by: Martin Benjamin
1839 Van Vranken Ave., Schenectady, 393-8460.
Serving dinner Wed-Sun 5-close. AE, MC, V..
homemade southern Italian
Entrée price range: $8.50 (fettuccini al filetto di
pomodori) to $21 (seafood platter)
Clientele: neighbors and connoisseurs
back, those peripatetic sisters. Three months ago, Anna Ferrera
and Gina Mantova reopened their restaurant for (by my count)
the third time. “We missed the people,” said Gina.
Twice they’ve sold the business to others; both times the
place ended up dark. Nobody can replicate what the sisters
have done here for something approaching 30 years, and even
those attempts at a different cuisine failed to succeed.
Yet what they offer is simple menu of classic southern Italian
fare, boasting common items at reasonable prices. It should
be simple. It’s not.
madness to cook like this,” declared a friend on a recent
visit, one of two Italian chefs with whom I visited the place.
She referred to a bowl of spaghetti that accompanied an entrée,
the “side of pasta” that’s so often a throwaway item.
At Appian Way, it’s crafted with the same care that goes into
everything they serve. The pasta is homemade—and it’s wickedly
difficult to craft noodles that small—and the sauce has the
sweetness that comes from being fresh.
In its original incarnation, this restaurant was cramped into
one small building. It was the destination for those who wanted
to spend an evening savoring the complicated flavors of seemingly
simple preparations. In early 1987, the neighboring Via Veneto
restaurant was subsumed into the operation, relieving customers
of the awkward through-the-dining-room entrance.
From the homemade bread that begins the meal to a dish of
homemade ice cream with which you might finish, there is a
level of craftsmanship on display that would make the typical
chain restaurant kitchen supervisor swoon with disbelief.
Not for the Ferreras any prefab anything.
Every marinade, every processed meat is a personal effort,
exemplified by the antipasto ($6.50), in which the dried sausage
and the prosciutto are both in-house products. It’s an elegant
dish, elegant in its simplicity, concentrating on the meats
and cheese and marinated vegetables. A wonderful melange of
flavors is nudged in this direction and that by the sequence
in which you choose to nibble the components.
We explored the menu like kids in a candy store, marveling
at how each new course was able to bring new surprises. Insalata
di Arancia ($4.50), for instance, was a salad of orange
slices with garlic and olive oil lightly enough applied to
stay in the background of the fruit’s acidic flavor—but that
flavor was rounded and smoothed by the extra ingredients.
Then an entrée of fettuccini with portobello mushrooms ($16.50)
revealed a surprising texture with the mushrooms (“That’s
because I dry them a little before I make the dish,” Gina
explained). Not only was the best such combo I’ve ever tasted,
but we ordered a side of sautéed rapini (or broccoli
rabe, $4.50) that somehow muted the bitterness inherent in
this dish and offered appropriate garlic support.
We even threw them some curve balls. One of my companions,
spotting the mozzarella-and-tomatoes appetizer combo ($6.50,
and with a nice complement of basil), asked if a preparation
of mozzarella in carozze might be available. That translates
as “cheese in a carriage,” and it’s a traditional dish that
wraps the mozzarella in bread slices, which then is fried
to a crisp finish. And so it appeared, beautifully decorated
Similarly, a salad of tomatoes and artichoke hearts (insalata
con pomodori e carcioffi, if I’ve got that right) isn’t
listed, but was custom prepared for our table. And we were
charged a mere $3.50 for it!
Forget the fried calamari ($7.50). It’s crisp and tender and
not much different from what’s served at better Italian restaurants—but
it pales compared to the puttanesca that was presented
alongside. Those rich flavors of olives and capers and anchovies
seized the accompanying tomatoes and forced them into dark,
savory crannies of the palate. The squid become mere vehicles
for this nasty, heavenly sauce.
My daughter declared herself uninterested in prosciutto and
spinach, and yet, once she sampled some appetizers, she plunged
into an entrée of chicken with the aforementioned companions
(chicken Bolognese, $14.50) and went crazy for it,
her passion fueled by the sweetness of the marsala wine sauce
in which the meat was cooked.
like clams,” one of my chef buddies declared, only he said
it in Italian, and a plate of steamed vognole appeared
($10.50), tempered with just the right amount of lemon juice
and oil and herbs.
This reminded me of a dinner many years ago at this restaurant,
to which I brought a photo of a dish I wanted. They prepared
What else do I need to tell you? It’s madness. It’s simple
fare with amazing flavors. It’s a testament to the life-giving
qualities of fresh ingredients. How about lobster alla
Mariuccia ($16.50)? It begins with homemade pasta wrapped
into ravioli around a compote of fresh lobster, finished with
a bright orange sauce of tomatoes and marscapone cheese.
Veal dishes here are what keep me dining on the poor, politically
incorrect beasts. Veal Campagnola ($15.50) presents
slices served with peas and mushrooms and onions in a wine-rich
sauce; veal Sorrentino ($16.50) mixes in layers of
eggplant and mozzarella wrapped in prosciutto and served with
a sparkling marinara.
It bears repeating: They’re back. Gina and Anna are back in
the kitchen, and the Italian dining ante has just been upped
Be aware that, as of my visit last week, the restaurant still
hadn’t been re-granted its liquor license, and the State Liquor
Authority moves at a glacial pace (I’m going to write about
this gang some day, so let me know if you have anything to
say about them).
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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..