Classic Italian fare is the attraction at Lo PortoÂ¡Â¯s Ristorante in Troy
By Ann Morrow
One of the more than a dozen veal dishes offered by Lo PortoÂ¡Â¯s Ristorante in downtown Troy is Veal Scorsese, a specialty of the house made with prosciutto, artichoke hearts, and capers in a veal demi-glace ($16.95). Though Lo PortoÂ¡Â¯s does have a Sicilian accent, the dish is more than a nod to Martin Scorsese, HollywoodÂ¡Â¯s most famous Sicilian. The man himself has been a patron, dining several times at this low-key cafÂ¨Â¦ while filming The Age of Innocence amid TroyÂ¡Â¯s Gilded Age buildings. A native of New York CityÂ¡Â¯s Little Italy, the filmmaker also had Lo PortoÂ¡Â¯s deliver meals to him (and co-stars Daniel Day-Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer) on the set. And so his enthusiasm for the restaurant is immortalized in his namesake dish, a favorite of even those regulars who donÂ¡Â¯t know Scorsese from Parcheesi.
It takes more than celebrity sightings to sustain enduring popularity, of course, and Lo PortoÂ¡Â¯s has more to recommend it than glamorous anecdotes (actor Edward Herrmann is another pleased patron). And donÂ¡Â¯t count the cityÂ¡Â¯s movie-caliber architecture as part of the draw, either. The restaurant is tucked away on an undistinguished stretch of Fourth Street, with a cozy but unremarkable interior. The star attraction here is the food, starting with the everything-Italian menu (with a bit of Continental flair in their steaks and a few other dishes) and continuing to the fresh ingredients, generous portions, and quality of preparation. These attributes are closely supervised by chef Carmelo Lo Porto, who took over management several years ago from his father, Salvatore, and uncle, Michael. Carmelo says the Troy mainstay is the result of three generations of restaurant experience Â¡Â°with roots going back to the old country.Â¡Â±
The extensive offerings are divided into sections. Among them are three categories of pastas, including specialties ranging from Spaghetti Al Pesto ($12.95) to Fettuccine Frutti di Mare ($20.95); and three of seafood, from clams in red or white sauce ($11.50) to Sole Veronique ($16.95); along with steaks, poultry, and a marinated rack of lamb ($22.95).
The menu is as traditional as the dÂ¨Â¦cor of white linens and red walls Â¡Âª you wonÂ¡Â¯t find any trendy tramezzinis among the fra diavolos and marinaras Â¡Âª yet itÂ¡Â¯s diverse enough to accommodate a variety of budgets. And for something a little different, thereÂ¡Â¯s a section of dishes that includes mugnaia, a light cream sauce with capers, black olives, and basil. An old family recipe, the sauce was created to complement the delicate flavors and textures of the seafood over which it is served.
Since we had heard good things about the fried calamari appetizer ($11.95 for a sharable portion), our seafood selection was decided beforehand. We were not disappointed. Served with a tomato-y cocktail sauce that earned its own kudos, the squid pieces were crisply battered and properly chewy. And the spidery legs (or are they arms?) were just as tasty as the rings Â¡Âª most unusual.
Encouraged by the calamari, we ordered a Veal Cutlet Milanese ($14.95) in an olive oilÂ¨Cbased sauce with capers, roasted peppers, olives, and lots of garlic. For a good cut of veal, breading is just gilding (or sometimes, drying) the lily, but in this case the coating served its purpose well, giving the savory sauce something to cling to and adding a satisfying crunch to the tender veal. The cutlet was accompanied by nicely seasoned zucchini slices, green beans, and carrot strips, and came with a side of ziti in a wonderfully garlicky red sauce.
Our pasta entrÂ¨Â¦e, Fettuccine Alfredo ($11.95), was equally rewarding. Seemingly the simplest dish in the world, Alfredo has a dismaying tendency to show up gluey, or crumbly, or as a morose mound of blandness. Yet memories of disappointing Alfredos past only heightened our appreciation for Lo PortoÂ¡Â¯s version: al dente ribbons in a velvety blanket of butter, cream, and Romano cheese, with bits of sautÂ¨Â¦ed basil for contrast. Perfecto.
Dinners include a tossed romaine and mesculin green salad; the light, citrus-Dijon dressing was enjoyable, the peppery house Italian even more so. Our friendly, attentive waiter, who was ever at the ready with his pepper grinder and parmigiana grater, started us off right with his wine recommendation. Asked for a versatile red by my fussy dining companion, who further qualified that he didnÂ¡Â¯t want a Merlot, nor anything too dry, the waiter unhesitatingly suggested the Centine Toscana, a blend of three varieties dominated by sangiovese. With an intense flavor marked by multiple hints of berries, it was a delightful find, and an excellent value at $19 a bottle. In fact, the only fault to be found all evening was with our concluding tiramisu ($5.50), which was a touch too sweet.
A strolling accordionist was as solicitous as the staff, inquiring as to whether we wanted to be spared the serenades requested by the party behind us. We didnÂ¡Â¯t. From our balcony table in the intimate upper dining room, Â¡Â°O Sole MioÂ¡Â± only added to the Little Italy ambience. Hollywood couldnÂ¡Â¯t have done it better. Â¡Ã¶
Lo PortoÂ¡Â¯s Ristorante is located at 85 Fourth St., Troy. Dinner is served Tues.- Sat., 5-10 p.m. EntrÂ¨Â¦es are $9.95 to $32.95, appetizers $6.50 to $16.95, and desserts $5.50. 518-273-8546.