What could be more beautiful than the aroma of warm garlic?
In Saratoga Springs, people who lust after authentic Italian cuisine are following their noses to a new, laid-back bistro on Beekman Street.
Patti Pendergast Novo and husband, Jeff Novo, former owners of Crush & Cask Wine and Spirits, opened Taverna Novo five months ago at 62 Beekman, an address where at least three restaurants have come and gone in recent years.
So far, this reincarnation appears to have the ingredients for success, as Taverna recently moved to a seven-day operation. Fabrizio Facchini, the executive chef, is from Marche, a region of central Italy on the Adriatic coast, and he’s a member of the Italian Slow Cook Chef Alliance. Facchini has been in the states for a while, including in San Diego, where a magazine praised his artistry with truffles. Just last week, the chef competed in Guy’s Grocery Games on the Food Network.
Husband Dan and I felt good about this place from the moment we walked through the cherry-red door and saw a guy seated at the bar with a big saucer of mussels and clams.
As we reserved seats in the outdoor patio, we were escorted past the eye-catching wood-fired oven, a gleaming copper cavern of fire that glows from the back corner of the small restaurant. That’s where Taverna’s 10 kinds of handcrafted pizzas are baked.
Sandwiched in the gap between 62 Beekman and the brick outer wall of The Barrelhouse, the patio is cozy but classy, as small tables and four six-person banquettes are tucked under a large canvas canopy. Sitting under the cream-colored awning reminded us of our trip to the Greek island of Santorini, where we spent lazy evenings in seaside tavernas.
And that scent of garlic? It drifted non-stop from the kitchen to the patio through a screen door.
The menu, in Italian and English, is mind-boggling in its choices, from the Spuntini and Antipasti to the Primi and Secondi. We turned away Samira, our delightful waitperson, at least twice as we pondered our choices.
When the effervescent Patti, a certified specialist with the Society of Wine Educators, stepped over to help us with our wine selection (there’s at least 60), I was relieved. “That’s what I’m here for,” she told us cheerfully. Patti sits on the advisory board of Schenectady County Community College’s School of Hotel, Culinary Arts and Tourism and is an adjunct wine professor at the college.
Now let’s talk about the octopus, our shared appetizer.
Polpo Grigliato e Cannellini, grilled octopus with white beans, was absolutely dreamy, the kind of dish I can’t get out of my head. The thick tube of garlicky mollusk yielded easily to the fork and rested with the soft beans in a bright green herb puree. Dill and other fresh herb sprigs were liberally tossed on top. Dan was impressed. We had never had octopus this good. “How did they make it so tender?” he wanted to know.
The Verdure di Giorno al Gratin, a vegetable side dish or Contorni, arrived next. (Sauteed greens or oven-roasted potatoes with rosemary are other options) The tomato, zucchini and eggplant trio — roasted, lightly charred and stuffed with bread crumbs, was veggie heaven.
Organic, sustainably produced food is their goal here, with ingredients sourced from local farms and farmers markets.
For his entrée, Dan selected Penne with Artichoke and Lemon, a light dish with a pleasing balance of fresh herb and citrus flavors, and he took extra time to appreciate every bite.
I selected the Saffron Risotto Milanese with Shrimp and Lobster, one of their popular dishes. Risotto is a comfort food, and Italians say it should be like “la onda,” a wave that slowly rolls to shore. I like it creamy and somewhat fluid. But my dish, as delicious as it tasted, was a little too stiff and thick.
For future reference, I noticed these other menu choices: Burratta with Pistachios; Cacio de Pepe, organic spaghetti with creamy pecorino and cracked pepper; and Porchetta, a boneless, stuffed pork roast that’s traditional in central Italy;
For dessert, we shared a big scoop of imported chocolate gelato drizzled with chocolate syrup.
With restaurants in hot competition in Saratoga Springs, Taverna Novo has caught on quickly. We visited on Wednesday night, and nearly every table was occupied.
Like the corner pub, it has a neighborhood vibe; it’s a friendly place to linger and laugh with a loved one or a group of friends. And I’m already imagining winter: a wood-fired pizza at the bar, a hearty glass of red wine, and of course, the aroma of warm garlic from the kitchen.
WHERE: 62 Beekman St., Saratoga Springs, (518) 886-1680, www.tavernanovo.com, Facebook
WHEN: Summer hours: 5 to 10 p.m. Monday to Friday, 12 to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
HOW MUCH: $77 without tax, tip or wine
MORE INFO: Indoor and outdoor dining, reservations recommended but walk-ins are welcome, street parking. Major charge cards accepted.