SCHENECTADY Marotta’s Bar-Risto was unexpected from the very start.
With a name like “bar-risto” we didn’t expect to be met by a man in a tuxedo who opened the inner door for us and led us to our table.
He was classy: He waited for us to sit and adjusted our chairs for us. OK, I thought, I know what this service costs. I opened the menu, ready for the sticker shock.
WHERE: 611 Union St., Schenectady. 377-5100, www.marottasbar-risto.com
HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, Saturday; 3 to 8 p.m. Sunday
MORE INFO: Major credit cards, children’s menu, handicapped accessible
I got a far more pleasant shock instead: We enjoyed four courses, with sodas, for $118.95, including tip. That’s less than $60 apiece. Amazing for such a lovely place.
The food was classic Italian — and I mean classic. The waiter encouraged our terrible Italian: “It’s more bravado than pronunciation,” he said when we hesitated at our orders, and advised us cheerily on which items were best.
Every menu item was named in Italian, but all the descriptions were in English, so we Americans had no trouble. But from the lively colored lamps on the walls to the metallic artwork, the ambience made us feel as if we weren’t in Schenectady anymore.
Passing the test
Marotta’s, which opened in April, 2012, passed the first test of Italian restaurants easily. The bread was fresh and delicious. And there wasn’t so much of it that we filled up on it before our first course.
My companion chose vongola ($12), clams simmered in a delicious sauce of white wine, butter, lemon and garlic. She loved it so much she almost wouldn’t share with me.
“It’s like eating the ocean in a white-wine sauce,” she said.
I ordered shrimp wrapped in prosciutto ($12). They arrived sautéed to perfection, and the horseradish sauce balanced out the prosciutto in a way I’d never experienced before. I’d go back just for more of those shrimp.
My companion’s meal came with very crisp garlic bread, but when she used it to mop up her remaining sauce, she loved it. I thought the mixture was a little too sharp.
The salads were also specimens of perfection. My companion’s roasted vegetables (the Veggie Dee-Lite, for $10, the only non-Italian name I saw on the menu) came out still warm and crisp. That requires excellent timing.
I ordered the traditional caprese salad — tomatoes and mozzarella ($10). It’s hard to get a variation on this basic, but Marotta’s found a way to put their own stamp on it. I was served a plate of art, with delicate drizzles of olive oil as a backdrop. Each piece of arugula was individually placed, it seemed, to satisfy the artist. It was almost too beautiful to eat.
But eat it I did, and it was delicious.
By this point we were beginning to get somewhat full. And we hadn’t even made it to the entrees!
Meat of the matter
We skipped the pasta course and went straight to the meat: seafood for me and chicken for her. I went for the unpronounceable crostaceo fradiavlo ($24): shrimp, clams, mussels, haddock, calamari and melt-in-your-mouth giant scallops.
This restaurant does seafood right. The homemade marinara sauce ought to be canned and sold — I’d buy it regularly.
My companion had chicken marsala ($17). The chicken “medallions” were huge, luscious slices of chicken, perfectly glazed with the marsala wine sauce.
For dessert, I took on the crème brûleé. It was disappointingly soft — I like my crème brûleé crunchy. But it was tasty nonetheless. My companion surrendered and couldn’t manage to even try a dessert.
For those who want more, the restaurant also offers veal as substitute for all chicken entrees, which I don’t see often in this area. And they make their own pizza as well, which entertained my companion all night. She was seated facing the kitchen area, and watched the chef toss pizza dough in the air, look away, and catch it just before it hit a wall. The pizzas are 12-inch rounds, and come with a variety of toppings, for around $14. Gluten-free pizza is available too.
The restaurant motto is “ambience and iPads” which did not particularly attract me. They did indeed have iPads at many of the two-person tables. They have Wi-Fi too, but it’s an upscale restaurant, people. Don’t waste your experience staring at a glowing box.
The only trouble with the restaurant is space. The walkway between the two-person tables and the bar is very, very tight — our waiter struggled to get through with his plates. They are planning to expand to the second floor for a banquet hall, but there’s probably not much hope for correcting the tight walkway. Simply ask for one of the tables in the back or the front and you’ll have plenty of room.
We will do the same when we return, something we’re already looking forward to.