BALLSTON SPA We learned long ago not to discount a restaurant simply because it’s in a strip mall — that would be elitist and silly. Still, it’s often a surprise to discover what’s lurking behind the façade of a restaurant in such a location, as was the case the other evening when we visited a new place in Carousel Village plaza on Route 50.
Amid the mixed commerce — a meat market, a karate school, indoor golf and a sporting goods store — you’ll find Three Olives Restaurant, which opened last spring specializing in traditional Italian cuisine, including pizza.
The owners-operators are brothers Nick and Rocco Renda who have 20 years of experience in the restaurant business, according to their Facebook page.
The restaurant, attractively decorated and featuring a full-service bar, is much larger than you’d imagine viewing it from outside. It was quiet early on the weeknight we visited, but the staff was setting up for a large party they expected later and the mood was upbeat.
Three Olives Restaurant
WHERE: 2100 Doubleday Ave. (Route 50), Ballston Spa. 490-2093, www.threeolivesonline.com
WHEN: 3-9 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Thursday-Friday; 3-10 p.m. Saturday
OTHER INFO: Major credit cards accepted; children’s menu available; handicapped accessible
We ordered drinks and spent a little time checking out the menu, which offered house specialties like fried calamari with marinara sauce, Shrimp Ava, which is bacon-wrapped shrimp that is sautéed and finished in a lemon butter caper cream sauce, and Mussels Rocco ($8.99), cove mussels sautéed in spicy marinara sauce and served with toast points.
I must say they had me at lemon butter caper cream sauce, which also was prominently featured in the Chicken Française I ordered for my entrée.
But first there were appetizers to be sampled. Beverly loves mussels and Three Olives’ take was superb — a lovely bowlful of steaming mussels in a delightfully nippy marinara sauce with crispy toast points for mopping up the bowl. We complimented Sara, our server, on the dish, notably the sauce, and she volunteered that they make it on the premises.
Beans and greens
I ordered the Greens and Beans ($5.99), which was a savory mix of greens (kale and spinach, I believe) sautéed in broth with garlic and beans — more greens than beans, by the way, which is a good thing.
Our main courses were preceded by green salads, which were bright and crisp with a suitably piquant balsamic vinegar dressing.
They arrived at the table before our appetizers, which struck us as a little out of the ordinary but not a major issue.
For her main dish, Beverly ordered the Tilapia Increstato ($15.99), delicate white fish fillets crusted with Parmesan and served over a bed of spinach in a cream sauce with lemon, butter, capers and garlic. The fillets were succulent and sweet, complemented well by the savory crust and piquant cream sauce. It drew raves from both of us.
My Chicken Française ($14.99), a classic on most Italian-American menus, was perfectly executed — chicken breast fillets that were battered, sautéed and finished with white wine, lemon, butter and capers. The chicken was tender and moist beneath its crispy coating, and the sauce was rich and flavorful, if highly caloric. It was accompanied by a side dish of pasta with more of that memorable sauce, though this rendition was not as spicy as the sauce with the mussels.
If we were to fault anything, it might be the dinner rolls, which had no eye appeal and which we left in their basket. But, that was a small demerit.
You can find most Italian standards at Three Olives, including spaghetti and meatballs, ravioli, rigatoni, baked ziti and manicotti, veal, chicken and steak dishes, seafood and a variety of pizzas. Prices are moderate — the costliest item I could find on the menu was the Steak Chianti at $21.99, followed by the Frutti di Mare (seafood and pasta in a white sauce) at $19.99.
We found the service first rate. Sara was both friendly and attentive.
Our tab, less the cost of two glasses of wine but including tax and tip, came to a reasonable $65.80 for two appetizers, two entrées, salads and coffees.
Overall, our impression of Three Olives was positive, and we wish them continued success, partly for selfish reasons. We’d like to visit them again.
We often hear that the one thing we don’t need in the Capital Region is another Italian restaurant, but I say bring them on, and let the dining public decide which flourishes and which goes under. If you’ve ever had to wait for an hour at the bar until a table is available or been told there’s no chance for a reservation, you know we haven’t reached the saturation point with good restaurants yet.