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Ellen Descisciolo

Royal Treatment
By B.A. Nilsson

Paradiso il Ristorante
129 S. Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 580-1717. Serving dinner daily 5-close. AE, MC, V.

Cuisine: family-style Mediterranean Italian
Entrée price range: $18 (chicken scarpariello) to $48 (porterhouse pizzaiola), priced for two
Ambience: Old World
Clientele: families with money

Paradiso rattled me on the first visit. It was too friendly; service was too skillful. True, the season had yet to erupt in Saratoga, but this was clearly the work of a team that knows how to approach the floor with appropriate teamwork. Visiting again on a busier evening netted the same care, the same attention, the same level of friendliness.

Because there were two of us, the server explained, “You might want to start with an appetizer, then choose one pasta dish and one entrée.”

This we did—on both visits—and both times the bread that arrived first threatened to scuttle our appetites. It was your usual crusty Italian loaf, but warmed and easily doused with the olive oil that sits on the table (alongside the balsamic vinegar).

The servings at Paradiso are usually a generous for-two (three could do fine on most of the items), priced on the high side. This is somewhat justified by the excellent service and accommodating ambience, although I think $15 is a high price for a tomatoes-and-mozzarella appetizer that offers only a few slices of each, and not an especially luscious tomato at that.

Along with daily specials, appetizers also include a salad ($15!), shrimp cocktail, zuppa di clams or ditto di mussels, and fried peppers and onions—all priced in the $12 to $18 range. Shrimp marinara tops it at $25. Your best bargain may be the stuffed mushrooms ($13), which are a generous portion of oversized caps with a pleasantly buttery bread stuffing.

Understand, however, that part of what you’re paying for is very elegant French service. This may be family style, but they’re going to make sure everyone at the table has the desired portions.

Leftovers began to accumulate with the next two courses. On the pasta list you’ll find several linguine preparations, in which the pasta is paired with calamari, shrimp sauce, white or red clam sauce or just a marinara, priced from $16 for the last-named to $21 for the fancier accompaniments. An $18 order of linguine with red clam sauce netted a gleaming sauté pan heaped with perfectly al dente pasta, topped with a sauce in which small bits of chopped clams shared space with sweet roasted garlic (lots of it) and fresh basil.

This pasta preparation was no accident. An order of fettuccine prosciutto ($18), enjoyed on another visit, also was cooked to just the right state of doneness, and its tomato-rich topping was generously shot through with the chopped spiced ham.

A short, separate entrée column lists three porterhouse steak options at $42 to $48. I trust they’re prepared well, but I think of beef items as crowd pleasers. More interesting are the other meats and seafood. Among the latter are shrimp or calamari marinara ($25 each), as well as some market-priced lobster dishes.

Chicken scarpariello is typically a sauté with sausage, sweet peppers, mushrooms and garlic, although the menu here offers two versions, and it’s the $30 one that adds the sausage and peppers. Again, the dish is served in a shiny sauté pan, brim-filled with the meats and vegetables and, as we had by now learned to expect, plenty of garlic.

They offer lots of veal dishes, not surprisingly, and some of the preparations are available with chicken or veal. You can get either of them parmigiana, pizzaiola, marsala, or campagnola. We tried that last one, chicken variety ($26), which emerged as breaded cutlets, pounded thin, served with chopped, seasoned tomatoes—the kind of topping you’d find on good bruschetta.

Vegetables are offered separately, such as escarole ($10.50) or spinach ($15), both of them with plenty of garlic, the latter adding golden raisins and pine nuts for added sweetness and crunch.

Canoli, tartufo and tiramisu have long been signature desserts ($7 each), and with good reason. The tiramisu takes it back to basics, with ladyfingers and marscapone in the mix. A special dessert we sampled was an out-of-this-world custard (they likened it to a crème brulée) served on a puff pastry shell with added strawberries.

Joseph and Carmella Balsamo, whose namesake restaurant in Ballston Spa has been superseded by Paradiso for daily service (Villa Balsamo is available for banquets), are from Sorrento, and the food reflects this, going lighter on the cream and butter, and paying more attention to what’s in the garden. The family shuttled for many years between restaurants in Queens and the Saratoga area, opting eventually to stay up here full time.

They brought the family spirit with them. It’s evident in the high spirits among the servers, and it’s evident in the way Joseph and Carmella continue to fuss over the clientele. If our first visit wasn’t welcome enough, we were greeted like prodigal children the second time we arrived. It’s the kind of treatment that guarantees future visits.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Schenectady Day Nursery’s third annual Lobster & Steak Fest takes place from 5 until 8 PM on Aug. 14 at the Picnic Pavilion in Schenectady’s Central Park, Schenectady. Enjoy a 20-ounce lobster or 14-ounce steak along with potatoes, corn, a drink and dessert for $35 ($30 if you buy your ticket in advance). There’s even a surf-and-turf option that gets you both lobster and steak for $60 ($50 in advance). A hotdog meal is $5, and participants may eat in or take out. Entertainment by fiddlers Jane Rothfield and Allan Carr will be featured during dinner. You can buy tickets in advance at the Niskayuna or Eastern Parkway Price Choppers. For more info, call 378-3360. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail food@banilsson.com). (food@banilsson.com).

—B.A.N.

(Please fax info to 922-7090)

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