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Upstairs, Downstairs
By B.A. Nilsson

The Manhattan Exchange

607 Union St., Schenectady, 374-5930. Serving Mon-Thu 11:30-10, Fri-Sat 11:30-11. AE, D, DC, MC, V.

Cuisine: unassuming pub fare

Entrťe Price Range: $11 (linguine pomodoro) to $19 (16 oz. N.Y. strip steak)

Ambiance: too quiet

Thereís a level of dining worth exploring thatís not gourmet, not fast food, not chain-restaurant fare. Itís what good diner food can be, but served in more formal surroundings. At the Manhattan Exchange, itís happening in an upstairs room where you still can hear some of the ruckus of the usually crowded bar below, but as more of a comfort than annoyance.

Whatís offered is a pub menu, with sandwiches the dominant feature. A list of dinner items is handed out separately.

Much of whatís available has the look and feel of what food vendors helpfully supply. Thanks to cryovac and other handy packaging, complete dinner solutions are more affordable than ever, and you can scratch the scratch kitchen if such is your desire.

And how should we feel about this?

It all depends on what youíre looking for. Iím enough of a, oh letís call it ďcontrol enthusiast,Ē that Iíd prefer to put in an hour making a tomato sauce, which then will simmer for a few hours more. But I keep jars of already-made sauce in the pantry, just in case.

So it is with dining out. Except that you donít usually get a pre-ordering view of the pantry.

There are other signs, like the menu items themselves and the pricing. Manhattan Exchange keeps its dinners in the $11-$15 range (a large steak is the only thing more expensive), which suggests the lower reaches of fine dining. I say this knowing that some peopleóand Iím sure youíre not one of themóthink anything over $10 is fantastically expensive, and even some who should know better cry foul if a menu item tops a twenty.

Chicken franÁaise, for instance, which you donít see much these days, is a $13 entrťe (that includes a soup or salad) thatís made with chicken breast stripsófrom the look of them, Iím guessing theyíre the long pieces that tend to detach from the underside of the breast when youíre breaking down a chicken. Itís a utilitarian piece of meat, suitable for use as chicken fingers, and easy to work into pasta dishes and salads.

Fried in an egg batter, theyíre finished with a buttery wine sauce and go especially well with mashed potatoes, if thatís one of the choices of the day (real potatoes, too). A side of vegetables, although sourced from a frozen assortment pack, was acceptably finished.

Placed in a larger context that includes the comfort of the dining room, efficiency of service and all the intangibles that make up a restaurant experience, it was 14 bucks (plus tax and tip) well spent. The food was pleasant, and stood up to the chemical-rich flavor of the diet soda with which I accompanied it. And there was enough left over for a microwaved next-day lunch.

The downside? I look for a pub environment to have a few people around in what should feel likeówell, if not a living room at least something a little lived in. In an ideal universe, this would not include TV screens, because people actually would wish to talk with one another, and do so without hollering.

As I noted, Manhattan Exchange puts its bar patrons in a ground-floor room that fills quickly (owner Debra LaMalfa has plans to expand the size of that room before long), while the upstairs dining room remains fairly empty. On one of my visits, my party dined alone.

I donít think itís the restaurantís fault. Other items we sampled were quite satisfying. Linguine pomodoro ($11) is a huge platter of pasta topped with fresh tomatoes that were sautťed in plenty of minced garlic, and discreetly herb-seasoned. A more complicated version adds chicken and sun-dried tomatoes and finishes it in a tomato-flavored cream sauce ($15). Youíll get three meals from each of those pasta dishes.

Grilled boneless pork chops ($13) were just that, although they spent a little too much time on the grill and needed all the accompanying applesauce to impersonate the missing juiciness.

On the sandwich side of things, thereís a signature burgeróbut you guessed thatóavailable in any number of configurations, priced from $5 to $7. Itís a tasty half-pounder served on a Kaiser roll, and the price includes fries. We managed to get through about a quarter-pound of the thing.

Needing to broaden my offspringís culinary horizons, I ordered a Monte Cristo ($7) and insisted she taste it, and she ended up commandeering the sandwich. Itís an all-in-one that piles up ham and turkey and Swiss cheese, then the whole thing is dipped in an egg batter and fried. Another endangered species of menu item, and itís done very well here.

Plenty of deli sandwiches, clubs, grilled sandwiches, like the $7 Reuben, as well as salads and the usual array of appetizers. Nachos, for instance, are what youíd expect, but the $7 half-order was so voluminous, with ground beef and chopped tomatoes and jalapeŮo slices among the mix, that Iíd hesitate to order the full-sized $9 plate without an army to feed.

LaMalfa, whose family has a longtime background in the restaurant business, bought the Manhattan Exchange nearly two years ago and is working to keep it a friendly and satisfying place. Certainly the enthusiasm of our servers (who have to lug the food up a flight of stairs) is testimony to a happy place, and one that delivers on its realistic promise.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


Eric Masson, the ever-inventive chef at Saratoga Lake Bistro (located at Brownís Beach on Saratoga Lake) is creating a CrÍpe Dinner Party, March 10-13. Itís a three-course meal that lets you choose an appetizer (escargot, seafood, or mushrooms in a crÍpe), entrťe (crÍpe-enhanced preparations of salmon, pork or beef tenderloin) and dessertówhich, needless to say, will be crÍpe suzette. Itís $27 per person (plus tax and tip), and parties of six or more get a complimentary bottle of wine. Call 587-8280 for reservations. . . . The Stockade Inn (1 N. Church St., Schenectady) has redecorated its spacious and handsome lounge area, and enhanced it with a new lounge and martini menu thatís offering upscale pub fare like wraps, fried calamari, chimichangas, tempura and the like. Itís available Tue-Sat during dinner hours (5-9); the restaurant also serves lunch Tue-Fri 11:30-2, and brunch Sun 10-2. Call 346-3400 for more info, or check out . . .

Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail

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

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

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


Elaine Snowdon

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

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

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