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photo: Chris Shields

This Old House, Updated
By B.A. Nilsson

A long-planned, well-executed refurbishment has paid off in many respects. The Century House has a venerable history, first as a mid-19th-century house built on land originally sold to Stephen Van Rensselaer. In the middle of the 20th century, the O’Hearn family bought the property and opened the restaurant, and it’s still run by family members who have honored the building’s past by preserving its unique Federalist character. While the conference center is a more modern addition, it salutes the old house’s character. And a meal in the tavern dining room harkens to an older, easier-going time—even on a bustling Friday, as my family discovered during a recent visit.

With banquets humming in rooms nearby and distant, with the dining room almost filled, we still couldn’t have received a more hospitable greeting or more attentive service. It’s a bit of a surprise to be seated at a wooden-topped table in what’s clearly meant to be a white-linen establishment, but it’s part of a new, less-formal personality the restaurant has adopted.

And the tables themselves are beautiful, custom-made for the Century House by Amish craftsmen who mixed old and new wood in the process. Because the tables sit on a newly-laid wooden floor (itself from an old Connecticut tobacco barn), the tables are cleverly sound-dampened with acoustic foam.

Homemade bread is immediately served with tapenade and butter rosettes. Juggling the bread and your oversized menu can be a challenge, but at least the menu kept me away from the bread for a while.

The restaurant hired chef Kevin Conway close to a year ago; a veteran of such places as Chez Sophie and Pearl, Conway has an excellent way of reimagining old favorites, which is especially good in a place like this, where the entrées run to the traditional.

Filet mignon ($23), for instance, gets a shiitake mushroom demi-glaze; rack of lamb ($26) is brushed with mustard and bread crumbs. Veal osso bucco ($22) is there, one of Conway’s signature dishes, which I would choose in favor of the veal Oscar ($21)—the latter, with tougher-than-expected meat and the barest dribble of Hollandaise, didn’t come together in flavors despite the addition of lobster meat. And the promised garlic mashed potatoes were replaced by cold roasted potatoes.

Another problem dish was the roasted duck ($22). Served over overdone wild rice that was free of any seasoning, the breast portion of the duck was raw on the inside. When we showed this to our server, it was whisked back to the kitchen and corrected, but it’s enough of a time-sensitive dish that by the time of its return we were ready to wrap it for take-home.

“That shouldn’t have happened,” said manager Colin DeMers, who, as part of the family, has worked at the restaurant in various capacities for 21 years and recently became a co-owner. “We try to take care with every dish that goes out of the kitchen, and I’m glad they corrected it for you.” He sounded so unhappy about it during our conversation that I’m going to have to go back there for dinner some time and try it again—he assures me the problem was unique.

Which I can believe. Another entrée we sampled during the visit, tortellini Maribou ($17), was a wonderful array of pasta with Mediterranean flavors, set off with artichoke hearts and olives and the pine nuts of a pesto, and it was terrific.

As were the unusual appetizers, like vegetable vol au vent ($6), a medley of mushrooms, peppers, eggplant and squash over puff pastry with goat cheese, and a portabella mushroom crepe ($6) in a chive-flavored beurre blanc.

On another visit, everything that emerged from the kitchen was superb, starting with the Martha’s Vineyard lobster chowder ($9) that justifies its price with a generous helping of the aforementioned meat in a creamy rich base—and I do mean creamy. The Century House filo roll ($6) wraps spinach and chanterelle mushrooms in filo pastry and tops it with a pesto cream sauce, rich enough to stand alone as an appetizer.

Salads are available à la carte, but the Caesar salad ($3) and spinach salad ($4) are larger than their prices suggest. I’d skip the app and start with one of them if you have a salad craving.

Seafood risotto ($20) presents shrimp, crab and lobster portions over a creamy (love that cream!) bed of rice, finished a little more al dente than I would expect but flavored magnificently. And the pan-seared sea bass ($19) was all it was promised to be, with a moist, tender inside, crispy skin, excellent flavors enhanced by the saffron-infused cream sauce, all of it drizzling into the elusive mashed potatoes that awaited below.

Service was very friendly and we felt rarely neglected. During the Friday visit, the duo English Garden performed Beatles covers and worked very well in the room. It’s a far cry from the fusty Century House of old, and is well worth a look both for banquets and any special-occasion meal.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Enjoy the royalty of bubblies at the Veuve Clicquot Champagne Dinner at Provence (Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany) at 7 PM on March 16. Chef Scott Krause will prepare a five-course dinner paired with selected champagnes from this venerable house, and the event will be hosted by the winery’s Guillame Boisvert. Among the courses: belon oyster with cracked pepper granita and osetra caviar; diver scallops meunier with cauliflower purée, kumquats and capers; roasted veal tenderloin with almond mascarpone polenta cake; braised rainbow chard with golden raisins and thyme jus. The cost is $90 per person, not including tax and gratuity, and space is limited, so call the restaurant at 689-7777 for reservations. . . . BFS Restaurant (1736 Western Ave., Albany) is celebrating its 15th year in business with a new 14-page menu and a new website (bfsrestaurant.com). The menu includes many new and old Mediter ranean favorites, as well as an expanded selection of wraps and vegetarian items. BFS has been named a heart healthy restaurant by the Center For Preventive Medicine and Cardiovascular Health of the Primary Care Physicians, P.C. For more info and to make reservations, phone 452-6342. . . . 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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