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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Come Up to My Place

What’s for Dinner? Dept.: Tiny place; big flavors. It’s one of the more hidden gems of the Saratoga dining scene, well worth the effort to snag a table. Here’s my review.


THE SPACE IS LEGENDARILY TINY. Good luck getting in there when track season heats up—but don’t stop trying. It’s worth it. Mio Posto marked its second anniversary in April, in a little space on Saratoga’s Putnam Street that was home to Lanci’s and 8 Tables. Under chef Danny Petrosino’s guidance, it has been reborn as Mio Posto, and his place welcomes you with plain dark tables, restrained decor, a blackboard listing of specials and sense of easygoing charm.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
“It’s perfect,” says Petrosino. “You always say, in this business, ‘I wish I had my own little place with half-a-dozen tables where I can do what I want to do.’ This is it.”

Let’s start with an assortment of appetizers, including a chicken liver pâté that tastes sinful, a wild mushroom compote to restore some sense of virtue and an eggplant lasagne that uses the magic of cheese to tie together the crisp layers of vegetable, touched with tomato sauce for a sweet finish.

The eggplant dish ($10) is a regular visitor to the appetizers list, but be warned that the menu changes on an almost-daily basis. “I buy fresh. I don’t have an account with Sysco. I don’t even have a walk-in. I shop every day and change the menu accordingly. I’ve been buying local for over 30 years—long before it was fashionable.”

I visited on a recent weeknight with a food-enthusiast friend named Jim, who too-eagerly supports me in my quest for delicious excess.

Other starters the night of our visit included bada-bing shrimp (“garlicky buttery creaminess,” $14), grilled baby octopus with potato-olive salad ($12) and another one I sampled, grilled pork belly in a cider demi ($14). Pork belly, yes, a good-sized sliver, which is enough right there to make for sensational flavor. But it’s twinned with a slice of sautéed foie gras, melting into the pork and making its own kind of pâté of the textures. Served over polenta, a buttery pastry flake on top, it’s a perfect way to rev up the palate for more. Where does this style of cooking come from?

“I’m a restaurant guy. While I was at the Culinary Institute, I worked in restaurants in the city—Italian places in the Bronx—and after I graduated in 1980 I came back up here. I learned how to work the line at Ecobelli’s, which was then owned by Tony and Joey Iaia and where I was cranking out 350 dinners a night. At the height of track season, we’d be going through 20 legs of veal a week. And Tony, I gotta tell you, there was nobody faster on the line.

“I worked at the Van Dyck back in the old days, when Marvin Friedman was still there. I had a piece of a place in Clifton Park, and I owned the Executive Suite in Schenectady for a while. Then I went over to the Mansion and worked there for 12 years.”

Petrosino also was the chef who opened Schenectady’s Stockade Inn and he spent a few years as corporate chef for International Paper. But when his friend Rick Dadeo got an offer to open a place in Florida, he invited Petrosino to join him, which is how he ended up co-owning Redsauce. “But then both my parents were dying, and my wife wasn’t a big fan of central Florida,” he says, “so we came back to Amsterdam.”

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
Although the menu’s pasta dishes may change, the Bolognese sauce will always be there. I sampled it, with fresh rigatoni ($12/$19), and the flavor was deep and rich, clearly the product of a lengthy simmer. “That bolognese has been on there since day one. It’s my biggest-selling item.”

It was served with fresh pasta from Pastosa in Brooklyn, although lately Petrosino has been getting a dried product from Pasta Mancini in Italy, a company that grows its own wheat and produces the pasta in the middle of the field.

Entrées included grilled salmon with citrus aioli ($25), veal Marsala ($28) and “really good brick chicken” with lemon jus ($23).

We sampled the seared sea scallops, served over a blood orange burro (a butter-based sauce) with lobster risotto and asparagus ($29). It’s the risotto that pushes it over the edge, because the texture contrast between scallop and creamy rice is as dramatic as the flavor contrast between scallop and lobster. With the sauce as a bonus prize.

The sauce on the grilled lamb sirloin ($29) had wild mushrooms in the flavor, with help from apricot preserves made locally by Anna Mae’s in Ballston Spa. The lamb was deeply red and obligingly tender; the broccoli raab served alongside added some bitterness to the mix.

Service was careful and attentive, with Danny’s wife, Patti, keeping an eye on things, welcoming people, making new friends. This explained why we watched the place fill so quickly. “A lot of local people come here,” says Petrosino, “but I also have regulars from Albany, from Amsterdam, from all over. Some people eat here once a week. Some are seasonal. I have one party that has a table booked every Wednesday from now through October.”

We tried our best with the desserts ($8 apiece), but the coconut cream pie and the butterscotch pannacotta were too rich to finish after a meal like that. Virtuously, we took none of it home.

The Petrosinos have an impressive style at work in this diminutive place, and Danny shared me a simple, effective philosophy: “I love to cook, I love to eat. I don’t like to follow the rules. If it tastes good to me, that’s what I’m looking for.”

Mio Posto, 68 Putnam St., Saratoga Springs, 423-7022, Serving daily from 5 PM. (Closing Mondays after Sept. 15.) AE, D, MC, V.

Metroland Magazine, 19 June 2014

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