It’s so satisfying, and so rare, when a brand-new restaurant succeeds outright. Campagna, on Route 9 in Malta, has pulled it off with style. Recently, dish after outstanding dish confirmed the accomplishment of owners Elizabeth and Joseph Montemorano.
It’s in a sweet spot between Capital Region cities, an area underserved by fine dining restaurants. Campagna helps you forget you’re facing a highway, with etched glass and tiny lamps that draw the eye up to the trays of succulents where window treatments would be, to panels made of repurposed shutters that lower the ceiling, to light fixtures contrived of natural materials.
Lower down, things are less inventive but just as smart, with European-style cafe chairs, claret-painted walls, candles and warm wood furniture and floors. “Fancy-like,” said Mom. “Very upscale.”
Four courses are listed on the elegantly simple menu, homemade country comfort dishes like tagliatelle Bolognese ($12 small/$16 large), ragus, pestos and risottos cooked long and with fresh herbs; heavier dishes with meat like beef ribeye bistecca ($35) with rosemary, caramelized mushrooms, demiglace and broccoli rabe; and seared diver scallops ($29) with corn farro risotto and butternut squash. Italian country cuisine sums it up nicely.
Slices of crusty fresh bread came with herbed European-style butter, both house-made, as is almost everything.
Mom wasn’t asked how she’d like the black and blue steak appetizer cooked ($12), which demonstrates the kitchen’s confidence. The slices of tenderloin were served beautifully seared — perfect, Mom said — with the restrained use of gorgonzola sauce over the meat and marinated enoki mushrooms. Pistachio oil the color of spring peas added a velvety note to the sweet sauce.
WHERE: 2452 State Route 9, Malta, 289-5693, campagna.restaurant
WHEN: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, 4 to 10 p.m. Saturday, 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $69, before tax and tip
MORE INFO: Credit cards: Master Card, Visa, American Express, Discover. Full bar. Accommodations made for children’s meals. Reservations can also be made on website or Open Table and are recommended for weekends.
The Campagna salad ($10) was a beautifully hand-formed mound of arugula and shredded radicchio with whole pistachios, sliced ripe pear, and dried apricots glistening in a coat of well-balanced white balsamic vinaigrette.
Mom chose house-made cavatelli in rosemary-scented Grana Padano cheese sauce ($16), which manages to be lighter yet richer than Alfredo, and salty in a good way. The cheese, similar to Parmigiano-Reggiano, is made from aged cow’s milk, less crumbly and milder. The pasta was tender and dumpling-like, hot-dog shaped, with little ridges to catch the sauce.
Tuscan lemon chicken ($18) was served with mushrooms and grilled vegetables over medium-sized couscous. Fresh chicken doesn’t get any better than that from Murray’s farm in Pennsylvania, and Campagna gives it the respect it deserves, roasting it simply, gently seasoning it with fresh herbs. This is as good as chicken can get and, ubiquitous as it is, it is rarely this well-executed. This alone is worth a trip.
A variety of mild mushrooms soaked up cooking juices admirably as did the couscous. Grilled seasonal vegetables were unevenly cooked, the only weak spot of the meal, which can be attributed to a new kitchen and growing pains.
Campagna turns out marvelous, refined homemade desserts, which vary weekly. My silky Campagna turns out marvelous, refined homemade desserts, which vary weekly. My silky butterscotch panna cotta ($7) was topped with a sharp, tangy blood orange sauce that was tempered by the sweet, cold cooked cream. Mom made quick work of the pale ginger-lime gelato ($6). Campagna is a dessert destination.
Service demonstrated some growing pains, exacerbated by the presence of a very large table, but there were plenty of boots on the ground, and we twice received apologies for our somewhat delayed entrees. There’s a lot to be said for being nice and trying.
Campagna’s simply prepared, glorious rustic-style food is worth the trip from anywhere. Go hungry, take your time to appreciate the fine cooking, and enjoy. Best wishes, auguri, Campagna.