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Raising the Steaks
By B.A. Nilsson

Lillian’s Restaurant

6408 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 587-7766. Serving lunch Mon-Sat 11:30-4, dinner Mon-Thu 5-10, Fri-Sat 5-11, lunch and dinner Sun noon-9. AE, DC, MC, V.

Cuisine: traditional, with steaks

Entrée price range: $19 (many items) to $32 (lobster and sirloin)

Ambiance: Victorian Spa City

Clientele: Saratoga regulars

 

It’s conceivable that Lillian Russell would have been comfortable in a place like her eponymous restaurant. The comfortable dining room, topped by high, tin ceilings and ornate fixtures, has a nouveau-Victorian look that suits the singer’s era—although I’m not sure I can picture Miss Russell tucking into a slab of rare prime rib. On the other hand, when she was in Saratoga, she hung out with the polyphagous Diamond Jim Brady, so, who knows?

Prime rib ($20) is a weekend attraction at Lillian’s, reflecting its 31-year-old heritage as a steakhouse. “We opened back when the steakhouse was king,” says owner Raymond Morris, “with peanuts on the tables and sawdust on the floor.” Things have changed considerably since then, although the restaurant continues to offer a core menu of steaks and other grilled items.

And the prime rib I enjoyed on a recent visit confirmed that this is something they do well (not, of course, in the well-done sense, which is a terrible state to inflict on any good beef). Pink, tender, with the worst of the fat trimmed away, it was served moistened with its own juice and with a nice sauté of winter squash on the side. Although it was promised with mashed potatoes, I had forgotten that by the time I ordered and, given the choice of rice or a baked potato, chose the latter while lying to myself that I wouldn’t anoint it with sour cream.

To guarantee the steakworthiness of the place, a friend of mine (on a different visit) enjoyed a N.Y. sirloin ($23), a most generous portion that truly had a medium-rare (as ordered) finish to its center. And there’s nothing like working your way toward that center through a well-
seasoned, charcoal-charred skin.

And we did this while on display to downtown’s passersby. Prime seating seems to be spang up against the window overlooking Broadway, and the view from inside is enjoyable—at least those evenings when the wind chill doesn’t clear the sidewalks.

But what if you don’t plan on tucking into a steak anytime soon? I invited my vegetarian friend Liz to join me at dinner to see what she’d make of the menu, and she was pleased to see that, along with pasta dishes she finds tiresome as typical meat-free alternatives, Lillian’s offers a vegetable stir-fry ($19). It’s a mélange of what’s fresh and what you’d expect to see (broccoli, carrots) served up in a sesame-ginger sauce, sporting a slice of grilled (canned) pineapple. And you get a choice of pasta or rice; unsurprisingly, Liz chose rice.

Roasted vegetable ravioli ($19) would be another meatless option, and it turns out to have a more robust flavor than your typical cheese-filled item, accompanied by enough sauce to balance the pasta component.

Two pages of menu items cover a range that shows how far the restaurant has evolved since 1974. Appetizers include soups (including a classic French onion, $4.50/$5.50), hot and cold shrimp dishes, steamed clams and such.

Maryland crab cakes ($10) are another classic preparation—just what you’d expect in a recipe that, thankfully, is light on the breading, and served with a low-key lobster cream sauce. Bacon-wrapped scallops ($9) arrive in a generous portion with a Dijon sauce that you probably won’t even be tempted to use.

Entrées include a variety of seafood items: The specials during one of our visits were grilled salmon and broiled haddock ($19 each), as well as a $21 seafood platter with clams and scallops and sole and shrimp.

You can make a meal out of one of the salads, because there are imposing servings of Caesar with chicken, shrimp or vegetables ($11-$15) as well as a Greek salad ($11). Most entrées come with a house salad, a superior array of greens with lots of trimmings, including sprouts, and a dizzying selection of dressing, of which I’d recommend the house vinaigrette.

I never developed a taste for the formidable surf and turf, but the number of such items listed suggests that this hoary old combo remains a favorite, so who am I to quibble? Besides, shrimp or scallops are among the pairings, which makes it more interesting that putting lobster into the mix.

The lunch menu gives you scaled-down versions of many of these, but a few lighter—or at least less-expensive—items persist onto the dinner menu. A burger is $8, and there are other grills and wraps in the $9-$10 range.

Service couldn’t be friendlier. I’m still no fan of the system that puts you at the mercy of a single server who may get sidetracked at your neediest moment, but we had the sense of other eyes watching us—and entrées were delivered by whomever was handy.

In sum, there’s no culinary experimentation going on here. It’s a long-lived, reliable restaurant that delivers what it promises in a prominent downtown spot, and it’s good to go back to.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Celebrating chef Eric Masson’s French heritage, the Saratoga Lake Inn and Bistro offers its Fête des Rois (Festival of Kings) menu Jan. 20-23. The four courses include an appetizer (your choice of crepe stuffed with ham and mushrooms, escargot sautéed with wild mushrooms or quiche Lorraine), salad or soup, an entrée of chicken and vegetables in a velouté sauce, petit filet mignon du chef, or sole amandine—and a special “Cake of the King” dessert. Dinner is $29 per person (before tax and tip), and you can make reservations by calling the restaurant at 587-8280. Hours are Wed-Fri 5-9, Sat noon-10, Sun noon-8. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail food@banilsson.com).


We want your feedback

Have you eaten at any recently reviewed restaurants? Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...

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What you're saying...

I very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's at Ogdens. You review described my dining experience perfectly. This wasn't the case with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree that a restaurant can have an off night so I'll give the second unit on Central Avenue a try.

Mary Kurtz
Castleton

First, yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back. Second, I haven't had a chance to visit Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading the reviews.

Pat Russo
East Greenbush

I would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant - it's not that far away. People traveled from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam. From his background, I'm sure the chef's sauce is excellent and that is the most important aspect of an Italian restaurant. Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm looking forward to trying this restaurant - I look forward to Metroland every Thursday especially for the restaurant review. And by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam location and is opening a new bistro on Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake Bistro. It should be great!

Peggy Van Deloo
Schenectady

So happy to see you finally made out!! Our experiences have always been wonderful, the staff is extremely professional, the food subperb, and the atmosphere very warm and comfortable. Let us not forget to mention "Maria" the pianist on Friday and Saturday nights.

Charlie and Marie
Michaels Restaurant

I have been to Michael's several times and each time I have enjoyed it very much. The food is delicious and the staff is great. Also, Maria Riccio Bryce plays piano there every Friday and Saturday evening, a nice touch to add to the already wonderful atmosphere. It is also easy to find, exit 27 off the thruway to 30 north for about 5 miles.

N. Moore
Albany

Wonderful!

Elaine Snowdon
Albany

We loved it and will definitely go back.

Rosemarie Rafferty

Absolutely excellent. The quality and the flavor far surpasses that of other Indian restaurants in the area. I was a die-hard Shalimar fan and Tandoor Palace won my heart. It blows Ghandi out of the water. FInally a decent place in Albany where you can get a good dinner for less than $10 and not have tacos. The outdoor seating is also festive.

Brady G'sell

Indian is my favorite cuisine available in the area--I loved Tandoor Palace. We all agreed that the tandoori chicken was superior to other local restaraunts, and we also tried the ka-chori based on that intriguing description-delicious.

Kizzi Casale
Albany

Your comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants being as "standardized as McDonald's" shows either that you have eaten at only a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or that you have some prejudices to work out. That the physical appearances are not what you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing on the food. And after all, that is what the main focus of the reviews should be. Not the physical appearances, which is what most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on Central Avenue, may not look the greatest, but the food is excellent there. And the menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian, chicken, and more..

Barry Uznitsky
Guilderland



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