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Lunch – Italian Style

August 11, 2010

There are an abundance of restaurants in the Capital Region that focus on Italian cuisine, so how do you decide which ones to patronize?  What constitutes “good” Italian food?  It all boils down to doing the simple things well – utilizing classic Italian flavors in both traditional and new ways, but keeping the soul of Italian cooking intact.  Milano Restaurant, located in Newton Plaza in Latham, accomplishes this very well, featuring delicious Northern Italian cuisine at a reasonable price.

Milano is illuminated by a lot of natural light from the large windows in front, and the dark wood ceiling and bright decorations create a somewhat casual atmosphere.

An obvious test of a restaurant’s true Italian roots is its wine list.  Italians have been drinking wine with their meals for centuries, and Milano offers no less than 160 bottles (including sparkling wines) to choose from, with over 25 available by the glass.  With prices ranging from under $20 per bottle to the $240 Opus One, there’s a wine for everyone.

Milano’s lunch menu features salads, sandwiches, pizza and pasta, ranging from $10-$15. 

On this day’s visit my two companions and I ordered the Sotto Marino sandwich, the Scamorze pizza, and a sandwich special.  The Sotto Marino consisted of capocolla (the sweet, not spicy variety), salami, prosciutto, roasted red peppers and arugula on Foccacia bread.  It was served with a side of herb olive oil, which was necessary as the sandwich itself was pretty dry.  But the meats were sliced paper-thin and were quite tasty; unfortunately the red peppers were too overpowering and overshadowed the meats, and the bread was a little too herb-infused.  The thin-crusted Scamorze pizza was topped with smoked chicken, grilled tomatoes, leeks, Kalamata olives and smoked mozzarella.  I was a little worried that having smoked chicken and smoked cheese might be a little too much, but the dish was perfectly balanced.  The chicken was beautifully cooked – it was tender and flavorful, and although I saw no evidence of the tomatoes being grilled, they were fresh and juicy and complimented the smoky cheese and chicken perfectly.  The sandwich special featured smoked turkey, bacon, yellow tomatoes and arugula with a basil mayo on wheat bread.  I suggested to our server that this item should become a permanent addition to their menu.  The flavors melded together wonderfully; the sweet tomato and peppery arugula matched delectably with the thick, salty bacon and the smoky turkey, and the basil mayo provided a nice herby finish.

While the portions were certainly not on the small side, we saved room to try a couple of desserts – the tiramisu and an apple cobbler special.  Milano makes all of their desserts in-house, and after one bite that was very evident.  The tiramisu was one of the best I’ve had in recent memory – the texture was the epitome of smooth.  The brandy and espresso were added with the utmost care – the flavors were there but not overdone.  It was creatively served in a glass mug, the plate dusted with cocoa powder and accompanied by a fresh strawberry.  If you’re a tiramisu fan, a visit to Milano for only that reason would be completely justified.  The apple cobbler was also obviously homemade – the top layer was crunchy but tender, and the warm apples inside were delicately sweetened.  The vanilla gelato on top melted into the cobbler in a delicious way.

The downside to our visit was the service – the restaurant was not particularly busy, but our server still managed to take longer than necessary to take our order and refill our drinks later.  And for some reason the two sandwiches were served about 10 minutes before the pizza came out, without explanation.

The dinner menu runs the spectrum of classic Italian food, with a variety of beef, chicken, seafood and veal dishes along with traditional pastas and pizzas.  Some unexpected items include the granchio torta,a crab cake with a cucumber slaw; the arrosito anatra, a roasted duck breast with fig jam & balsamic glaze, served with mascarpone polenta; and rigatoni alla spezzatino di vitello, a braised veal stew with red onions, mushrooms, roasted red peppers and marsala & sage cream sauce on rigatoni.  Entrees range from $13-$29, with pizza and pastas offered in regular or small sizes.

So if you’re sick of your usual Italian restaurant and want to try something new, Milano is a good place to start.

The MHK gives Milano 3.5 out of 5 stars!

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