Dinner guest Maria stopped in her tracks on the sidewalk in front of Solevo Kitchen & Social on the corner of Phila and Henry Streets in Saratoga Springs.
“It looks just like a restaurant in New York City’s Little Italy!” she exclaimed.
Indeed it did. It was a classic storefront with a brick façade, green awning, attractive white lights, urns with holiday greens and café curtains in the windows. The classic — and classy — theme was carried inside as well. A checkerboard of black and white tiles on the floor and white, brick-shaped tiles on the wall ran from the entrance to the lobby to the bar on the left, to a small lounge area with three high-top tables reminiscent of a traditional Italian social club.
A small L-shaped dining room held approximately eight to 10 tables of various sizes covered with crisp white linens. A large wall painted forest green held nearly three dozen black-and-white photos that appeared to be family members, solo and in formal groups.
Rocky (named after his dad Rocco), handed us menus, recited the specials and took our drink order. A short time later, he returned with a small dish of caponata composed of white beans and mushrooms with a touch of balsamic vinegar. We heaped it on Italian bread with drizzles of olive oil seasoned with herbs. Rustic heaven!
Solevo’s menu is brief — and exciting. Divided into six sections: spuntini (small appetizers), antipasti, pasta, secondi and contorni, the offerings are authentic in name and preparation. For example, Maria, who has spent her entire life immersed in Italian cuisine, ordered the Al’Contenna ($9, pork skin braciole with Sunday sauce) stuffed with herbs (traditionally parsley), cheese (pecorino romano or parmigiano reggiano) and bread crumbs. A traditional dish made in southern Italy, the pork braciole was simmered in Solveno’s Sunday sauce.
Maria said the first time she had the delicacy made this way was at her cousin’s house in Alvignano, in Campania, southern Italy, where both her grandparents were born.
My appetizer was a special the evening we dined: artichoke hearts ($13) dusted with cornmeal, fried and served with aioli sprinkled with dainty radish seedlings. Each small heart was cut in half longitudinally to reveal the mathematical Fibonacci pattern of its layered leaves. As beautiful to observe as it was delightful to eat.
My rack of lamb special ($38) consisted of three slightly pink ribs prepared to my request for medium. A light coating with Solevo’s herb blend rendered each bite flavorful and tender. Thinly sliced roasted potatoes and tomatoes accompanied the luscious lamb.
Maria was hoping to order Solevo’s interpretation of pan-seared branzino, but server Rocky explained that swordfish had been substituted that evening. She was not disappointed in her Swordfish Positano ($30), which was prepared with capers, olives, tomatoes and white wine, and garnished in holiday fashion with bright green arugala.
Neither of us could resist a couple of sides to sample: Parmigiano Polenta ($8) for Maria and Buccatini Puttanesca ($12 for a half portion) for me. The polenta was creamy and the Puttanesca was properly feisty — both in flavor and reaction to eating utensils. Buccatini is pasta shaped like thick straws and fights the diner as it approaches the mouth. Challenging and delicious, Puttenesca is made from anchovy, capers, olives, garlic, tomatoes and fresh basil.
We were nearing the end of our dinner, sated, but still ready for something sweet as a finale. From a substantial list of house-made desserts, we chose a single order of Polenta Cake ($10), which was exactly what its name implies.
Adorned with a healthy portion of real whipped cream, strawberries and tart blueberries, Maria and I enjoyed the moist, not-too-sweet cake, alternating with sips of hot strong espresso — yin and yang in its most subtle form.
Even after arriving home, Solevo’s menu continued to haunt me. On my next visit I will sample the Suffritto ($9), peasant-style beef heart cooked in San Marzano plum tomato sauce. I want to try Pop Gag’s Sauce ($19), hot and sweet vinegar pepper sauce with pan-seared paccheri (approximately 2-inch, large pasta tubes). And the Gamberi and Grits ($24) — prosciutto-wrapped wild gulf shrimp, prosecco cream, crispy polenta — will also require my attention.
A New York Times restaurant reviewer reminds me that the test of a good restaurant is to do what it promises to do. Solevo excels in flying red, white and green.
Solevo Kitchen & Social
WHERE: 55 Phila St., Saratoga Springs, NY 12866; 518-450-7094; www.solevokitchenandsocial.com
WHEN: Monday 4-10 p.m., Tuesday closed, Wednesday-Friday 4-10 p.m., Saturday 1-11 p.m., Sun 1-9 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $131 without tax and tip
MORE INFO: Specials, full bar with cocktails, street parking, major credit cards accepted, noise level permits conversation, accessible, catering, reservations accepted.