Villa Balsamo has been a mystery to me since I can remember. I’ve always thought of it as this exclusive restaurant that was Saratoga’s best kept secret – and impossible to ever get into.
After they reopened last spring, I couldn’t wait to get in there and have my chance to finally experience what it was like to dine at Villa Balsamo. And then they closed again. I was so bummed, checking their Facebook page religiously to find out if or when they would ever reopen again.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I happened to drive by on Route 50 and notice the gates to the entrance were once again open! And then, I checked their Facebook and low and behold… they announced their reopening.
This past Saturday was quite the special and unique day in Saratoga. I had family from out of town visiting, and we had planned to spend the day at the track and then meander over to Villa Balsamo for dinner. Sure, I knew it was supposed to be humid, and maybe even some rain, but never did I expect the weather that we got.
It rained, it poured, and after the fifth race at Saratoga Race Course, the remaining six races were cancelled.
That NEVER happens.
We left the track during one of the many torrential downpours that happened during the day, went home, got changed, and got to Villa Balsamo.
OMG what a beautiful place. Seriously – just a stunning building.
After getting situated in our seats and being greeted by our waiter, Michael, the thunderstorm was really in full swing at this point, and all of the sudden… the power went out. We were in the side room so we pretty much had windows surrounding us on all sides, and holy crap was that lightning crazy.
Well, after the lights went out, the waitstaff promptly brought out candles for our table and after the races getting cancelled earlier, I was sure we would get sent packing from here too.
(^^ My brother)
But no. They kept moving and shaking and with a packed house, they slayed dinner service Saturday night.
Our server Michael had some great recommendations for us, and since none of us had ever been, we listened.
If you’re a wine person, it should be known that they only offer house wines by the glass, otherwise you’re popping bottles all night long. The house wine is served in a pitcher with fresh peaches. At first, we weren’t entirely sure how this would go, but let me tell you, it was delicious. A great idea for summertime. Those peaches after you finish the wine were equivalent to saving the cherry on an ice cream sundae until the very end. SO GOOD.
If you’ve never been to Villa Balsamo, you should know that it’s really more of a family style restaurant. You tell them what you want and they’ll tell you how many orders of it you need (usually one order for two people, etc.) – and I can say from experience that they did not steer us in the wrong direction as far as portions go.
We kicked off our dining experience with a fresh tomato and mozzarella salad and a stuffed shrimp appetizer.
We had just enough tomato and mozz for everyone, and more than enough shrimp, too! At this point, I didn’t have the picture situation under control yet, so no pics!
Here’s when things started to get interesting. As the darkness fell upon our dinner table, I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to take any decent food pictures AT ALL. And then my family came through in the clutch. I had all of the cellphone flashlights I needed to take some pretty decent photos with respect to the situation.
SHOUT OUT – next two pics are of my lovely family, because these food pictures wouldn’t have been possible without them.
So after apps, we ordered a pasta for the table. In this case, we chose the rigatoni and pomodoro sauce, which was really as close to perfect as I’ve had at any Italian restaurants in the area… or ever at a restaurant.
The rigatoni was cooked exactly al dente, and I loved it. I really don’t eat pasta very often, and this was worth every single carb.
The sauce was rich and flavorful, I ended up scraping the bowl at the end for any remnants of sauce that might have been left behind. It actually amazes me how much flavor you can get out of tomatoes, garlic and basil… and this was a great example of how delicious that combination can be.
Finally, we moved into our entrees. The table decided on the fish special, which this night was the Chilean sea bass with clams and mussels, chicken parmesan, and the chicken scarpariello with peppers and onions.
Out of the three, I have to say that I was seriously blown away by the chicken parm. It was so perfect in every way, shape and form, it just was one of those dishes that I’ve never had as good anywhere else.
The chicken was breaded and fried to the perfect golden brown color on the outside, and in combination with their amazing homemade sauce and fresh mozzarella melted on top, it topped the charts for me.
The fish and sausage scarpariello were also very good, but the chicken parm really stood out.
To me, dining at Villa Balsamo was like dining at a family member or good friends house… where the host just so happens to be an amazing cook. It felt so authentic and comfortable, and even though I’m sure there was panic going on internally with the cooks and waitstaff that night (serving in the dark and having no electricity and all), they made their guests feel like it was no big thing.
Now THAT is impressive in itself.
Everyone we came into contact with that night, including Scott (front of house) and Michael (our waiter), were so friendly and helpful.
I’m so sad that Villa Balsamo is only open during track season, but you better believe I’m going to try my best to get back there for dinner again before Labor Day. I suggest you do as well.