By B.A. Nilsson
121 Madison Ave., Albany, 462-9180. Serving
Mon-Fri 11-1, Sat 3-11. AE, CB, D, DC, MC, V.
Cuisine: Traditional Italia
Entrée price range: $14.50 (fettuccine Bolognese) to $24
(zuppa di pesce)
Ambiance: Vintage Albany
Clientele: Vintage Albany
Someday, the colorful neon sign that hangs outside of Lombardo’s
will be enshrined. It should go to no less a place than the
Smithsonian. But let’s not anticipate that in our lifetime—right
now we need the reassuring glow that illuminates the corner
of Madison and South Pearl.
Albany’s history isn’t in the ornate legislative buildings
or governor’s mansion. It’s here, whispering from the walls
of one of the few restaurants to have flourished in the glory
days of the city’s 20th-century political intrigues and continues
to flourish today. During one of my recent visits to the place,
I saw the city’s mayor chatting with the owner, checking out
And this place bustles, mid-week and weekend, its long tables
crowded with large parties in the dining room center, the
booths and banquettes that ring the room the province of deuces
As if the atmosphere weren’t enough, the old-fashioned bar
and the high tin ceilings remind you of an earlier age, back
when Billy Lombardo was in charge and you could pay off a
debt by painting murals on the walls. Since 1992, the restaurant
has been owned by Paul and Rose Marie Mancino, who wisely
have introduced changes gradually and in concert with their
The four-page menu couldn’t be more straightforward. Antipasti
($5.25-$9.25) are more or less little dinners, with clams
and shrimp, mussels and calamari among the highlights. Antipasto
di Casa, designed for one, easily serves two, and goes light
on the lettuce in order to offer more of the spicy sausage
slices, provolone chunks, olives, roasted red peppers, marinated
mushrooms—all the expected components in a simple, easy-to-attack
Appetizer specials typically complement the menu, and a homemade
ravioli ($7.75) sounded too irresistible, given its portobello-porcini
stuffing. Even better: a cream sauce that turned out to be
light enough to thread itself in and among the other flavors,
but thick enough to cling effectively to the pasta.
Five soups are always available, and the two we tried—tortellini
in broth ($3.75) and Zuppa fantasia ($4.25)—were a
reminder that excellent stock is the basis for so much in
good cooking. Fighting back a sore throat, I turned to the
tortellini soup for a classic cure (and felt much better the
following day). Fantasia adds eggs and cheese to that
formula, for a meal-in-itself experience.
Not surprisingly, Lombardo’s is a kid-friendly place. There’s
a generous family-
oriented friendliness that we taxed to the utmost by arriving
with a toddler whose fatigue-inspired vocalizations rang out
like war whoops. Fortunately, the aisles were wide enough
to allow the parents to walk the kid back into silence, while
I sat with my 7-and-a-half-year-old and quietly enjoyed the
fact that I don’t have to deal with that stuff anymore.
We silenced the older kids with plates of classic fare, kid-menu
priced but still large enough to necessitate take-home containers.
The children’s menu is really just a selection of the regular
menu, and without the nonsense of fast-food-inspired selections,
our progeny enjoyed spaghetti and meatballs (one meatball,
actually, but it’s massive) and chicken parmigiana.
With 15 seafood entrées, it’s hard to zero in on a selection,
so first-time visitor Ken chose the zuppa di pesce ($24),
which is a soup only in the sense that it brings together
so many different items: in this case, clams and mussels (in
their shells), shrimp, scallops, calamari and a good-sized
lobster tail, all in a tomato-rich broth.
Ken’s wife, Marla, hasn’t got as much menu latitude because
she’s allergic to basil. Fettuccine Alfredo ($16.25) was a
contender, but we were sure it would be as classical (and
thus familiar) as possible, and why not try something new?
Linguine Raffaele ($17.75) mixes a mound of pasta with butter
and cream and a touch of wine (there’s a lot of wine in these
entrées), with an accompaniment of spinach and shrimp.
Eight chicken dishes put the fowl through various paces, including
vegetable-rich marinara of a cacciatora ($16.50) and
sautées alla Marsala ($16.50) and Francese ($17). What’s chicken
cordon bleu ($17.50) doing on an Italian menu? The
ham and cheese in question are prosciutto and fontina, and
it was an excellent combination with just enough wine-rich
sauce to keep it moist.
Veal dishes are a specialty, and the 11 menu items were complemented
by a special: vitello alla bosciola ($18.75), another
cream-sauce dish, this time with the flavor deepened by mushrooms
Naturally, there are the traditional veal preparations—parmigiana,
pizzaiola, Francese and more—and a few beef dishes round out
the menu. Salads are included with entrées, warm crusty bread
hits the table soon after you do, and side dishes of pasta
proliferate quickly once the entrées arrive. As if you have
to be persuaded, the dessert menu includes some photos. Although
tiramisu (served in a goblet) is a specialty, I also recommend
the limoncello gelato. A hot cup of espresso and you’re ready
for the night.
Service is busy, friendly and consistently attentive. The
room is reverberant, so that even without a keening child
of your own you’ll share in all of the surrounding conversations.
But it’s all in the name of conviviality. Your party invites
the food; the food invites a party. It’s a complete lifestyle
solution that’s been going on here for 80-some years.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
Albany’s Restaurant Week (in honor of renowned
gourmand Henry Hudson) Oct. 11-15 when some of
downtown’s finest restaurants offer fixed-price,
three-course meals for, you guessed it, $16.09.
Among the participants are the Albany Pump Station,
Café Capriccio, Daniel’s at Ogden’s, Hudson Harbor
Steak & Seafood, Jack’s Oyster House, Jillian’s,
Kelsey’s Irish Pub, La Serre, Mad River Bar &
Grille, McGeary’s, Nicole’s Bistro, Pagliacci’s
Ristorante, Pearl Restaurant & Lounge, Savannah’s,
Victory Café, and Webster’s Corner. Tax, tip and
alcohol aren’t included in this deal. This is
brought to you by the Downtown Albany Business
Improvement District, and they offer more info
by calling 465-2143 or visiting their Web site
at www.downtownalbany.org. . . . Remember to pass
your scraps to Metroland (e-mail email@example.com).
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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..