Although I had never visited Randy Loren’s previous establishment, Dolce Vita, I was curious about the new venue he was creating at the long-vacant Ground Round in Schenectady.
It seemed like forever that the sign in front promised the opening of Amelia’s Italian Eatery. Mother’s Day was opening day, appropriate because Amelia was Randy’s mom.
American and Italian flags flew festively from the fence separating the restaurant property from the Crosstown highway in Schenectady. Portraits of Amelia and her family hung formally in oval frames in the entryway.
As we walked into the large, long dining room, I stopped in awe to gaze at the sparkling chandelier that dominated the center of the room. Two smaller chandeliers flanked the massive one.
Dean Martin’s crooning accompanied us to one of the restaurant’s 30 or so tables. As I glanced around the subdued tan and brown room, I noticed a 14-seat bar at one end and a slightly raised platform with Randy’s famous white piano perched proudly on it. “My first love,” Randy later explained, pointing to the striking instrument.
The multipage menu featured special appetizers and entrees, as well as the usual Italian offerings. Guest and I both opted for appetizers from the “Tonight’s Specials” list.
Dinnermate requested Amelia’s Greens ($12) described as “similar to Utica greens only better!” Amelia’s greens consisted of escarole and fresh leaf spinach sautéed with Italian seasonings, garlic, onion, cappicola, hot cherry peppers, black olives, bread crumbs and parmesan cheese.
Guest agreed that the “only better” description was accurate. Said he, “The greens are mild and less vinegary that I am accustomed to, but then I bit into a hot pepper!”
My Breaded Artichoke Hearts ($9) consisted of six large artichoke hearts, seasoned with Italian herbs and spices, breaded, fried and served with a choice of horseradish dip or Amelia’s marinara sauce. I requested both.
The white horseradish sauce had a gentle kick, while Amelia’s red marinara was scented with fresh basil.
The artichokes had a crispy shell and were steaming hot inside. Each piece was large enough to require at least two bites.
“When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” And so without consultation, we both chose signature dishes with Amelia’s name.
The gentleman chose the Baked Salmon Amelia ($22). Fresh, cold-water salmon was seasoned and baked, then placed upon a bed of sautéed spinach, surrounded with tomato basil cream sauce. A small twirl of roasted red pepper and a sprig of fresh basil garnished the dish.
I have mentioned this before, but it is difficult to prepare salmon so it is barely cooked through, but neither rare nor overcooked. Amelia’s nailed it.
I love veal but almost never cook it at home. In an Italian restaurant I often order veal parm. At Amelia’s, I ordered Veal Amelia ($22).
Two tender veal cutlets were lightly breaded and gently sautéed in butter, white wine, garlic and Italian seasonings. The dish was then finished with cappicola, Italian roasted peppers, black olives, provolone cheese and Amelia’s own sauce — veal parmigiana dressed for the holidays.
It should be noted that we had chosen complete dinners. Our crisp, cold house salads arrived with our choice of dressings, balsamic for me, bleu cheese ($1 upcharge) for gracious guest. The two dinner rolls, arriving in a basket with butter, were not memorable.
When we had completed our meals, server Alexa brought a tray of desserts to our table.
This small act had a powerful effect on us. If a server asks, “Did you save room for dessert?” my response is generally “no.” But confronted with an array of luscious-looking delicacies, it is generally an offer I can’t refuse.
We chose a commercially made chocolate mousse cake ($7) to share. Like the rolls, the too-sweet mousse had been poured into a too-cakey shell, rendering it forgettable.
I am hoping Randy will eventually add espresso to his menu. With good food and service, we’ll return to Amelia’s with the hopes of hearing Mr. Loren at the piano. Mama Amelia would be proud of her namesake.
Amelia’s Italian Eatery
WHERE: 1614 State St., Schenectady, 12304;
WHEN: Wednesday-Saturday 5-9:30 p.m., closed
HOW MUCH: $82.50 (for two appetizers, two entrees, one dessert, two nonalcoholic beverages) without tax and tip
MORE INFO: Parking lot, major credit cards accepted, noise level permits conversation, accessible, full bar, outdoor patio occasionally with live music, takeout, accessible.