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Monday, February 19, 2018

Jumps in the Mouth

From the Food Vault Dept.: There’s a small eatery on Schenectady’s Erie Boulevard that for many years – at least through much of the 1980s – was an Irish pub called, amusingly, the Electric Grinch, thus saluting the mammoth edifice of General Electric that hovered a couple of blocks away. Then it went into a series of changes through a series of owners, who fought a series of indignities like tax problems. My first visit to the place as a restaurant reviewer was in 1990, as I made my return to that chair after a year-long hiatus. I was quite the enthusiast, wasn’t I?


SOME LOCATIONS SEEM MADE TO ORDER for a good restaurant business, and Schenectady’s Erie Boulevard, guarded by GE at each end, is a natural. But such businesses have come and gone over the years, struggling to survive when they should be in the punk.

Somebody else's saltimbocca
Saluti has been there for the better part of two years now, offering a menu of Italian specialties that nicely complements the many other Italian restaurants in this city. I haven’t toured the others in a while, but the food at Saluti’s may come dangerously close to being the best of them all.

It’s a place with a split personality, which probably helps it endure. On the one hand, it’s very much a bar, with a large, loud TV dominating the bar area. On the other hand, it’s a restaurant with an elegant menu. Bar and dining room are separated by sweeping brick archways. The room has fewer than a dozen tables. If you’re more comfortable at the bar, you can have your dinner served there.

This duality between elegance and functionality is also found right on top of the tables. They’re laid with pink linen, but the linen is covered with a thick slab of glass edged in stainless steel. The place settings are paper, the napkins are cloth. The flowers on the table are fresh. The server makes sure you hang onto your appetizer fork for the salad.

My wife and I visited on a Tuesday evening at six when we expected to see nobody else in the restaurant and were surprised to discover several dining, with three or four parties left to come while we still were there.

If I anticipated this trip too eagerly it was because it would mark my first break from the rigorous 1990 diet I awarded myself as a result of an indulgent 1989. I looked – honestly, I looked – for menu items that would support this diet.

Then I went ahead and ordered what I wanted.

The dinner menu is an impressive range that begins with the traditional and takes a few nifty side-turnings. Among the appetizers are the expected shrimp and clams and antipasto plates, but there also was a preparation of rabe (pronounced with two syllables) that caught my eye.

A sparkle of hot pepper decorated the appetizer, which otherwise was a plate heaped with a saute of the broccoli-like vegetable, served with the olive oil and chopped garlic it was cooked with.

There’s a tangy, slightly bitter flavor to the greens. Which makes it a good appetite stimulant. It’s available in three sizes; the small $3.50 plate did just fine as a serving for one, if you’re able to fend off the advancing fork of a tablemate who thinks she’s entitled to a bite of everything I’m served. (She gets confused; it’s I who am entitled to a bite of everything she’s served.)

Salads tell more about a restaurant than any other course, and when I see Romaine peeking through an attractive presentation I know I’m in good hands. Add to it a homemade dressing – house is a delicious sweet and sour – and most of the week’s cares begin to fade away.

Owner Vincent Ferrari also has a hand in the restaurant on Congress St. that bears his name, but he and his wife Carol DiCarlo opened their own place downtown in May, 1988. Vincent is responsible for making the bread, a generous basket of which is served at the beginning of the meal. It’s laced with garlic oil, very easy to polish off much too quickly.

He also makes the pasta, and had as a special that night Fettucini Terrino ($10.95), made with tomato-basil fettucini served in an Alfredo sauce of eggs and cream into which a little marinara is added. The flavors are accented with the pungency of green olives and the puckery sweetness of sun-dried tomatoes. This was Susan’s entree, and she took advantage of the attractiveness of the dish to declare it off-limits to me.

Chef Doug DeMarco has been with the restaurant since September, and showed the hand of a man who truly loves food with the Saltimbocca, a regular menu item at $12.95, that he prepared for me. It starts with a good loin cut of veal that’s been pounded into a tender medallion. That gets sauteed and wrapped in prosciutto, and a sauce is fashioned in the frypan.

The meat yielded to the edge of my fork. The sauce was thick without being gummy, and the flavors blended into a smooth panorama. Presentation was very nice, too, with a broccoli garnish flanking the entree. A side order of ziti in tomato sauce was more than even I could handle.

I did, however, yield to the temptation of spumoni for dessert. Even the presentation of that simple little ice-cream dish was snazzy, with two wedges attractively placed in a chocolate cup.

Service varied according to the number of other customers as a single waitress worked the floor. It got hurried but we were never unduly neglected. Besides, with such generous portions, you’re left with plenty to do.

Susan took the rest of her fettucini home. She doesn’t know yet that I’m saving it for my lunch today. I’m going back on my diet tomorrow. Honest.

Dinner for two, with tax, tip and a soda, was $41.

Saluti Ristorante, 154 Erie Boulevard, Schenectady, 382-xxxx. Lunch: Monday through Friday 11:30-3:30; Dinner: Monday through Thursday 4:30-9:30; Friday-Saturday 4:30-10:30. Major credit cards accepted.

Metroland Magazine, 18 January 1990

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