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Shannon DeCelle

Best of Both Worlds
By B.A. Nilsson

Paolo Lombardi’s Ristorante
104 West Sand Lake Road (Route 150), Wynantskill, 283-0202. Serving dinner Mon-Thu 4-10, Fri-Sat 4-11, Sun 1-9. AE, D, MC, V

Food: * * * *
Service: Brisk

Ambience: Pleasant

Gourmet Italian usually means higher prices and smaller portions of more rarefied recipes. Paolo Lombardi’s strikes gold in providing the fancy dining experience as well as a plenitude of food that runs a gamut of recipes. You can get a plate of spaghetti (the garlic, olive oil and anchovy accompaniment has just the right mix of flavors and oil). You can get veal rolled with crabmeat in a creamy asparagus sauce (a Lombardi’s creation).

For 16 years (the anniversary was last week), Paolo Lombardi’s has enjoyed a profitable place on the eastern side of Troy—in Wynantskill, actually, on a residential stretch of Route 150. The chef-owner who gives the place its name comes from a family that’s been in the restaurant business, and he started out as a pizza maker while in his teens.

“It was always my dream to have my own place,” Lombardi explains. “We started out small, but the business has been so good that I’ve put two additions on the building since we opened. What makes us unique in this market is our menu. Not just because it’s large, but also because of the different kinds of items on it. You can get traditional meals, and you can get some more unusual creations. It’s not your usual Italian dinner house here.”

Lombardi learned to cook while a youngster, from Italian immigrant parents. “Then I worked my way through many restaurants, and I guess I just happened to have a touch for it. As I said, I’ve been at it in this place for 16 years,” he pauses to chuckle, “and I figure in another 25 years I’ll be able to get out.”

It’s a something-for-everyone menu. More than a dozen different appetizers take you from grilled bread with fresh tomatoes and garlic (bruschetta, $5.25) to a serves-eight antipasto cornucopia ($45). There’s also, if your party is smaller, a $16 antipasto caldo, with items like scampi, clams casino and stuffed mushroom caps.

The classic pasta è fagiola ($5.25), mixing pasta and beans, is the sole soup choice, but the mussels (zuppa di cozze, $8), served in a marinara sauce (and a similar preparation of clams, $9.75) may satisfy the soup craving.

Tomatoes, garlic and cream are key ingredients in Lombardi’s repertory. All three envelop the escargot ($8), while the tortellini alla panna ($8.75) puts the meat-stuffed pasta rings in a cream sauce with prosciutto and peas.

A wide-open concept like minestra, which refers to some manner of thin soup, gets an original treatment by combining a classic beans-and-greens recipe with slices of sausage and pepperoni. This $7 appetizer arrived in a generous portion (but that was the case with each course), with the greens obviously steaming from a fresh sauté, and the aroma of garlic permeating the surroundings.

Bringing together contrasting flavors is an art, even when you’ve got the joyous depth of gorgonzola to set off a dish. Lombardi’s crostini di polenta con gorgonzola ($8) starts with what the menu innocently terms cornmeal bread, hardly doing justice to polenta’s creaminess, and tops it with sausage and mushrooms and onions, piles of the stuff, with a dab of marinara and little explosions of the above-named cheese. And you’ve got some hot (in both senses) cherry peppers on the side. Sausage and polenta are by themselves a worthy combo; although all of the other ingredients might seem to carry it too far, I found that the initial surprise of the flavors soon gave way to well-rounded, mouth-filling comfort.

The only disappointment in the meal was the Caesar salad—an extra $2.50 when ordered instead of the included mixed greens. Although the standard ingredients were well in place, the dressing was light on flavor—especially of garlic, so prevalent elsewhere.

Entrées begin with half-a-dozen pastas, combining other meats and seafood. Eight chicken dishes, a dozen seafood variations and plenty of steaks and chops leave little to be desired. In the chops department, the costoletta di vitello con fiore di latte, at $28, is one of the most expensive, but it’s a huge segment of veal made larger by its prosciutto and mozzarella stuffing. The sauce, created around the chop as it cooks, features mushrooms and fresh basil, marinara and, to finish it, more mozzarella.

Somewhat more restrained is the scalloppine alla asparagi ($23), in which thin-sliced veal is rolled around a stuffing of real crabmeat (a portion of which also serves as the plate’s centerpiece), sautéed and served atop a cream sauce rendered green with puréed asparagus—and a decorative starburst of asparagus spears. Could I have done with less richness? Of course. Would it have tasted half as good? Not a chance.

Homemade desserts are presented before you have a chance to think better of it, and that’s why I left the place groaning under the weight of a creamy tiramisu. A sample of raspberry cheesecake proved that that’s another recipe the kitchen has well under control.

Service is quick and very professional, and the dining room features large, comfortable tables in an area decorated with impressive restraint. Dinner for two, with tax and tip, dessert and a bottle of Francis Coppolla’s hearty Rosso, was $138.

TABLE SCRAPS


The Hudson Valley Council of Girl Scouts will hold its first-ever Cookie Cuisine event featuring local chefs using the world famous Girl Scout cookies in entrees and desserts! It takes place Tuesday (Nov. 12) from 6 to 9 PM at the Armory Center in Albany, and features such area chefs as Carmine Sprio, Yono Purnomo and Ric Orlando, and a host of talented culinary teams preparing gourmet entrees and desserts including Lamb with Thin Mint Stuffing, Fried Calamari with Do Si Do Peanut Dipping Sauce, Samoa Cheesecake, Ole Ole Chicken Mole, Cranberry Stilton Quiche with Trefoil Crust, Tagalong Peanut Butter Mousse Cups, Aloha Chip Salmon, and Do Si Do/Aloha Chip Penne al Forno. Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 at the door. For reservations, please call Sharon Smith at 489-8110, ext. 105. . . . With its one-year anniversary approaching, the Olde 499 House (499 Second Ave., Troy) announces the addition of a Sunday buffet brunch, beginning Nov. 10. Made-to-order omelettes, waffles and carved meats will be features alongside traditional brunch fare. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail us at food@banilsson.com).

—B.A.N.

(Please fax info to 922-7090)

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