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Photo by: Martin Benjamin

Italian Renaissance

By B.A. Nilsson

Appian Way Restaurant
1839 Van Vranken Ave., Schenectady, 393-8460. Serving dinner Wed-Sun 5-close. AE, MC, V..
Cuisine: homemade southern Italian
Entrée price range: $8.50 (fettuccini al filetto di pomodori) to $21 (seafood platter)
Ambiance: unfussy
Clientele: neighbors and connoisseurs

They’re 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.

“It’s 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 with greens.

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.

“We’d 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 it.

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 considerably.

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).

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.

We want your feedback

Have you eaten at Appian Way Restaurant or any other recently reviewed restaurants? Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...

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What you're saying...

I 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.

Mary Kurtz
Castleton

First, 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 the reviews.

Pat Russo
East Greenbush

I 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!

Peggy Van Deloo
Schenectady

So happy to see you finally made out!! Our experiences have always been wonderful, the staff is extremely professional, the food subperb, and the atmosphere very warm and comfortable. Let us not forget to mention "Maria" the pianist on Friday and Saturday nights.

Charlie and Marie
Michaels Restaurant

I have been to Michael's several times and each time I have enjoyed it very much. The food is delicious and the staff is great. Also, Maria Riccio Bryce plays piano there every Friday and Saturday evening, a nice touch to add to the already wonderful atmosphere. It is also easy to find, exit 27 off the thruway to 30 north for about 5 miles.

N. Moore
Albany

Wonderful!

Elaine Snowdon
Albany

We loved it and will definitely go back.

Rosemarie Rafferty

Absolutely excellent. The quality and the flavor far surpasses that of other Indian restaurants in the area. I was a die-hard Shalimar fan and Tandoor Palace won my heart. It blows Ghandi out of the water. FInally a decent place in Albany where you can get a good dinner for less than $10 and not have tacos. The outdoor seating is also festive.

Brady G'sell

Indian is my favorite cuisine available in the area--I loved Tandoor Palace. We all agreed that the tandoori chicken was superior to other local restaraunts, and we also tried the ka-chori based on that intriguing description-delicious.

Kizzi Casale
Albany

Your 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..

Barry Uznitsky
Guilderland



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