Wednesday, September 10, 2014

DOING DISHES: Chicken Parm Time Warp Again at Petta's

I ate at Petta's last week for the first time and it was a total time warp. I think their chicken parmigiana needs to go back in time as well.

Madness takes its toll, and with a Groupon that cost me $15 for $30 worth of fine dining I dragged Cookie out for another night of Italian food in deepest darkest Schenectady. The parking lot for Petta's is big, and newly paved, and swept clean, but the area is pretty run down/sucked. The restaurant's exterior was less than inviting, but I was curious. Petta's is one more of our family run Italian restaurants in the Albany area that we should never tire of, established in 1951 and now run by Mike Petta, grandson of the original owners. So with a jump to the left, and a step to the right, we wound our way past a take out window and a bar full of regulars to a seat in a very large dining room with musack that probably doubles as a banquet hall.

This is as busy as it got but it was Tuesday
Seating and service were quick, we asked for a wine list, and noted it was adequate but very limited. We ordered a bottle of Mirassou sauvignon blanc, a crisp, cold, reliable summer wine that was served up right in a lovely marble bottle cooler ($21.95/very affordable). In another dimension, we looked over the menu while our server delivered a basket of bread. It was everything bread should be - homemade every day, soft with a chewy crust and a nice yeasty flavor. It was so dreamy.   (:

Cookie looked at me and said "I love this bread!"
So far so good. Salad or soup, along with a side of pasta (or potato and veg) were served with all the main courses. The salad was generous, with a bit more variety that most, if not all, of the family Italian places I've been to these past few months. Petta's makes their own Russian, Italian and blue cheese, but I went with the regular Italian. It was light and vinegary. Everything was fresh and crunchy except for the cherry tomatoes, which were squishy and overripe. They really drive you insane, with your hands on your hips: in September in Albany there are AMAZING tomatoes to be had. Why the cruddy duddies???

Anyway, Cookie had the soup, a generous serving of White Bean Fagiole (a Chicken Pastene was also on for the day) that could have been dinner all by itself. It was dished up nice and hot, the beans were smooth and delicious, garlicky for sure, but not too much, with a bit of Swiss chard in there, maybe chicken broth and some sage. A touch extra S&P was added at the table. You're into a time slip when food is that good - you just want to close your eyes and savor every bite.

Our main courses arrived and this is where we brought our knees in tight. Cookie ordered the Eggplant Parmigiana ($17.95), layers sliced about 1/8" thick and stacked up. We liked the presentation, with only half the dish covered in sauce (choice is good). We decided that the flavor was pretty bland. It tasted like, uh, eggplant, but don't get me wrong, I like to taste the veg but that's all we were tasting, that and something metallicky, which was probably the red sauce; and the "parm" was totally absent. This dish was barely okay, and time is fleeting. Cookie moved on to her homemade cavatelli with the red sauce and decided the sauce tasted really tinny, she didn't much care for it, but the pasta itself was very good.

I ordered the Chicken Parmigiana ($17.95), which was served up plain. It had just a touch of sauce between the cutlets and the cheese. A gravy boat of red sauce was served on the side.  As you might remember, I'm always complaining about the work we go through to make those crispy cutlets, then we drown them in sauce, so this caught my attention. I had a few bites of the meat, without extra red sauce, and let me tell you, this was hands down the worst chicken parm I've ever had, anywhere. It was so greasy I almost couldn't eat it, and it tasted like old oil, and wasn't at all crispy. We looked at the cut cutlet: there was a very thin layer of chicken-colored chicken in the middle; the rest was decidedly gray. Frozen meat? Cold, old oil that had soaked into the meat? Microwaves? I don't know what they did to screw this one up, but I think Let's do the Time Warp again, and go back to what the grandparents did, because no way almost 65 years later would Petta's still be here if the food was that bad at the start. What a disappointment, BUT, I think, remedied with a bit of time and attention in the kitchen.

The linguine was good, but I, too, didn't like the sauce. It was smooth, and thick, kinda like jarred (but it wasn't, I don't think). To my tastes it was almost harsh, "canned", and really needed some garlic, herbs, sweetener, something. There was a lot of food on the table at this point in our meal, but nothing I wanted to eat (except the bread!). We had to-go boxes packed up and, I admit, I trashed the leftovers (except the bread!). Even my superpowers couldn't save this one.

So the menu was the usual, the service was friendly and personal (I liked her), and we think we should go back some day just for the homemade spumoni. I may return for another taste test, but it won't be anytime soon.

Dinner for two, including tax, was $62.48 minus the $15 we saved using the Groupon. 

Zena, Goddess of Fire

PS: Going back in time is NOT one of my best superpowers, so a bit of critique will have to suffice before I go out later to save the world from the forces of evil. May it save the food at Petta's.

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