WATERVLIET — How lucky we are to have so many good Italian restaurants in the Capital Region, family-owned places that use recipes handed down over generations. Valente’s, near the Watervliet Arsenal and in business since 1958, is a good example.
The main entrance opens into the bar, which shares space with one large dining room. There is a second dining room, furnished with fewer booths and tables with Windsor chairs. Photos of Valente ancestors look down from the walls, and holiday lights make things cheery. It’s not fancy, but that’s not important. The food is good and that’s why you are there.
It’s family-friendly, which means large parties, tables pushed together, and the presence of young children. Despite all of this, the restaurant wasn’t too noisy when we visited.
Husband Eric and I made a reservation and found ourselves in a comfortable, cushioned booth shortly after our arrival on a busy night during the holiday week.
Our server was top-notch, moving smoothly between kitchen and tables, and always pleasant, even when interrupted mid-stride. He brought menus and drinks quickly, made recommendations and remembered to refill glasses.
Valente’s Italian Restaurant
WHERE: 315 Eighth St., Watervliet, 273-3314. valentesrestaurant.com
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday; 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
HOW MUCH: $60.60, with tax and tip
MORE INFO: Credit cards: Master Card, Visa, American Express, Discover. Children’s menu. Wheelchair accessible. Large parking lot.
You’ll find whatever Italian dish you’re looking for on Valente’s menu, from mussels, calamari and antipasto appetizers to a wide variety of veal, chicken and seafood dishes, including classics like Sorrento, Marsala, and Francaise. Prices are moderate (Chicken Parm is $15.95) and servings are huge. In addition to the Italian meals, there are hot sandwiches and burgers, wings and pizza.
Most meals include soup or salads, and bread from Perotta’s bakery in Troy. Valente’s garden salad is a mix of roughly chopped Romaine and iceberg, the lettuce refreshing and chilly as the plate. I liked the grape tomatoes and the thin slices of cucumber, and especially the full-flavored balsamic dressing drizzled over.
Hitting the jackpot
Eric hit the jackpot with the corn and bacon chowder. I could smell the bacon before the plate even hit the table. How was it? “Bacony,” he said, happily, lifting another chunk from the bowl.
Our waiter recommended chicken Bolognese ($16.95), and what a good combination it is, with layers of paper-thin, salty prosciutto between the crispy bread-crumb coating and melted mozzarella cheese.
The fine bread coating tastes nicely of the cooking oil without being greasy and frying keeps the thick cutlet moist. I mopped up the chunky sauce with tender chicken and could have eaten the whole dish. It was outstanding.
I opted for the potato and vegetable, and while the serving of broccoli was generous and well-cooked, I should have skipped the french fries. They were crispy and thick, right out of the fryer and delicious, but like potato chips, you can’t eat just one — and I didn’t.
Eric ordered exactly the kind of thing he shouldn’t: shrimp Francesca ($23.95). His cardiologist would applaud the shrimp, spinach, artichoke hearts and red pepper strips, but blanch at the bountiful, velvety Alfredo sauce, which, by the way, brought the well-cooked penne and everything else together admirably.
The giant butterflied pink shrimp lent a bit of iodine to the sauce, which clung to the pasta and the spinach and red pepper. Although Eric protested that he couldn’t finish, somehow he found room for dessert.
There is always a homemade cheesecake ($5.95) at Valente’s; that night’s flavor was chocolate chip mint. I thought the cheesecake was creamy but couldn’t get past the minty flavor. Eric had no such reservations, and finished it up.
After neatly boxing the leftovers, our server brought the tab for dinner, which came to $60.60, with tax and tip.
A friend visiting from Florida bemoans the total absence of places like Valente’s. I don’t see local, family-run Italian restaurants as a vanishing species, but we should be aware of what we have and support them.