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Photo by:Chris Shields

Classically Convivial
By B.A. Nilsson

Lombardo’s
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 the crowd.

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 and fours.

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 customers.

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 presentation.

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 the
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 and prosciutto.

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.

 

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Celebrate 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 food@banilsson.com).


We want your feedback

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

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* E-mail address not required to submit your feedback, but required to be placed in running for a Van Dyck Gift Certificate.

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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