My friend BLT is tired of my Italian food reviews, but all that discussion about red sauce earlier this year on FUSSYlittleBLOG presented a challenge, and you all know Zena is always up for that. Foodie Friend and I are promoters of local, sustainable eating, which includes supporting family run dining establishments. With my Groupon costing $20 for $40 worth of food for two Sunday through Thursday except Mondays when they are closed which I found out the first time I went because it's not anywhere on their web site that I can tell, even with my xray vision, four of us wound our way out to dinner earlier this week, with yours truly ready to try another round of chicken parmesan.
We were seated promptly by our hostess, with menus but no wine list, which took some time to get as there seemed to be only one "real" waiter who finally came to our table. Wines were moderately priced, with bottles starting as low as $15.95; almost half of their offerings were available by the glass. Jag and I each had a glass of Chardonnay Unoaked Ruffino from Tuscany. It was very nice - cold, buttery ($7.95/ea). Quite a few Italian reds and whites (including three Pinot Grigio's), and a nice selection of California reds.
Okay the menu was predictable then it had some strange choices mixed in there. The usual appetizers, including fried calamari and mussels; nine veal dishes; fifteen pasta dishes, chicken dishes, Italian specialty items like ravioli; and a crumpled list of specials, leading with three Mac & Cheese dishes which are decidedly not Italian (their Mac & Cheese won prizes three years in a row at the Table Hopping MAC & CHEESE BOWL) and ending with Fried Haddock Parm (just like it sounds) being just on the edge of edgey. And potato skins and fried chicken and burgers and sandwiches and a kids menu and pizza. Hmmmmm. But dad (who is also a superpower, at least in my estimation) always said, "Never order spaghetti in a steak house", so we stuck to trying their Italian offerings.
Meals all started with a house salad and a basket of pretty bland crustless bread that might have been better if it had been heated before serving.
The house dressing (the only one made in-house) was simple, vinegary, and bright, but the salad was just iceburg and one little tomato cut in half and two cuke slices. Jag had the balsamic, served on the side. I picked two large brown lettuce leaves out of my bowl and placed them on the side dish. None of the servers seemed to notice, which they should have. They timed the delivery of our main courses just right. Jag and I also got an order of vegetables, which I didn't order (I think I would have ordered the broccoli instead), but those two dishes of zucchini were simply steamed and flavored with a bit of garlic and olive oil. Very nice, actually.
The servings were HUGE. Nuclear almost! I was SURE we would all leave there with amazing new powers IF we could finish what was put before us. Jag ordered the Eggplant Rollatini, which included fresh ricotta cheese, provolone, and prosciutto ($18.95). It had a slight char from being under he broiler to melt the cheese on top, but could actually have been served a bit hotter. There was breading on the eggplant, which I didn't really like, but the eggplant had a nice texture/not too gushy. She did NOT finish her dinner, so she did not end the evening with any new superpowers, but she will always be a superpower in my estimation. (:
Foodie Friend ordered penne pasta with white clam sauce ($15.95). The clams (supposedly fresh chopped littlenecks) were chewy and salty and sandy. It was supposed to be a white wine sauce but it tasted like butter and flour and garlic. FF also did NOT finish her dinner, and, sadly, also did not end the evening with any new superpowers in addition to the ones she has already (she is still my favorite tomato). She ate well but personally I didn't like this dish.
I ordered the chicken parmesan ($15.95), and it was DELICIOUS. The best ever so far in this series. The chicken was big, about 3/4" thick, perfectly cooked, tender, and fresh, with a slight browned flavor that was subtle but lovely. Too much sauce, but the sauce was great. Complex, herby, cooked long enough to meld all the flavors but still bright. It was wonderful on the parm dish and also with the plain, al dente linguine served on the side. We all shared bits of our meals but I still brought home more than half of what was given. I could have eaten a mushroom cloud of that pasta, to be honest. I retained my superpowers, FYI, but also did not leave with anything new to add to my arsenal.
Red had the baked lasagna ($15.95), which I thought was the best dinner on the table. Loaded with cheese, tender ground sirloin, and Italian sausage flavored with fennel, it was dense but not heavy; all the flavors - the cheeses, the meat, the sauce - were nicely balanced. We each got A BITE but I noticed, as we wound down, that she had, again, quietly eaten the whole thing. I'm not sure exactly what her new superpower will be, but she should be on the alert for anything unusual, like the ability to walk 10 miles a day to and from work come rain or shine until she's 100 years old and her ankle won't bother her anymore.
The leftovers were wrapped but the table wasn't cleared, and the waiter in a fly-by looked over his shoulder and said "Coffee and dessert"? No, but I did want to see the dessert menu. If I wasn't so full I would have liked to try one of their gelatos (hazelnut, pistachio, spumoni - always good). Maybe next time I will go splits on a plate and save room for sweets.
So the place was pretty busy. Definitely a family restaurant, cozy and simple. The July OurTown flyer in Colonie featured Valente's, established in 1958, with Chef Jack serving as the third in line to create their "original" (my quotes) recipes, and that is what friends and neighbors who frequent neighborhood establishments are often looking for. The food was mostly good - no surprises. The service was friendly but maybe not as attentive as it could have been. But we liked the feel of the joint - folks even saying "hi" to each other in the parking lot. And since no one seemed able to finish their plates at the tables and booths around us, and there were no apparent forces of evil lurking in the area, Zena enjoyed an easy night out with friends.
Dinner for four, including three glasses of wine, was $93.25 including the tax, plus tip.
Zena, Goddess of Fire
PS: Did anyone watch any of those back-to-back episodes of the Simpson's these past two weeks? Speaking of challenges, some of Homer's best advice was "Can't do it son? Don't try." Leftovers work for me.