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Manufacturing Contentedness

Aromi d’Italia
2050 Western Ave., Guilderland, 452-9200. Serving Sun-Thu 10-9, Fri-Sat 10-10. AE, D, DC, MC, V.

Cuisine: Italian experimental
Entrée price range: $10 (Capellini Con Rappini) to $20 (Seafood Linguini)
Ambience: urban café
Clientele: hungry

By B.A. Nilsson

The tone of your dining experience is set during your first few minutes in a restaurant; the memory you carry away forms at the end of your meal. Aromi d’Italia knows how to get you coming and going.

The Guilderland restaurant is in a strip mall a few storefronts down from Dorato’s. During a recent visit on a freezing night, even the quick dash I took from car to door was enough to fog my glasses once I reached the warm inside. So it was through the clearing mist that I saw the displays of desserts, a rainbow array of gelato among them.

In fact, you can’t reach a table without passing the desserts, which left my party, at least, with a vision of ice cream throughout the meal. Owners Chris Varner and Savas, Jon and Michael Ermides planned it that way, giving the 60-seat café some of its café authenticity.

The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner; its daytime menu features grilled sandwiches known as panini, along with pizza, salads, soups and some specials. For dinner, add an array of Italian-inspired entrées, many of them pasta-based.

My first few minutes consisted of walking the sweet gauntlet to my seat, at a booth in the cozy dining area, and a brief conversation with Brian, our server (who, thankfully, had no set speech to recite). He guided me to a glass of wine that he promptly served. With the first flush of that wine warming me, I sought Brian’s help with menu questions. Then and throughout the meal, he proved impressively adept at being available when needed and enthusiastic about the food, one of those (unfortunately) rare servers who obviously takes pride in his work. And it was that spirit that turned a terrific meal into something memorable.

Lunch items begin the menu—salads, ranging from a $3 mixed greens and veggies plate to an $11 antipasto, soups, panini and pizza. Panini are built on the house-made focaccia, a rosemary-scented bread with an airy consistency. Priced in the $7 range, they boast a variety of meat selections and garnishes—and there’s even a meatless panini with eggplant, portobello mushrooms, roasted red peppers and more.

Pizzas also use the focaccia, and are available in three sizes. We ordered one of the smallest, a four-slice, six-inch individual serving, in this case with Italian sausage and pepperoncini ($6.50). Focaccia makes a fantastic crust and adds a unique, sweeter dimension to the flavor that offsets the spice or pungency of the toppings.

The restaurant also provides a basket of focaccia at your table, with seasoned olive oil for dipping. Much too easy to make a meal out of it: Pace yourself.

Appetizers ($6 to $9) include bruschetta with roasted bell peppers, a fresh mozzarella platter, melon and prosciutto and a fresh fruit array. Baked Romano scallops ($9) arrived in a gratiné dish, a group of giant, tender scallops bubbling in a just-baked cream sauce with plenty of Romano cheese; crab-stuffed portobello ($9) was a giant mushroom cap well filled with fresh, real crabmeat, unexpectedly flavorful because there was little wasted filler, all of it set off by a tangy vinaigrette.

Soup or salad is offered with the entrées, and thus we were able to sample a large portion (euphemistically termed a “cup”) of chicken and black rice (otherwise $3), that was much, much more than its name suggested. This verged on a full-bodied stew, a hint of sage in its seasonings and lots of vegetable accompaniment.

Chicken also figures into the tequila tramonto ($14), presenting slices of roasted chicken amid penne with garlic, onion and bell peppers, tossed in a cream sauce flavored with tequila and sparkling with the heat of cayenne pepper. It’s a common enough chicken-and-pasta style made beautiful upon the mountains by a stellar sauce.

Other entrées include a few penne combos (sausage or prosciutto or simply plum tomatoes), baked eggplant rolette, roasted vegetable kabobs, and a couple of seafood-and-pasta combos.

Supplementing the menu is a specials list, which described the day’s panini (turkey and smoked mozzarella, $6.50), the day’s soups and a pasta entrée: lobster-stuffed ravioli served with red onions and citrus fruit segments ($16). Grapefruit and orange, specifically, and they add a puckery sweetness to the chardonnay grapefruit butter sauce that pulls the elements together. It may take some persuading for the faint of palate to try this, but you’ll have no regrets. Chef John Fonti deserves prolonged applause for his work.

We toured the dessert counter and chose a couple of gelati: cookies and cream, which delivered what it promised but in a far richer style than the commercial ice cream versions, and gianduia, a chocolate-hazlenut mix that complements a hot espresso. We couldn’t help but carry away a contented end-of-the-meal feeling, daunted not at all by our return to the bitter cold.

TABLE SCRAPS

Back by popular demand, the Van Dyck Restaurant (237 Union St., Schenectady) offers a pasta station in its tavern Wednesdays from 4 to 8. Start with a large bowl of pasta and add veggies, sausage, chicken and/or meatballs, then have it sauced with marinara or an Alfredo mix. And the $9 pasta is served with Van Dyck garlic bread. Call 381-1111 for more info. . . . Saratoga’s Springwater Bistro (139 Union Ave.) offers a night of Japanese cuisine along with a sake tasting from 5:30 to 9:30 Monday (March 3). Sagamore Resorts chef Tony DeStratis will be the master sushi chef, joining Springwater chef David Britton as the latter creates a menu including tempura, yakitora, stir fry dishes and more. For more information and reservations, call the restaurant at 584-6440. . . . Remember to pass your scraps on to Metroland. (food@banilsson.com).

—B.A.N.

(Please fax info to 922-7090)

 

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