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The Home Stretch
By B.A. Nilsson

Tiznow
84 Henry St., Saratoga Springs, 226-0655. Serving dinner Tue-Thu 5-9, Fri-Sat 5-10. Hours to expand in April. AE, MC, V.

Cuisine: French-Indochine

Entrée price range: $14.50 (spaghetti pomodori freschi) to $26 (grilled lollipop lamb chops)

Ambiance: Saratoga gentry


When Tiznow, the colt, won two back-to-back Breeders Cup Classic races, John Costanzo had money on the horse. When Costanzo moved to Saratoga Springs to open Tiznow, the restaurant, his short explanation was simple: “I wanted to ride him a third time.”

Costanzo had a long-standing relationship with the city because of many summer visits to the track, and he saw a niche opportunity to offer the kind of dining he enjoys in Manhattan. And he has no illusions about the restaurant business: He’s put in his time professionally downstate.

The search for a suitable spot led him to a former machine shop on Henry Street at the corner of Lake Avenue; the across-the-street neighbor is The Parting Glass. The result of much refurbishment is a large, airy dining room with a bar at one end and plenty of table space.

Although Costanzo credits his favorite Manhattan bistros as an inspiration, he hasn’t gone in for the cramped seating too common in the city. And the low-level lighting helps create a sense of individual isolation without eliminating the sense of community that’s important to a successful restaurant.

And which, at Tiznow, you’ll find centered at the bar on the slower dining nights. An enthusiastic consort of regulars has adopted the restaurant, open since January 2004, as their watering hole—and if I lived near Saratoga I’d probably join them.

But for me it’s the food that’s chiefly the draw, and the menu reflects the bistro heritage as well in an upscale, French-Asian way. Chef Christopher Jones took over the helm just a couple of months ago, but is preserving the approach of his predecessor even as he evolves the menu to reflect some of his own culinary techniques.

Bistro fare suggests fresh, available ingredients with straightforward preparations. Within that realm, though, magic can occur. We found it, right off, in the soup.

Onion soup has been making a comeback of late, and no pub menu seems to be complete without it. And what you find is more often than not very reminiscent of what this item can be, masked as a celebration of runny cheese. At Tiznow, it’s about the onion. As it should be.

Six onions, in fact, demonstrating a subtle range of flavors from this liliaceous plant. Careful caramelization brings out the onion’s native sweetness, and a generous touch of white wine picks it up from there and delivers it all over the palate. And there’s melted cheese, of course, good gruyere used in the right amount.

The soup is $7, the same price as a special, non-menu-listed creamy concoction of asparagus and shrimp that went round the table and was licked clean in minutes. The beauty of it was its balance, never allowing the shrimp to take over (which shrimp will do in an instant if it’s indulged).

We enjoyed the air of informality among the servers, who were quick to take care of us when we entered; we did note, however, that the floor would occasionally empty of them, at least once when we were looking for someone. Costanzo himself is often available on the floor, and keeps things rolling. When plates emerge from the kitchen, it’s a procession of servers who deliver the course to your table, which was helpful when the soups came out.

Other listed appetizers include a pork pâté with pistachios ($9), tuna and salmon tartare ($10.50) and a plate of caramelized roasted vegetables ($9.50). The recommended chicken and mushroom shu mai ($8.50) epitomized the East-West fusion here, with a generous foursome of dumplings served over swirls of a coconut-sesame sauce. Again, flavors balanced well, with seasonings so well mixed as to conceal their identities.

Sometimes the seasonings were more dramatic, as with the use of vanilla in the vinaigrette that accompanied a spinach salad ($10.50). Baby leaves were accented with dollops of the sweetest chèvre I’ve ever tasted.

Pasta is represented by three dishes, of which the lobster and crab ravioli ($21.50) is a not-terribly-slimming but tasty example. Striped pasta shells conceal a seafood compote that, you’ll have to admit, begs for the cream that accompanies it.

I never did learn what makes the Burmese orange chicken Burmese, but I suspect it’s the use of a sambal—a chili sauce probably served in Rangoon—flavored with onions and orange on a delectably tender chicken breast. Chinese black rice sits underneath, soaking in more of the flavors ($18).

A special entrée that will become part of a new menu next week was lamb tenderloin served over mashed potatoes ($23). Grilled with a tangy dry rub of seasonings, the arrangement on the plate was as pleasing to the eye as the entrée itself pleased the palate. And it’s topped with an unexpected accompaniment of onion rings. Real onion rings, battered and fried.

>From a brief menu of homemade desserts ($7 each) we enjoyed an Asian spice cake in which the aromatics swirled around the flavor of dark chocolate—and its opposite number, a serving of white-chocolate mousse swirled into pastry containers, the better to allow your fellow diners to swipe them off your plate.

“I wanted to position this restaurant somewhere between the Springwater and Gaffney’s,” says Costanzo. “Saratoga is growing and changing, and I think we’re in the right place at the right time.” The comparatively slack winter season may be the best time to check this out: I have feeling his restaurant is going to be hopping when warm weather returns.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Much the way an airline rushes to paint out any identifying insignia on a crashed plane, the owners of the Guilderland Fresno’s have obliterated all signs on and around the now-shuttered restaurant. I have yet to discover if this is standard procedure for chain units that go belly-up, but, brand sensitivity being what it is, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a trend emerge. No way to disguise the goofy architecture, however. . . . Parisi’s Steakhouse (11 N. Broadway, Schenectady) hosts a wine-tasting dinner Mon, Mar 7, a six-course meal that seats at 7 PM and matches inventive fare with an international array of wine. Among the courses are orechietta with broccolini, chicken and sun-dried tomatoes (with a Noble Chardonnay from France); mussels bianco (Columbia Winery Pinot Gris from Washington); and baby rack of lamb on a bed of lentils with seared spinach (HRM Rex Goliath, Pinot Noir, California). Hosts are Joann Van Stone and Greg Woolston from Eber Brothers Wine & Liquors. Dinner is $50 plus tax & tip; reserve seats (only a few remain) by calling 374-0100. . . . 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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