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Shannon DeCelle

Turn up the Volume
By B.A. Nilsson

Mercato’s Restaurant & Pizzeria
155 Delaware Ave., Delmar, 475-7777. Serving Mon-Thu 11-10, Fri-Sat 11-11, Sun Noon-9. AE, DC, MC, V.

Food: * * * *
Service: Pleasant

Ambience: Homey

Once again, we’re looking at a neighborhood Italian restaurant. Mercato’s serves Delmar—it’s just in front of Del Lanes, and thus in the heart of that village—as a pizzeria that also boasts a list of plain and fancy entrées. It’s been there for five years, started by Sonny and Mike Cecunajin, who opened the first Mercato’s in Canajoharie 10 years ago and who also own Casa Mia in Glenmont. “And they’re planning to open a Mercato’s in Schodack,” Joe Rogers told me.

Rogers is the Delmar manager, which means he’s also behind the bar and in the kitchen at various times. “We’re trying to do something that’s fresh and good and has some variety,” he says. “Mercato is Italian for ‘market.’ You’ll find a variety of food here.”

Fried calamari ($6.25), for example, is absolutely straight-ahead, just-what-you’d-expect fare: a large, and I do mean large, plate of lightly breaded rings served with a marinara. The fish is crunchy, not especially spicy, tender, and very tasty.

An appetizer special, listed on a table-talker (but usually available, our server revealed), was built around fried mozzarella, but not the bar-food sticks we know so well. Spedini is often presented as an egg-dipped sandwich of cheese and prosciutto; here the mozzarella cutlets were breaded and fried, with prosciutto slices served alongside with roasted red pepper strips, Bermuda onion slices and a generous helping of capers, all nestled in a brown burgundy sauce ($8). This, and the basket of home-baked, crusty bread, was filling. But my party persevered.

Mercato’s decor tells you much about what to expect. Tables are heavier, chairs sturdier than in many a pizza restaurant; decor is a little more thoughtful. A homey, publike feel prevails once you pass the pizza portal (separated by a door from the rest of the place, especially welcome in winter).

Pizza clearly is a selling point, and I wish I’d had a larger group in tow to facilitate trying one. Or two. You’ve got traditional pies available—small is $6 plain, $11 with everything, with no surprises in the toppings list. A large pizza runs $8.25 ($16 with everything). Calzones are $5.50 or $7.50, with additional fillings $1 or $1.50 apiece.

Original pizza specialties are intriguing enough to distract you from the above. Among the toppings in this category are spinach, clams, broccoli, eggplant and ricotta, with other supporting ingredients to round out the flavor of each ($8.50 small, $11.50 large). Clams casino or chicken pesto pizzas are $9.50 and $13.50; primavera ($10.50, $14) combines an array of veggies including broccoli, sliced tomatoes, fresh peppers, mushrooms and olives.

There’s a soup of the day, and there’s always pasta e fagioli. The latter ($3 for a cup) turned out to have a thinner-than-expected broth with a pleasant hint—just a hint—of vinegar to round out the flavor.

House salads are fresh but undistinguished, although the house dressing, a creamy Italian mixture, was a suitably rich accompaniment.

For the big-dinner minded—and that was me on this recent weekend—there is pasta. There are baked pasta dishes. There are veal, chicken or seafood entrées. In the pasta realm, all the popular shapes and sizes are represented. Fettuccine, gnocchi, tortellini, ziti, linguine and more form the basis of dishes that run from $7 to $11. Lasagna, stuffed shells, baked ziti and the like are under $9, while eggplant parmigiana is $11.

Veal dishes are surprisingly priced at an average of $12, although the veal Lorenzo, from the specials list, was $15—still a good price for sautéed cutlets in a marsala sauce with tomato slices, provolone cheese and mushrooms among the accompaniments. Served with angel-hair pasta, it was a more than satisfying dish, a little on the heavy side with all that sauce, but I was well-sated when it hit the table. A side dish of sautéed spinach ($3) featured lots of shaved garlic (and so did many other items, once I started looking for it).

The chicken-based entrées duplicate the veal list, with parmigiana, Française, pizziaola, piccata and marsala the classic preparations ($10-$12). In the seafood department, shrimp dominates with clams and scallops a close second.

Going for broke, however, you’ll want to try the seafood combination ($16.50), in which your bed of linguine (red or white sauce; we chose the latter) is crowned with shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams and calamari. No subtle harmony of flavors here. It’s big and buttery, more than any of my party could handle at a single sitting.

Mercato’s has a short list of pleasant wine selections; I had some by-the-glass Chianti because that’s what this kind of restaurant invites. Service was pleasant and efficient, with more than enough staff on hand. They’re pumping out a high volume of good-quality stuff, so it’s the kind of place where a holiday party would work well. They have a big room in back, so if you’re having one there, invite me.

Dinner for two, with tax and tip, wine and way too much food, was $84.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS


New World Home Cooking Company (1411 Route 212, Saugerties) presents its 2002 New World Champagne Dinner on Tuesday (Dec. 17) beginning at 6:30 PM. Learn why chef-owner Ric Orlando and the Culinary Institute’s Michael Weiss both prefer bubbles with dinner. The menu includes a hot oyster orgy with Mionetto “Sergio” Prosecco from Italy; lobster and mango crepes with cucumber-curry sauce (Pol Roget Brut), chanterelle, morel, oyster, chicken and lobster mushrooms roasted and served with 2nd Avenue-style; kasha varnishkes (Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label) and Hong Kong BBQ venison chop with grilled winter veggies (or a veggie version made with smoked tofu) (Iron Horse Brut Rose). Price is $69 per person. Gather a crowd and reserve a table of eight for $500! Reservations are required; call (845) 246 0900. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail food@banilsson.com).

—B.A.N.

(Please fax info to 922-7090)

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