A multi-faceted gem of a restaurant
Overall rating on a scale of 1-10
Service 10 Food 10 Ambiance 9 Price – $$
You say, “Fine, quality glassware,” and I say “Waterford crystal!” You say, “High-style jewelry,” I say, “Swarovski crystal.” You say, “Authentic, made-to-order Italian food,” and I say, “Crystal Ristorante at 72 Lyon Street in Amsterdam.”
With the Saratoga horse-racing season just about over, there’s still not a better “get-away” bet anywhere than an evening out for dinner at this family-owned Italian restaurant. From a nice order of speidini or calamari appetizers and drinks on the patio to homemade pizza and burgers in the knotty-pine sports bar to Penne a la Vodka con Salsiccia Spinachi in the bright and friendly main dining room, the food at Crystal Ristorante is simply delicious, plentiful and very reasonably priced.
The Crystal Bar, originally called the Lyon Street Grill, was owned and operated by Tony Centi (pronounced “Cen-tai”) until 1945. In the 1950s, Tony’s son, Gabe, took over the business, and in 1988 it was passed on to Gabe’s sons, Tony and Mark. In 2004, a brand new expanded kitchen, the comfortable and elegant dining room and a banquet room (200+ seating) were added to the main structure. Today, the present Crystal Ristorante is managed by great-grandson Gabe Centi, who continues the family tradition.
My wife and I visited here on a Thursday evening this summer and were impressed at how quickly the dining room filled with families, young couples, neighborhood friends and loyal patrons. The atmosphere was very busy, yet friendly; warm and familiar. We felt immediately right at home. When I asked for a wine recommendation, our waitress, Kristy, suggested a glass of Gabe’s white (secret recipe) sangria ($5.25). It was delicious, indeed, and loaded with chunks of strawberry, pineapple, cantaloupe and sweet honeydew melon.
With strains of Italian music and familiar selections by “Ol’ Blue Eyes” in the background, we enjoyed a shallow dipping bowl of virgin olive oil, grated cheese and the restaurant’s homemade bread.
The casual, relaxed nature of the restaurant allows for ample time to review the extensive menu of pizzas, burgers, hot and cold sandwiches, appetizers, soups, salads, chicken, pasta, beef, seafood and veal selections.
I seem unable to resist the temptation of beginning an Italian meal with minestre (or beans and greens), when available. From the soup menu, I ordered the Boule of Soup, a delicious, lightly peppered combination of greens and white beans flavored with small chunks of ham and Italian sausage finished with Romano cheese and served in a round, edible bread bowl ($6). Using pieces of the bread bowl to soak up the tasty broth was a real treat. My wife began with a softly flavored Artichoke Francaise ($7). This popular selection offers a generous serving of pan-seared, artichoke hearts with a lemon-butter garlic sauce. The dish is nicely presented, very tasty and one that we might even order as an entre when we visit again.
Salads are included with the meals and they were equally as delectable as our appetizers. They are abundantly made up of fresh garden greens, tomato wedges and olives in crystal-cut dishes with a choice of several homemade dressings. We chose the sweet balsamic vinegar and olive oil with crumpled blue cheese on the side.
Head Chef Lawrence Downing prepared my bountiful Italian dinner called “Tutto di Mare,” which means “all from the sea”. And, if I may say so, this was no exaggeration. The seafood, which was sauted in a lightly spiced marinara sauce and served on a heaping bed of linguini, included several jumbo shrimp, four or five large scallops, chunks of a mild white fish, fresh whole clams and was topped with a three-ounce lobster tail ($21). It was necessary, of course, to request a take-home box for this unfinished feast.
Nicki ordered the Eggplant Parmesan. It consisted of a hefty serving of thinly sliced, lightly battered eggplant topped with mozzarella cheese and the restaurant’s red sauce, all served with a side of pasta or potato and vegetable ($11). How can you beat that?! Like me, Nicki also requested a take-home box.
Crystal Ristorante has distinguished itself, in my mind (and apparently in the minds and mouths of many others) as one of the Capital Region’s best Italian restaurants. I will tell my friends; I will recommend it to visitors and guests; and my family and I will definitely return again and again.
Our total bill, excluding tax and tip was $49.25.
Crystal Ristorante is located at 72 Lyon Street, Amsterdam. Hours are Monday-Wednesday 11am-11pm; Thursday-Saturday 11am-1pm; Sunday 12pm-11pm. For more information call 842.9050 or visit www.crystalrist.com.
Frank W. Pidgeon is an educator/school administrator, freelance writer and winemaker who lives with his wife, Nicki, in Rotterdam.