Monday, December 04, 2006

Nicole's Italia in Guilderland and "family values" food

Last night (Sunday) I went to see a movie at Crossgates with a friend. Afterwards we wanted to get something to eat and didn't want to deal with Houlihan's or Uno's at the mall (noisy, food not great). So we tried Nicole's Italia, which is about a mile west of the mall on Western Ave (Rte 20) in what is known as the "20 mall." It's near the Guilderland public library.

Nicole's has a web page, but I can't get it to click on anything.

As my goal was to escape the whole mall feeling, I felt that all in all, we had really just traded one mall for another, since Nicole's is in a large strip mall wedged near Hollywood video. The food at Nicole's was *okay* but overall I don't think I'd go back there. Next time I'm near the mall I will try BFS restaurant, but unfortunately they are closed Sundays.

We shared the bruschetta for appetizer, and that was good in a grilled-cheesey kind of way; it was on the same warm fresh white bread that was set on our table when we arrived. (And doh! I forgot my camera so I couldn't take a picture of anything! Dammit!) Then I had a Caesar salad, which was good, but unremarkable. It was a salad of the dark outer leaves of Romaine, and a so-so dressing that didn't have any of that tangy-salty bite I love. (In the case of an actual Caesar salad, I would have tasted fresh garlic and anchovy paste).

Our waiter was helpful and the service was good. We didn't have to wait at all-- that's the good news. On the other hand, the atmosphere in Nicole's Italia is something between grandmother's living room circa 1975 and the foyer of a funeral home. Lots of mauve and pink and candles on the tables with a partition between the main dining room and the bar made of that cut-glass that was so popular in the 80s. Their bathroom was clean.

My main course was the Gamberi Ortolano, "Lightly battered shrimp, sauteed with broccoli, mushrooms, mozarella in a marinara cream sauce over fettuccini." Oy! Too too much. I should have known from the description, but your Nosher is ever-optimistic and hopeful that her culinary dreams will be realized. The cream sauce was okay but a little bit watery, and there was overall too much mozarella. DeFazio's in Troy does a much better marinara-cream sauce (they call it Rosario). And as usual my portion was way too big, with the signature “family restaurant” mozarella melted and draped over everything like smog in a developing country.

The shrimps were somewhat overcooked (or perhaps just not very fresh) and absolutely buried in layers of fried stuff then sauce then cheese, until it almost didn't matter that I had ordered shrimp at all. It might as well have been tofu or chicken nuggets or eyeballs in there.

Why, one wonders, is this food burial dining referred to as “family” style? I consider "family style" these days to be a euphemism, but for what? Is it perhaps a reference to the sedentary nature of most American families, who like to eat doughy bread and deep-fried everything? Or is it our repression-- we repress our shrimps as we repress our emotions in family life? Is there something politically conservative about people who have resisted the changes wrought by the gourmet movement (a la The United States of Arugula) that aligns them with the “family values” crowd? I do suspect that the people who bring you food unchanged from the 1970s are the same ones who resist changing definitions of family like gay marriage and women's rights. Repression, smothered shrimp, backwards politics-- it's all the same, man!

Albany, apparently, is one of those outposts that has resisted changes both political and culinary, where diners can still glut on major splooges of melted mozarella.

To you, dear reader, this may be a good or a bad thing. For me, it inspired a dream last night in which I had moved back to New York City.

My friend got chicken parmigiana, which looked quite good, and he enjoyed it. It came with a generous side of linguini.

Then came dessert: I asked the waiter what he would recommend-- the strawberry shortcake, or the tiramisu. His vote was for the tiramisu. It was okay, but I must remark that it was the first time I ever had a tiramisu that came with whipped cream (the kind from a can) and chocolate goop, like as in Hershey's from a squeeze bottle.


Usually tiramisu = lady fingers soaked in espresso with mascarpone and bittersweet chocolate. Click here for good normal recipes for tiramisu at Heavenly tiramisu!! I've eaten tiramisu all over the world, and it took good ole Albany to put doubt in my heart about it. Now whenever I want to order it, part of me will hesitate, wondering: are they going to serve the tiramisu with chocolate squeeze sauce and whipped cream?

My friend's pecan pie was pretty good, with a butterscotchy rich flavor, but I had only one bite-- it was really sweet, and more might have felled me right there to the mauve carpeted floor.

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