What could be more beautiful than the aroma of hot garlic?
In Saratoga Springs, lovers of authentic Italian cuisine follow their noses to a casual new bistro on Beekman Street.
Patti Pendergast Novo and her 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 followed one another in recent years.
So far, this reincarnation seems 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 in central Italy on the Adriatic coast, and he is a member of the Italian Alliance of Slow Cooks. Facchini has been in the United States for some time, notably in San Diego, where a magazine praised his artistry with truffles. Just last week, the chef took part in the Guy’s Grocery Games on the Food Network.
My husband Dan and I felt right at this place from the moment we walked through the cherry red door and saw a guy sitting at the bar with a big saucer of mussels and clams.
As we reserved seats on the outdoor patio, we were escorted past the eye-catching wood-fired oven, a gleaming copper fire cavern that glows from the back corner of the small restaurant. This is where Taverna’s 10 kinds of artisan pizzas are cooked.
Sandwiched in the space between 62 Beekman and The Barrelhouse’s brick exterior wall, the patio is cozy yet stylish, as small tables and four six-person banquettes are tucked under a large canvas awning. 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 garlic scent? He drifted endlessly from the kitchen to the patio through a screen door.
The menu, in Italian and English, is breathtaking in its choices, from Spuntini and Antipasti to Primi and Secondi. We turned down Samira, our delightful waitress, at least twice while we considered our choices.
When the effervescent Patti, Certified Specialist from the Society of Wine Educators, came to help us with our selection of wines (there are at least 60), I was relieved. “That’s what I’m here for,” she tells us happily. Patti serves on the advisory board for the School of Hospitality, Culinary Arts and Tourism at Schenectady County Community College and is an assistant professor of wine at the college.
Now let’s talk about 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 garlic clam yielded easily to a fork and rested with the soft beans in a bright green herb mash. Dill and other fresh herb sprigs were generously tossed on top. Dan was impressed. We had never eaten octopus so good. “How did they make it so tender?” he wanted to know.
Verdure di Giorno al Gratin, a vegetable side dish or Contorni, came next. (Sautéed greens or oven-roasted potatoes with rosemary are other options) The trio of tomatoes, zucchini and eggplant – roasted, lightly charred and stuffed with breadcrumbs, was vegetable heaven.
Here, their goal is to produce organic and sustainable food, with ingredients sourced from local farms and farmers’ markets.
For his entree, Dan chose Penne with Artichokes and Lemon, a light dish with a pleasant balance of fresh herb and citrus flavors, and he took longer to enjoy each bite.
I chose the Milanese saffron risotto with prawns and lobster, one of their popular dishes. Risotto is comfort food, and Italians say it should be like “la onda,” a wave rolling slowly toward shore. I like it creamy and a bit runny. But my dish, as delicious as it tasted, was a bit too stiff and thick.
For future reference, I noticed these other menu choices: Pistachio Burratta; Cacio de Pepe, organic spaghetti with creamy pecorino and cracked pepper; and Porchetta, a boneless and stuffed roast pork that is traditional in central Italy;
For dessert, we shared a big scoop of imported chocolate ice cream drizzled with chocolate syrup.
With competing restaurants in Saratoga Springs, Taverna Novo quickly established itself. We visited on Wednesday evening and almost all tables were occupied.
Like the local 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 good glass of red wine, and of course, the aroma of hot garlic from the kitchen.
WHERE: 62 Beekman Street, Saratoga Springs, (518) 886-1680, www.tavernanovo.com, Facebook
WHEN: Summer hours: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Friday, 12 p.m. 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 welcome, street parking. Major credit cards accepted.
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Categories: Food, Life and Arts