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Designer Italian
By B.A. Nilsson

Bellini’s Italian Eatery
1365 New Scotland Road, Slingerlands, 439-6022. Serving lunch daily 11-4, dinner Sun-Thu 11-10, Fri-Sat 11-11. AE, CB, D, DC, MC, V.

Teri Currie

Food: * * * *
Service: Attentive
Ambiance: Pleasant

Even 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 combo.

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.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.

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