What’s better on a cold winter night than a steaming bowl of minestra — beans and greens in a flavorful broth? To my mind, not much. We found the delicious Italian staple — and a lot of other good food — at dinner recently at Scotti’s Restaurant & Pizzeria, the upper Union Street restaurant, which is itself a staple of the neighborhood.
The restaurant, which is known for its pizza as well as its Italian cuisine, will mark its 45th anniversary this year. I’d always heard good things about Scotti’s but never managed to get there until our recent visit. Its fine reputation is well-deserved.
Gaetano “Guy” Sementelli, owner of Scotti’s since 1994, is also the chef, working the front as maître d’ but also in the kitchen during and after hours.
Scotti’s Restaurant & Pizzeria
WHERE: 1730 Union St., Schenectady. 393-7440
WHEN: 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. and 4:30-9:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
OTHER INFO: All major credit cards; handicapped-accessible
On the evening we visited, the restaurant was not full — there are 16 tables — and we found a perch to our liking right away and began scanning the menu.
We noted two things immediately. Besides food, Scotti’s offers a respectable wine list. It also offers diners more than the usual red sauce for their pasta — four of them in fact. There is traditional sauce, rich and slow-cooked; marinara, which is the house signature sauce; Alici, which is thinly sliced garlic, fresh parsley and anchovies sautéed in olive oil; and light red, a variation on the marinara with scallions and sliced garlic.
I’ve already mentioned the minestra — served piping hot as it should be, especially on a winter night. It was a delightful rendering of the traditional zuppa and was served with warm and aromatic, crusty bread.
We also ordered green salads — crispy greens with sliced cucumbers and tomatoes with a Parmesan peppercorn dressing for me and Italian blue cheese for Beverly. Garden salads in restaurants can be rather perfunctory, but Scotti’s was first-rate in its freshness and the bright flavors of its dressings.
Beverly, who wanted light fare, settled on the Baked Scrod — a flaky fillet of white fish baked with sherry and served with broccoli. (You can order pasta instead of broccoli if you’re not in a light-fare mood.) The scrod arrived with a light but crispy topping — or perhaps light breading — and was a satisfying, as well as healthful, entree.
My choice was the Veal Gaetano, a tender cutlet baked with prosciutto, fresh lemon and mozzarella served on a bed of spinach, with a side dish of pasta and sauce. The veal was done perfectly, the outside a golden crisp and the inside tender and flavorful, with just enough cheese to add some interest but not enough to make it heavy. The lemon added a welcome hint of citrus freshness to the dish.
The pasta was cooked to al dente perfection and the sauce — I chose the traditional — had a great depth of flavor from its slow-cooked preparation.
PIZZA AND MORE
You can also eat less formally at Scotti’s — you can have pizza with a wide array of topping choices, hot meatball or sausage or veal Parmigiana subs.
From the appetizer section of the menu, you can select antipasto or steamed clams, as well as Mussels Marinara Fra Diavolo, which is 2 pounds of mussels tossed in a spicy sauce.
Scotti’s also offers gourmet choices that includes Penne Carciofi, which is penne tossed with artichoke hearts, spinach and roasted peppers in a garlic and wine sauce, a pleasing option for vegetarians. There is also, we were pleased to discover, a Puttanesca dish — penne with a rich marinara sauce flavored with black olives, capers and anchovies, which is one of our favorites — and Pasta all’Arrabiata, a spicy marinara simmered with celery hearts, garlic and sweet sausage.
Our experience at Scotti’s was pleasurable. Service was efficient but unobtrusive, and our tab for dinner, appetizers and beverages came to a reasonable $58.44 with tax and tip.
It took us a long time to make our way to Scotti’s the first time, but we won’t wait that long for our next visit.
Scotti’s interior is small, but we didn’t feel cramped or lacking for privacy at all. Rather it’s a homey environment, helped no doubt by its warm yellow walls and the bottles of wine on racks over each table.