Wednesday, June 4, 2014

DOING DISHES: Chicken Parm and the Superheroes at Canali's

UPDATE June 20, 2014: Canali's came in #3 in the Times Union's "Best of the Capital Region" for Italian restaurants! Congratulations!!! Next year we hope you make #1.  (:

Captain Underpants is a lifelong fan of Canali's Restaurant, located on Mariaville Road in Rotterdam, NY, and suggested I try their chicken parm and red sauce as part of a series I'm just starting here on Albany Dish. It had been a crummy couple of weeks for me and a night out was just what I needed. So we gathered up a couple more superhero buddies to check it out (incognito, of course).

I wound my way out there on Curry Road, only getting turned around once, and joined the Captain in the bar for a glass of wine while we waited for the others to arrive. The space was bright and clean, with a few booths in case you prefer to eat here instead of the dining room.The wine list wasn't much, with a few offerings by the glass, as well as a bunch of random house wines at $6.00/glass. Curious, I decided to try a glass of house red; the bartender recommended the Pinot Noir. I asked for a taste first - it was Rex-Goliath - and good thing I didn't order a whole glass because it really sucked, tasting like it had been open since Reagan was in office. I then tasted the Castello di Gabbiano Chianti and decided on a glass, even though it was barely passable.

Magnum this!
Cookie arrived right on time and settled on a glass of Kendall Jackson chardonnay, always reliable. After an email exchange and a missed phone call we were disappointed to find out that Wonder Woman got lost trying to find her way, and ended up doing the rounds of saving the world instead of eating dinner out. That's what happens when we rely too heavily on our superpowers instead of a trusty GPS. FYI if you're in trouble I suggest you shoot some flares so we can find you, especially if you're in Schenectady.

Yes, those are bags of Doritos on the bar....
We moved into the dining room about 15 minutes after our reservation without any problem - the staff were very friendly. The dining room was doing a pretty good business for a Wednesday evening, with a few tables of eight, some families, and a coupla couples enjoying a night out. Our waitress - very sweet - rolled off the specials for us, including Zuppa di Clams Casino, haddock with dill and honey, and an 8 ounce filet mignon with portobella mushrooms. She left us for a few minutes to go over the menu, which boasted all that we would expect in a classic Italian American restaurant - Veal Marsala, Shrimp Scampi, and Sausage and Peppers, as well as steaks and fish & chips. The atmosphere was relaxed if just a bit noisy.

While not listed online, the Captain ordered an Italian Specialty from the printed menu, a boneless pork loin in cream sauce with mushrooms ($18.99). All the mains come with a salad to start and either a side of ziti and red sauce, or roasted potatoes and greens. Cookie ordered the Brasciola ($17.99), which apparently I can't pronounce, with homemade cavatelli (made with ricotta cheese) instead of the ziti (accepting there would be an up-charge). Of course, I went for the Chicken Parmigiano ($16.99) and a side of homemade fettuccine.

The house Italian dressing was no surprise and neither was the salad, but it was cold and crispy and generous, including iceberg lettuce as well as radiccio and leaf lettuce and a token cherry tomato. The Captain had the sense to order the dressing on the side - mine was a bit overdressed - and OK but those canned black olives are a loser every time. UGH. Tastes like chemicals. The dressing choices were all the usual and I wondered if they (even just the "house") were homemade or not (most likely not). But it was a pretty nice start.

The bread was awesome - a big basket and we think it came from Perecca's, a local bakery with a great reputation and an even greater local following. It was fresh, soft, yeasty, with a nice char to the crust that was really dreamy. Served with those little butter packets - whipped salted butter from Wholesome Farms - but this time the butter was fresh and sweet. A taste of heaven for us that love to load up on carbs before a night of saving the planet from the forces of evil.

We shared a side of Menestra and Beans before our main course: escarole with garlic, onions, sausage and white beans. It was served nice and hot, and had lots of greens and a lovely, smokey flavor. I think the beans and greens from Ciao Italia was better, but this was still great, not too salty, not too garlickly, and a nice portion for splitting. Oh, and wine refills all around!!!

Dinner was served and none of us were disappointed. The Captain's dish included two thick cut pork slabs, salted heavily, nice and crusty, literally swimming in a very thick rich port wine cream sauce and smothered in mushrooms. The presentation had a bit to be desired (okay, alot!), but this was incredibly decadent and tasty. The greens were like the Menestra dish, sans beans, and nice and velvety, but the potatoes were a disappointment - heavily salted, dried out, not at all worth eating. The Captain said that he'd had better in the past, so we'll have to go back and try these again.

The Brasciola was as big as a guinea pig (no pun or offense meant by that, folks) - made with pork, not beef, and stuffed with sausage, cheese, greens and hard boiled egg. Our server said they run out almost every night! It was divine - tender, spicy, rich and flavorful, and the cavatelli was out of this world - tender, perfectly cooked. The red sauce was delicious, served over both the pasta and the meat: clingy, bright, not at all sweet, herbal but simple and for me, the best part of the meal. This is the red sauce I crave - hearty, with depth, to compliment instead of hide the flavors of what is below.

My chicken parmigiano was also a more than ample serving (it could have served three superpowers, so the next time I return I'm picking up Wonder Woman on the way and we're going splits because three days later I'M STILL EATING LEFTOVERS). The chicken was tender and cooked just right. The sauce was served over on the side of the plate (and not too much of that, either), with an even layer of gooey mozzerella overall. But the chicken, which tasted like chicken, which it should, because it was chicken, was pretty bland and left me wondering where the parm was, and it could have been a bit crispier for my liking. But still very good, as was the fettucini - perfectly cooked, tender, and quite sublime. The sauce didn't overwhelm it at all. Again, no one offered me grated parmesan for my dishes, which sort of surprised me.

Dinner was very good, and as the kitchen packed up our To Go containers we thought about our meal and talked about the decor, which is sort of old fashioned with fancy chairs and popcorn ceilings, a touch gaudy but almost elegant. Canali's has a separate banquet area next door and also caters, so I'm pretty sure besides the restaurant they are busy in the community. The feel was of a comfortable, neighborhood establishment with a loyal following and a welcoming, warm, charming staff. Even with a few shortcomings this place will make you want to go back for more.

Dinner, including an up-charge of $3.25 each for the fresh pasta sides (well worth it!), 3 glasses of wine, three mains and one starter, came to $92.57 plus tip. OH - and our waitress even asked if she could bag the bread to take home and I jumped up YES! I was so excited I almost gave away my secret identity!!! I hate to see it go to waste. I'm glad they asked.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

PS: Wonder Woman - I apologize for not bringing you a Superhero Bag.  Next time make a right. xxx

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