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No Membership Necessary

by B.A. Nilsson on February 9, 2012 · 1 comment

Grille One Six Five at the Normanside Country Club, 150 Salisbury Road, Delmar, 439-4505 ext. 19, normanside.com. Serving lunch 11-3 Tue-Sun, dinner 3-8 Tue-Thu, 3-9 Fri-Sat, 3-6 Sun. AE, MC, V.

Cuisine: thoughtful continental

Entrée price range: $7 (soup and half sandwich) to $27 (mixed grill)

Ambiance: spacious clubhouse

Country clubs are about golf and swimming and business deals. And, of course, the privilege of membership. Lew Archer was always snooping around country clubs to get the lowdown on the rich people tangled in the missing-person case he invariably investigated. Although you have to pony up to enjoy such a club’s athletics, many a country-club dining room is thrown open to the public, so my wife and I sought dinner at Grille One Six Five, the restaurant at the Normanside Country Club in Delmar.

Perhaps it’s the Albany proximity that keeps to a handful the number of white-linen eateries in Delmar, but I don’t mind the comparative expansiveness suburban dining can offer—not to mention the parking. But the common perception of Delmar’s business identity is whatever flanks Delaware Avenue. Dining at Normanside requires you to leave that stretch. Turn north on Salisbury Road, ease through a couple of residential blocks, and the golf course comes into view. The clubhouse sits a bit farther along.

We visited on a recent Friday, as clubhouse renovations were in full swing and what we saw of the work in progress promises a handsome foyer and banquet room, among other areas of reconstruction. The dining room, however, remains intact (and the work will be finished the day after this is published).  Two dining areas are offered. One is a casual, by-the-bar area that we avoided because of the two TVs, those annoying nipples of pop-culture mother’s milk. The formal dining room sports nicely draped tables in a room dominated by large windows and gas-fired fireplace.

Chef Ken Ruud has been at the club since April, when the operation was bought by three generations of the Hostig family. David, the youngest, is the operations manager, and comes from D’Raymonds restaurant in Loudonville. His father, Joseph, owns Smith’s in Cohoes. They slashed membership prices and seek a greater community presence. The place is certainly friendly, and even on a slow night we were greeted and served with a sense that we belonged.

For the past quarter-century, I’ve been encouraging area diners to eat more adventurously and, while area restaurateurs aren’t exactly lining up to thank me for making their jobs more satisfying, I’ll pat myself on my broad back and note that you’ll find duck spring roll ($9), Thai chili butternut shrimp ($18) and roasted pork and mushroom risotto ($17) on the Grille One Six Five menu.

Slow-roasted pork tossed with wild mushrooms and spinach? I’ll take it. I had that risotto in mind from the moment I checked out the restaurant’s menu online. Restaurant risotto by logistical necessity has to be a different dish from what you make at home because of the lengthy prep time, so it’s typically cooked in two stages, the second occurring when the order is placed. I was served a large portion of suitably creamy rice with a rich flavor that proved an excellent balance to the pork-mushroom-spinach combo, accomplishing what I most enjoy in a dish: a lively progression through the palate points. And the fat content of the preparation (oh, yes, there’s fat) persuaded those sensations to linger. There’s a seafood risotto offered ($24) that puts shrimp, clams and mussels into the brew, with tomato for continuity. I’ll have to check that one out next time.

Adventurousness goes only so far in the Capital Region, and there remain many who would tremble in panic confronted by a menu free of steak and shrimp. Chef Ruud strikes the necessary balance.

Appetizers include bruschetta for $7, calamari with chili-garlic sauce ($8), steamed clams ($11) or mussels ($8) and a soup of the day ($3/$4.50). Manhattan clam chowder was offered, and my wife wailed through a cup of it. Easy to do, because it had a stewlike abundance of ingredients without sacrificing flavor balance.

I eased into dinner with chopped salad ($9), which decorated a mix of greens with tomatoes, onions, artichoke hearts and roasted peppers, discreetly dressed with a vinaigrette and given that extra oomph that only cheese can provide.

Entrées include such pasta dishes as crab-and-lobster ravioli ($22) and spinach and wild mushrooms with linguine ($15), while the regular lineup features chicken roasted with fresh tomatoes ($16), chicken piccata ($16), grilled filet mignon ($24), the same with shrimp ($27) and a mixed grill that puts a smaller piece of filet mignon alongside shrimp and chicken on a roasted-pepper cream sauce ($27).

The menu changes seasonally, with new candidates offered as specials along the way. One such was stuffed quail ($20), which is breaded and fried and served off the bone (except for a bit of drumstick), with its filling of basil and provolone oozing out provocatively. This is certainly the easiest-to-eat preparation of the bird I’ve seen, and a great recharacterization of it as well. The accompanying vegetable medley was cooked just right, crisp asparagus stalks and broccoli florets among the array.

A sandwich menu also is offered at dinner ($8 to $10), including burgers, quesadillas and a number of deli sandwiches.

There’s a $25 prix fixe menu for dinner Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday, which gives a wide choice of appetizer, entrée and dessert and thus makes for a good bargain. And there’s a similar menu for weekday lunches, where $10 gets you a salad or sandwich, dessert and choice of nonalcoholic drink, which is probably the best white-linen midday deal you’re going to find. I’m sure that membership, as a credit-card company used to tell us, has its privileges, but my experience proves that you can do very well here just strolling off the street. Bring an appetite.

{ 1 comment }

Upstater4145 February 23, 2012 at 3:49 pm

B.A. – I can’t thank you enough for this. Chef Ken Ruud is more talented then some people are willing to give him credit for. Specifically, Steve Barnes at the TU, whom I emailed last year when Ken first got to Normanside, suggesting that he give the place a try. His oh-so-pleasant response was “The menu looks really conventional – a lot of standard stuff with Italian influences. It’s not a menu that would prompt me to make a special trip to dine in a golf course clubhouse.” . And when TU finally DID send someone over there (Cheryl Clark) it was on a day the chef wasn’t even working, and she trashed the place. Maybe the next time you dine there, you could take good old Steve & his equally cheerful friend Cheryl, with you, so they can EAT their words.
And just for the record, I do not own, work at, or have any financial interest in the Normanside, whatsoever. I just have 20 years of experience eating Ken’s food. Which kind of qualifies me as an “expert” on the subject. :)