SARATOGA SPRINGS — The best table, in front of the welcoming fireplace, had a little “Reserved” sign on it. We had resigned ourselves to a table in Siberia, when the hostess picked up the sign and invited us to sit. We’d been upgraded.
It was a pleasant start to a great evening at Mangino’s Ristorante, where we tasted some amazing things. Mangino’s is going on 70 this year, according to Richard Mangino, who started working in the restaurant when he was 8 years old. So they have some things down.
Mangino’s is old-school in the best possible way. The decor of the wide-open dining rooms — with sweeping bar and stone fireplace, heavy wood ceiling beams, sleekly arched doorways and wrought-iron fixtures — has a whiff of Rat Pack. Linens and candles add polish.
Husband Eric started with a chilled martini and I sipped a Pinot Grigio while we perused the menu. Mangino’s offers traditional and Northern Italian cuisine, and it’s all a little refined. There’s pizza and you can get a burger at the bar, but what you want is an entree, which comes with homemade fresh Italian bread and accoutrements.
There’s chicken and veal Parmesan, Picatta, Marsala, pasta dishes you’d expect like lasagna, Bolognese, pasta carbonara (all $19.50) and seafood dishes including shrimp scampi and broiled scallops (both $23.50). There’s even a steak or two.
We passed on old-school appetizers like clams casino ($8.50) and fried calamari ($10.95), not wanting to fill up too soon. Just as well, the server delivered a personal-sized loaf of freshly made bread and a dish of the most addicting house-made marinated garbanzo beans. Eric will not normally touch a garbanzo bean, and he loved these. They’re full of garlic, which helps.
Mangino’s gets points for offering a range of wines that cover the map pretty well. They come from several regions in Italy, from Argentina, from Chile, from Australia, New York, Washington and California. Choose from several Rieslings, Chiantis, Pinot Noir, for example. And here’s the thing, almost every one is under $30, many under $25. That’s nice.
My salad was standard-issue salad mix with sliced cucumbers and small tomatoes, with an overly generous pour of tasty balsamic vinaigrette. Next time I’ll get it on the side. But the lettuce was crisp and fresh and the pewter-look salad bowl refreshingly cold.
Eric enjoyed the Rhode Island clam chowder, a clear broth dominated by carrots and potato, with some small clams. He thought it tasted homemade, but could have been a bit hotter. The wide bowl here lost heat during the trip from the kitchen and a pit stop while the server dropped a dish at another table.
We both said, “Mmm” as we took the first bites of our meals. Eric said the breaded medallions of meat in the veal Sorrentino ($24.95) were tender, and he loved the chunky tomato sauce served over the prosciutto and melted cheese that covered the veal. “They’ve been here for 70 years,” he said. “I can see why.”
My chicken Romano ($23.50) consisted of pieces of chicken that were pan-browned just so, sautéed with sliced Portobello mushrooms, topped with creamy melted cheese and slightly salty proscuitto, which all sounds great, but can’t begin to describe the flavors. You can’t just put these ingredients in proximity to each other and expect them to come out so beautifully; the flavors have to be coaxed into something else, something better. And that is the difference between just eating, and dining well.
The wine sauce was brilliant, balanced so well that no one ingredient stood out. The overall effect was layers of flavor and richness. Every ingredient lent something to that sauce. Eric’s dish had the same sauce; we both loved it.
For my side, I chose potato lasagne, an ingenious invention of thinly sliced white and sweet potatoes layered with seasoned ricotta cheese and topped with browned cheddar. It’s tidy and as pleasing to the eye as the palate.
Mangino’s Ristorante has homemade desserts, so leave room. Eric enjoyed a square of tiramisu ($6), chocolate-drizzled, with a thick dusting of cocoa, while I ate the cornmeal-covered, crusty bottom of the last of the bread.
The meal took about an hour-and-a-half, just the right amount of time for dinner out on a Saturday night, we thought. It was well-paced, with pauses that gave us time to reflect on what we’d eaten and to look forward to the next course.
The tab for our food, before tax and tip, came to a reasonable $54.45.
Mangino’s was worth the visit, and it’s worth another one. The high points were very high, the rest was very good. “Who’s to argue with success?” said Eric.
WHERE: 149 Route 9P, Saratoga Springs, 518-584-5599, www.manginos.com
WHEN: 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday; 4 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; closed for winter season on Monday and Tuesday
HOW MUCH: $54.45 before tax and tip
MORE INFO: Credit cards — MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover. Children’s menu. Reservations accepted. ADA compliant.