MY WIFE IS A SPENCERTOWN NATIVE who has seen her little town and its surrounding area transmogrify into yet another outpost for Manhattan exurbanites. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the Chatham restaurant we recently visited. Susan recalled a night, twenty-five years ago, when she met a cousin (with much more of an inclination to whoop it up than Susan ever sported) at a shabby saloon near Chatham’s downtown.
|Downtown Chatham, with Clock Tower|
Refurbished a year ago by new chef-owner Salvatore Taccetta, it’s now called Ciao and it’s presenting a nice range of Italian cuisine. Taccetta moved from New York City, where he had a restaurant called Il Giardinetto.
Being but a few miles from Susan’s mother’s home, we took her to dinner with us. We arrived on a recent Sunday evening, expecting to have the place to ourselves – but the dining room was full enough to warrant flipping on the lights in an adjacent room. “We’ve got more people coming,” the server assured us as she led us to a table. And she was right, although I’ll admit I’ve never minded having a lot of space to myself.
Plus we got the more attractive of the rooms, I think, in that the walls boast charming, colorful murals (by Lori Lawrence of East Greenbush) depicting restaurant business scenes. We settled in and studied a menu that neatly presents a soups-salads-apps page, another of pasta and chicken dishes, and veal and seafood on a third. We ordered. I talked my daughter into trying chicken parmigiana instead of a hamburger – and a child’s portion was available.
House salads accompany entrées, but we were a little surprised to have ours arrive even before the appetizers were served – which I suspect was a mistake. Lots of plates, lots of trays heading in many directions. Still, it shortened the wait for appetizers.
There’s no better indicator of the kitchen’s skill than soup, and pumpkin soup ($6) would seem to be a reasonable seasonal item. In this case, it was a mixture creamy in texture, rich and full flavored, but tending more toward the sweet than I’m prepared for so early in a meal. This was an opinion not shared by my family.
Susan’s mother decided to be daring, and ordered an starter of mussels marinara ($8.25). You can get them with a spicy devil’s brother sauce, but that would have been too daring. A bounteous portion arrived, served, as was true of all of the courses, on a handsome, colorful plate (in this case, a h., c. bowl). Daring? My daughter, who was hoping for early delivery of her entrée, turned from her mom’s soup to her grandmother’s mussels and worked her way through several. Standard mussel fare, but certainly good of its kind.
I have to confess that the ubiquity of portobello mushrooms has dulled their appeal, but they’re offered here as an appetizer, grilled, with baked goat cheese ($7.25), which turns out to be an excellent pairing of flavors, nicely dressed on the plate.
The wait for entrées was a little longer than expected – a busy server explained that it was due to an unexpected dinner rush, and I appreciated the candor. Susan’s tagllarini with chicken Alfredo ($13.25) was a cream-lover’s delight, with chicken and peas nicely mired in the thick, white sauce amidst fettuccine-like noodles. She ate about two cubic centimeters of food before giving up (and the leftovers were good for two full meals).
Lasagna ($12.50) didn’t try to be anything fancy, although the sausage that’s included in the meat mixture adds a special zest. Otherwise, it’s the usual combo of ricotta and mozzarella, tomato sauce and well-rounded seasonings. I’d be delighted if I could craft my own lasagna as well.
I asked for a dish that shows off the kitchen, and veal Bolognese ($15.25) was suggested. “I don’t eat veal,” the youthful server added in haste, “but people really love this dish.” Again, it was just what this dish should be, with large medallions of tender veal paired with prosciutto, finished in a white wine sauce with mozzarella melted on top.
Pasta or rice is available with each entrée, and we had some of each. I knew the pasta would be just fine but wanted to make sure that the rice was good, too. It was: a tasty pilaf. And we got a side order of broccoli, too, which was a tribute to garlic and butter.
And, finally, the chicken parm ($7) for Lily, which has made a convert out of her. Tomato sauce and melted cheese on top of meat? How hamburger-esque! That and the small side of pasta that accompanied it were more than enough for her, and besides, there was need for dessert.
In this case, homemade pumpkin ice cream, somewhat reminiscent of the soup earlier in the meal. The rest of shared an order of strawberry mousse and one of tiramisu, all of which were excellent.
Dinner for four, with a glass of wine, tax and tip and a few desserts, was $123.
Ciao Italian Ristorante, 34 Hudson Ave., Chatham, 392-xxxx. Serving lunch Tue-Fri Noon-3, dinner Tue-Thu 3-9, Fri 3-10, Sat 4-10, Sun 3-9. MC, V. * * * *
– Metroland Magazine, 1 November 2001