WHERE: 1 Ballston Ave., Saratoga Springs
WHEN: Lunch starting at noon May through September; dinner starting at 4:30 p.m. every day year-round
OTHER INFO: All major credit cards accepted. Handicapped accessible. Full bar. 580-8700 or limoncelloristorante.com
I’d heard mixed views on Limoncello Ristorante and headed there with no inkling of how the evening would go.
But, it turned out to be a great experience, and while I try not to be too effusive about a dining spot, knowing that sometimes quality of service and food can be inconsistent, this one is a keeper.
It’s a pretty place, decorated in the inviting earth tones of provincial Italy with a lot of muted lighting and tiled floors. In warmer weather, there’s a spacious area outside for dining al fresco.
But, ambiance aside, Limoncello is all about the food, particularly the food of northern Italy, fewer pasta-and-red-sauce dishes and more cream-based concoctions with porcini mushrooms — think Bolognese and puttanesca dishes, rustic chicken and roasted potatoes and seafood with olive oil, garlic and capers — as opposed to spaghetti and meatballs.
Our server, Tom, was attentive and helpful, and brought us a basket of warm ciabatta bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping — a great opening act.
We started with a couple of appetizers, and it turned out we chose wisely.
One was a Bruschetta di Salmone ($11.95), thinly sliced salmon and cream on warm and crispy toast points with capers, lemon and kalamata olives, the stuff of a delightful breakfast or brunch, my dinner guest pointed out.
Our other choice was a fried polenta draped in a cream and porcini sauce ($9.95). It was a wonderful melding of flavors and textures — the crisp and savory fried polenta and the lightly spiked cream sauce with the earthy porcini. After tasting it, I’d have been content with nothing more. But, then I wouldn’t have been able to tell you about the duck-stuffed ravioli.
Heaven on a plate
One of the evening’s special entrees was ravioli stuffed with succulent duck meat and served in a cognac cream sauce with porcini mushrooms ($21.95), and if it were possible to serve up heaven on a plate, we both agreed, this would be the dish. The duck ravioli was delicious in its own right, but draped in the sauce, it was exponentially improved. Here’s how good it was: there was just one of the tender duck-stuffed pillows on the plate when we finished, and we had it wrapped up to take home.
My dinner date loves puttanesca sauce, so not surprisingly chose the Fusilli Puttanesca ($15.95) for her entree — a big bowl of pasta corkscrews in a tomato sauce with anchovies, capers, olives and garlic. She pronounced it good, but it was clear that her heart had been won over by the duck ravioli on my plate.
The kitchen at Limoncello is presided over by Executive Chef Giancarlo Balestra, with the help of Chef Rosario Limonio. Giancarlo is co-owner of the restaurant with his wife, Nancy.
Among other dishes you can find at Limoncello, there’s Penne e Pollo, cuts of chicken breast and pine nuts in a sun-dried tomato cream sauce, Fettuccine del Norcino, fettucine with porcini, prosciutto and walnuts in a light cognac sauce, and Saltimbocca alla Romana, a Veal Scallopine in white wine and butter topped with prosciutto and sage. If you enjoy seafood, there is Seafood e Vongole, spaghetti with clams, olive oil, garlic and parsley.
We were tempted to try dessert, especially after I got a look at the chocolate cake lightly dusted with confectioner’s sugar and stuffed wth cannoli cream. But after the dinner we’d enjoyed, we settled for coffee for me, espresso for her.
Limoncello Ristorante describes itself as an upscale trattoria, which means it’s not inexpensive. Still, we felt the quality of the food justified the tab — which was $83.88 for two appetizers, two entrees, coffee and espresso, tax and tip.
If you’re going to go, I’d suggest an evening other than Saturday, and do make reservations.
We had the opportunity to meet and chat briefly with the owners of Limoncello, and Nancy Balestra tells a charming story about how she met Giancarlo. She was in Rome, and she needed directions to the Sistine Chapel. He showed her the way.