How to stand out in a sea of Italian restaurants
Overall rating on a scale of 1-10
Service 9 Food 9 Ambiance 8 Price – $$$
With so many Italian restaurants in the area, it takes more than just satisfactory food and service to stand out. However, Michael Lo Porto and his nephew, Carmello, now executive chef, have not only figured out the formula, they’ve managed to master it for over 20 years.
Ask most people from the area about Lo Porto, and if they haven’t eaten there, they’ve heard of this downtown Troy mainstay. The reason? A good, solid reputation as an establishment that pays special attention to the food they serve and the patrons they host. Curious to see if Lo Porto still lived up to their reputation as reliable and authentic, my dining companion and I had dinner there on a recent Friday night. Since it’s usually busy and not very large, I reserved a table. A note to future diners here, couples especially: the table to request is on the second level next to the railing, overlooking the main floor. This is the best table in the house, offering not only a little privacy, but a pleasant view of the activity below.
As our waitress handed us the menus, we took the opportunity to order two Negronis, a traditional Italian aperitif of Campari, gin and sweet vermouth to “stimulate the appetite”. (Not really necessary, as we’re always ready to eat, but a nice way to start the meal nevertheless.) Our cocktail of choice was not on the drink menu, which featured more popular choices like flavored Martinis, a selection of Scotches and Cognacs, and the somewhat puzzling Long Island Iced Tea. So Peter, always the helpful patron, explained to the bartender how to make a Negroni. He took direction well – the drinks were fine if not a little strong, but hey, we weren’t complaining.
As we sipped our cocktails and surveyed the restaurant, we noticed it was filled with both a causal crowd, mostly at the bar and sitting outside on this lovely spring evening, and more formal diners, like the parties seated near us on the second level. Overall, the place had a festive aura that fueled a much-anticipated culinary experience.
Determined to prolong the festive feeling, we decided to order only one course at a time. In fact, truly savoring the dining experience and not rushing through is something Lo Porto’s prides itself on. The wait staff, in tune with this philosophy, offers suggestions and advice, never rushing their guests. This is clearly one way Lo Porto’s stands apart from some of their competitors.
The appetizers offered were primarily Italian seafood specialties, such as marinated calamari and clams cocktail, as well as hot options like steamed mussels in red sauce. We opted for the lighter Artichoke Salad ($10.95) and I doubt there was a better way to begin our meal. The colorful plate of artichoke hearts, minced galic, roasted peppers and mixed greens was a delight – every mouthful was coated with just the right amount of balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing. The salad was a perfect equilibrium of flavors… my mouth was truly happy.
When the Negronis were gone, I moved on to a glass of the house Pinot Grigio, which was lovely and dry. Peter had a Peroni, a crisp, refreshing Italian beer. Now came the fun part – choosing an entree. One very appealing thing about the Lo Porto menu is its’ eclectic nature. There is a large offering of veal, chicken and seafood dishes, as well as steaks and a variety of “mugnaia” dishes – pasta served with scallops, shrimp or fish in a Mediaterranean-inspired sauce of capers, black olives, basil, black pepper and light cream. However, if you’re in the mood for the more traditional lasagna or chicken parmigana, you’re in luck.
After quizzing our waitress about several options, I settled on the Linguine Con Vongole ($17.95) and Peter opted for the Scallops Saute Mugnaia ($21.95). While waiting for our meals, we enjoyed very acceptable dinner salads with a terrific citrus-dijon dressing.
I was ready to dive into my entre when it arrived. With its’ dozen plus clams in the shells, it felt slightly extravagant compared to the minced clams usually served when ordering linguine with clam sauce. The pasta was pure heaven, cooked al dente, and the red sauce that covered it was thick and chunky with pieces of tomato.
Peter’s dinner was even better, if that’s possible. The scallops, which can be easily over-cooked, were tender, succulent and plentiful, and the sauce was lick-your-plate worthy. I am hesitant when it comes to cream sauces, as I’ve encountered so many that are overly rich and heavy, while being light on flavor. However, it is clear that Carmello Lo Porto has perfected this sauce. The inclusion of capers and black pepper are crucial to the sauce’s success, creating a harmonious balance of slightly sweet with tangy and salty.
We really tried, but no matter how much we managed to eat, our plates looked like we barely touched them. And as much as we wanted to keep eating, take-out containers were called in.
Unfortunately, we had to pass on dessert; there was just no room. However, we did end the meal as traditionally as we started it, with an authentic Italian drink of Limoncello. As we sipped our digestif and reflected on our meal, Peter and I both agreed that the combination of fantastic food, service and attention to the guests’ needs all play a part in the success and longevity of Lo Porto’s. And it’s because of these factors that this restaurant continues to be a Capital Region stand-out.
The total cost for two cocktails, one glass of wine, one beer, one appetizer, two entrees and one digestif (excluding tax and tip) was $95.96.
Lo Porto Ristorante is located at 85 Fourth Street in downtown Troy. Dinner hours are 5pm- 10pm Monday-Saturday. For more information call 273.8546 or visit: www.loportos.com.
Christina DeMers is an online marketing manager, food blogger and amateur cook who lives in East Greenbush, but eats just about anywhere.