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At the Table: Old-world Italian-American fare at its best at Lo Porto’s

Sunday, October 16, 2011
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A berry cream cake with crumble topping sits on a plate swirled with a fruit reduction at Lo Porto Ristorante Caffe in Troy. (BEVERLY M. ELANDER/FOR THE SUNDAY GAZETTE)
A berry cream cake with crumble topping sits on a plate swirled with a fruit reduction at Lo Porto Ristorante Caffe in Troy. (BEVERLY M. ELANDER/FOR THE SUNDAY GAZETTE)

— There’s an old-world quality about Lo Porto Ristorante Caffe that hints at good food even before you have your first taste.

There’s background “Italian music” — opera alternating with Frank Sinatra — and the menus, slightly yellowed and a touch worn from years of use, feature classic Italian-American fare like Chicken Cacciatore and spaghetti and meatballs.

Not that there aren’t unique house creations — like the Veal Scorsese and the Shrimp Michael — but mostly it’s the reassuring menu you’d want to find at a reliably good Italian restaurant when you’re not looking for mysteries or surprises.

Entrées come with a basket of warm bread with butter on the side and a house salad. The bread was a small sliced loaf that was steaming hot, with a crunchy crust and yeasty interior.

I ordered the zuppa di giorno ($4.95) — a variation of pasta e fagioli (sans pasta) — and invited Beverly to have a taste. It was a hearty, savory vegetable stew, perfect for a crisp fall night.

Lo Porto Ristorante Caffe

WHERE: 85 Fourth St., Troy, 273-8546, www.loportos.com

WHEN: Lunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner 5 to 10 p.m. Monday-Saturday

OTHER INFO: Handicapped accessible; all major credit cards accepted

COST: $102.16

OYSTERS VS. CLAMS

We debated the merits of Oysters Rockefeller ($13.95) and the Clams Casino ($11.50) and finally settled on the clams, which proved to be a good choice — tender morsels broiled in their shells beneath a puffy orange stuffing of onion, red pepper, celery and cheese.

Our green salads arrived crisp and cold with house-made dressings — Italian for Beverly and creamy blue cheese for me. As basic salads go, these were first-rate. The veggies were fresh and appealing to the eye as well as the palate and we both commented favorably on the dressings.

I wanted to try one of the veal dishes for my entrée because it’s often the veal that tells the story in good Italian restaurants. I toyed with the idea of the Scorsese, which I’m told is one of Lo Porto’s most popular dishes, but in the end went for the classic Veal Milanese ($22.95).

My only complaint was that the dish was too generous. Besides the cutlet, which was substantial in itself, there was a raft of vegetables, mashed potatoes and a side dish of pasta. (About half of it was carted home to eat the next day.)

The veal was particularly good: golden brown and panko-crispy on the outside and fork-tender on the inside. The veggies — green beans and red pepper strips — that topped the veal were perfectly al dente, as was the pasta, which was served with house marinara.

Beverly wanted fish and vacillated between trout and sole for a minute or two and then settled on the sole (Sole Vannini, $24.95), stuffed with crabmeat and little shrimp and topped with a Mugnaia sauce — better known perhaps in its French incarnation, sauce a la meunièr.

BROWNED BUTTER

The fish is lightly coated with flour and sautéed in butter and then served in a sauce of browned butter with lemon wedges and freshly chopped parsley. It’s a particularly elegant way to prepare sole. In the case of Lo Porto’s Sole Vannini, besides the fish and its stuffing, the accompaniments included crispy veggies and mashed potatoes, along with pasta and sauce on the side. I should note that it’s possible to tell your server to hold the potatoes or the pasta (or both), and that’s probably what we would do in future.

Lo Porto’s, whose executive chef, Carmelo Lo Porto, was in the kitchen the night we visited, has an extensive roster of hot appetizers that includes several clam dishes, mussels, a house escargot ($12.95) of escargot-stuffed mushroom caps in a zesty cream sauce with garlic, and a hot antipasto for two ($24.95).

There is also a selection of cold appetizers and an array of pasta dishes, steak, chicken and seafood. You can get a rack of lamb finished with an herbed rosemary brown sauce with mushrooms for $55.95 for two.

We sipped pinot noir ($7 a glass) with our meal and had coffee (for me) and espresso (for Beverly) with a shared dessert of berry cream cake with a crumble topping served on a plate with swirls of fruit sauce ($8). Nice as it sounds, pretty as it looked and recommended by our server, it was quite unremarkable. I regretted not ordering the tiramisu, as recommended by a fan of the restaurant.

Nevertheless, our evening at Lo Porto’s was a satisfying one, and we’d definitely visit again. Our server was a pro, and our seating — a perch on the second-floor rail overlooking the bar — was enviably good.

Our tab for an appetizer and soup, two entrees, dessert and coffee came to $102.16 with tax and tip.

NAPKIN NOTES

Lo Porto’s, which is across the street from the “other Proctor’s” in Troy, is also open for lunch, offering a scaled-down menu that includes meatball, veal and eggplant Parmigiana sandwiches, panini and soups and salads.

 
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