by: Shannon DeCelle
Porto Ristorante Caffe
85 4th St., Troy, 273-8546. Serving dinner
Tue-Sat 5-10 (July-Aug: Thu-Sat 5-10). AE, D, MC, V.
Cuisine: classic northern Italian
Entrée price range: $10 (Pasta with marinara) to $33
(filet mignon and lobster tail)
Clientele: upscale loyalists
Once upon a time, when Troy was poised to become the area’s
dining mecca, Lo Porto Ristorante would have been one of the
top destinations. With Italian cuisine a well-entrenched commodity,
chef Michael Lo Porto provided his own interpretations of
classic dishes, featuring a lot of northern fare, and became
an instant favorite.
His secrets were simple: fresh ingredients, which unfortunately
exact a higher price, and a skilled hand at sauces. Lo Porto
is actually of Sicilian descent, and learned cooking from
his family, a family that ran a restaurant there for several
generations. The influence of French cooking upon Sicily explains
part of this skill; Lo Porto’s own love of food and family
accounts for the rest.
And so he opened in Troy in 1991, in a cramped 50-seat space
that came to life as crowds jammed it for enjoyable dinners.
With time and success came expansion, both to the restaurant—a
room was added to double the capacity—and into another, when
Lo Porto took over the Sign of the Tree at the Empire State
Plaza five years later. He still spends much of his time there,
and has placed his nephew, Carmelo Lo Porto, as executive
chef in Troy.
There’s no diminution of food quality. During a couple of
recent visits, I was delighted to learn just how excellent
the food remains, listed on pretty much the same menu as has
always been in place. It’s just been repriced to keep up with
Where the two visits contrasted was in service, which later
was acknowledged as a problem at times. Evidently it was busier
than expected on my Thursday visit, and the staff had to struggle
to stay above water. We were seated in the back room, a boxy,
unattractive space that acted as a megaphone for a rambunctious
six-top at the room’s rear; after 10 minutes of neglect, we
were able to get enough server attention to get us moved to
a table near the bar, which was gloriously quiet in comparison.
After that, dinner proceeded slowly but consistently.
On a Friday visit, I was overjoyed to discover that Maurilio
Gregori is the weekend host. Onetime chef-owner of the Quackenbush
house, he knows his way around fine dining and the customers
for same, and helped make the experience very pleasant.
My current dining strategy (besides eating less of what’s
served) is to order items different from my usual choices,
I thought, and so chose mussels casino ($8). Later, I discovered
I’d ordered the same appetizer during my 1992 review visit.
I noted that I was served “a small plate of the mollusks,
opened and cleaned, topped with breading and bacon and baked
until the juices flow into the topping and make it all moist
and crunchy. And tangy with an appropriate combination of
herbs.” And that’s how they are today.
Seafood figures into most of the appetizers. Oysters Rockefeller
($10) gets a slightly different spin with mozzarella and Romano
cheeses atop the spinach; fried calamari ($12) offers no surprises
but it offers no disappointment: hot, crunchy, tender—even
those little leggy bits are tender—with both cocktail sauce
and a hot marinara for dipping.
A black bean and sausage soup ($5) leaned toward the salt
for its finish, but the combination of ingredients was nicely
Salads precede the entrées, so you may wish to moderate your
appetizer intake. On the other hand, we emerged with so much
in the way of leftovers that several subsequent meals were
Plain old spaghetti (or linguine, or ziti) is available with
a variety of the usual toppings—meatballs, sausage, mushrooms,
clam sauce and such—for $10-$11, and baked pastas such as
lasagna and eggplant parmigiana are $13.
Veal dishes dominate one menu column. Scallopine and cutlet
variants, even a dish named for Martin Scorcese, who fell
in love with this restaurant while he was in town filming
The Age of Innocence some years ago. I forgot to ask
for whom Veal Giuseppe ($17) is named, but he was a lover
of rich food: The rolled veal is stuffed with crabmeat and
provolone cheese, wrapped in prosciutto and covered in a roasted
red pepper cream sauce that would make a great pasta companion.
But the plate, like most entrées, comes with potatoes and
vegetables, and there’s a side dish of marinara-sauced pasta!
As a representative chicken dish, my wife enjoyed the chicken
sauté sec ($16), adding oranges and raisins to a super-rich
cream sauce that she only grudgingly shared and also hoarded
in its leftover state.
On my Friday visit I was accompanied by an Atkins dieter,
who expressed some anticipatory terror about Italian cuisine.
He pounced on the rack of lamb ($23), which was as fine a
preparation as I’ve tasted, combining a rich marinade with
the kind of seasoning that springs to flavorful life under
the grill. Having confessed his diet to our server, Brian
had extra vegetables replace the potatoes. (And I scarfed
his side of pasta for a later lunch.)
Mugnaia are seafood dishes with pasta, taking there name
from a word that means “miller’s wife.” Priced from $15 to
$19 and featuring scallops, sole, trout, red snapper or a
seafood combo, they’re huge portions that sport a creamy sauce
flavored with such Mediterranean mainstays as capers and olives,
with a sprinkling of basil. The scallops version, as expected,
boasted plump, juicy seafood.
When the city installed the mediocre Fresno’s chain into the
former Castaway’s space instead of welcoming a locally owned
business, it verified its lack of vision. Chez Sophie Bistro
was going to move to Troy. The Capehouse once reigned as seafood
house supreme. The Allegro Café is gone. Thank goodness the
River Street Café and Lo Porto persevere as Troy’s fine-dining
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
scraps: Enjoy the cuisine of 15 of the areas finest
restaurants under one roof at the Fourth Annual
Capital Chefs Charity Ball. Created five years
ago by My Way Café chef-owner John Bove and 14
other chefs (all members of the Greater Capital
District Chapter of the New York State Restaurant
Association), the Capital Chefs Charity Ball raises
money for a different charity each year (this
year it’s the Center for the Disabled) and offers
two scholarships for culinary students working
in the hospitality industry. The event will be
held at the Italian-American Community Center,
257 Washington Ave. Ext., Albany, from 6 PM to
midnight on Monday (May 17). Along with all that
great food, you’ll also enjoy entertainment from
an array of area entertainers. Tickets are $75
per person and may be reserved by calling 899-4196.
. . . Former Hattie’s owners Colin and Christel
MacLean open their new restaurant next week. The
Circus Café (392 Broadway, Saratoga Springs)
gives a festive spin to classic American fare
with both lunch and dinner options, and a circus-themed
drink menu for your toping pleasure. The grand
opening celebration is from 5 to 10 PM Wednesday
(May 19), with jugglers, clowns, door prizes and
more, along with a feast of “circus snacks.” Call
583-1106 for more info. . . . Remember to pass
your scraps to Metroland (e-mail email@example.com).
fax info to 922-7090)
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very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's
at Ogdens. You review described my dining
experience perfectly. This wasn't the case
with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or
Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree
that a restaurant can have an off night
so I'll give the second unit on Central
Avenue a try.
yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back.
Second, I haven't had a chance to visit
Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading
would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant
- it's not that far away. People traveled
from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam.
From his background, I'm sure the chef's
sauce is excellent and that is the most
important aspect of an Italian restaurant.
Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on
the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm
looking forward to trying this restaurant
- I look forward to Metroland every Thursday
especially for the restaurant review. And
by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam
location and is opening a new bistro on
Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running
in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake
Bistro. It should be great!
comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants
being as "standardized as McDonald's"
shows either that you have eaten at only
a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or
that you have some prejudices to work out.
That the physical appearances are not what
you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing
on the food. And after all, that is what
the main focus of the reviews should be.
Not the physical appearances, which is what
most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on
Central Avenue, may not look the greatest,
but the food is excellent there. And the
menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian,
chicken, and more..