an array of steaks, chops,
chicken and the like, peaking at $27 for a steak-and-veal
When I explained the fritti misti to my daughter, she
immediately assented. Floured and fried scallops, shrimp and
baby squid ($9) are favorites. Although the dish was presented
as a starter, she decided to make a meal of it. It’s presented
as you’d expect, with a nice crunch to the tempura-like seafood
items. Two dipping sauces are served alongside, one a tangy
tomato, the other citrus-based.
I chose a starter of greens and beans ($5), which combined
escarole, navy beans, and lots and lots of garlic, just as
it should be, in a strong broth. And I ordered a special one-serving
(four-slice) pizza ($8) for the table so we could sample what
the wood-fired pies are like. Spinach and mushrooms were combined
on a white pizza that bore the pleasant flavor of a trip through
a smoky oven.
Al’s entrée, listed in the Primi column, was padrino
($13.50), a generous portion of grilled chicken breasts
tossed with fettucine, with added flavors from goat cheese,
spinach and roasted walnuts. It’s a great way to get such
a disparate group of foodstuffs into a single dish, and the
flavors complemented one another nicely.
For me, a traditional saltimbocca ($17), pairing tender veal
slices with strips of prosciutto, each a salty island drifting
over a bed of spinach in a sauce sporting wild mushrooms and
a good hand at seasoning, with sage a dominant characteristic.
Bread is baked in house, and fresh loaves are updated for
you as you succumb to the terrible temptation. Worse still
is a display of toothsome desserts, also homemade; we let
Lily lead the way with an order of torta di Nocciola ($5),
a chocolate cake with chocolate mousse from which Al and I
were able to steal a taste or two.
Bellini’s has been open since April 22, and the Marellos put
their corporate chef, Jim Cavanaugh, in charge of its kitchen.
He’s done a worthy job of assembling a menu that delivers
what it promises at a price range that obviously means business.
And business has been gratifying, according to general manager
Bob Leombruno, who notes that there’s been enough repeat business
in those five months to assure him that the place is catching
on. It deserves to.
Dinner for two (and lunch for one) with tax and tip, a dessert
and a glass of wine, was $93.
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