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photo:Teri Currie

Dining Inn
By B.A. Nilsson

Turf House Grille

Holiday Inn Turf, 205 Wolf Road, Colonie, 458-7250. Serving lunch Mon-Fri 11:30-2:30, dinner daily 5-10, brunch Sun 10-2 (except holidays, which have dinner menus). AE, D, MC, V

Cuisine: American hotel

Entrée Price Range: $16 (stuffed chicken) to $29 (beef and crab cake Napoleon)

Ambiance: unthreateningly pleasant

 

By necessity, hotel restaurants are a breed apart. Intended to please the captive traveler, they experiment with themes and cuisines, too aware that a world of chain restaurants competes right outside. This is exemplified by Wolf Road’s stretch of many eateries, most of them stamped from the same masters that offer refreshment on any airport-neighborhood thoroughfare.

A profile of the traveler is thus revealed as one who is unadventurous of palate and thus frightened of a never-before-seen menu, unsocial unless cocktail-primed. You and I aren’t like that, of course, and are challenged, when traveling, to penetrate beyond the safety net. But what’s going on in our own backyard?

The Holiday Inn Turf is a Wolf Road mainstay that predates most of the chain eateries that line the street, and its restaurant has evolved in an attempt to hold its own in a crowded market. It aims at a more upscale clientele, much of which, I suspect, comprises travelers with expense accounts who don’t mind paying a little extra in order to remain in the facility at mealtime.

The Turf House Grille is a pleasant, slightly bland room crisscrossed with waist-high dividers; tables are scattered among them and also line the walls. Low-level but plentiful lighting and colorful artwork help liven the room. Menus decorate the entrance, so there should be no surprises. You’re greeted nicely at the door and the process begins.

During my visits, business was slow enough that only a couple of servers worked the floor; the few of us having dinner were spaced for a sense of privacy but close enough to give a feeling of community.

This has drawbacks, of course. One of my neighbors punctuated her dinner with loud cell phone conversations; another taught me more about real estate than I was expecting to learn.

But those were minor irritations. The Turf House Grille staff is so friendly, and the atmosphere was so easygoing that I enjoyed journeying through the menu.

There are two of them, actually, but you’ll have to ask for the menu of lighter fare. That’s where you’ll find the chicken wings and mozzarella sticks, but you’ll pay $7 to $8 for them. A chicken Caesar salad ($9) is just as you’d expect, although the one we checked out arrived, mysteriously, without dressing—a problem solved when one of the managers immediately followed it to our table to explain that it was a room-service request. The situation was quickly righted.

Burgers, a Reuben and a fish fry are in the $8 range, with fries or rings included; the smoked turkey wrap ($7.50) was as good as you can expect without getting into fancy or unexpected ingredients. Salad greens are fresh and seasonings are applied with more vigor than I expect from a hotel restaurant, which is an excellent thing.

The main menu, a single page, features a baker’s-dozen entrées along with a trio of low-carb options. From the latter, the pan-seared salmon ($18) boasted a good flavor despite having been cooked longer than I prefer—but that’s not a preference most diners share, I know. Served atop a warm compote of eggplant and tomatoes, with a side of Caesar salad, it was a satisfying meal.

I watched one of the beef tenderloin-crab cake Napoleons go by; it’s a $29 dish that presents a Béarnaise-capped mountain of meat and seafood layers and it looked damn good. Based on the comments I overheard, the flavor lived up to the looks.

Also in the beef realm, the flatiron steak, a cut recently developed at the University of Nebraska, becomes a tender partner to a tangy chimichurri sauce ($19). I chose mashed potatoes as a side, which also was enhanced by the sauce. A side of squash-rich sautéed vegetables demonstrated the kitchen’s care with what’s served: It was crisp and flavorful without big butter enhancement.

Both the mushroom appetizer ($6) and the pork loin entrée ($17) are stuffed with sausage—sweet sausage in the former, andouille in the pork—and the enhancement is compelling. By the time my table’s pork order arrived we’d reached the end of the loin, but within the odd shape was a broader-than-expected flavor.

The $17 combo of gnocchi and crab meat was tied together with a cream sauce that seemed to go on forever, coupled with the sweetness of fontina cheese.

By coffee-and-dessert time, the restaurant was in prepare-for-breakfast mode, rearranging table settings, and it wasn’t as easy to catch a server’s eye. And the tables are spritzed with my old bane, the spray bottle of chemical solvent, something that never should appear in a dining room while customers are present.

A buffet is offered for lunch in addition to the regular lunch menu; Sundays there’s a $16 brunch buffet. And the best deal of all is the $20 Saturday prime rib buffet (kids 6 to 10 are $7), for which reservations are helpful. Travelers may think of this merely as the restaurant that comes with their hotel, but in the larger context of a chain-joint-infested boulevard, it’s something of an oasis.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Spring is edging its way back, with one tangible sign being the return of cooking classes at Aubergine Fine Food & Lodging in Hillsdale. These Thursday-morning classes are taught by renowned chef David Lawson. The new schedule emphasizes hearty cooking with European roots, and begins March 31 with “French Regional: Franche-Comte and the Alps,” exploring the cold weather cooking of the European Alps, with dishes such as bacon and onion tart and zuppa Valdosta. Aubergine cooking classes begin at 10:30 AM and finish at the conclusion of lunch, around 2 PM. Classes cost $75 per person, and include demonstration and instruction, materials and recipes, and a sit-down lunch with wine. Gratuity and tax are included. For more info and a complete class schedule, check out www.auber gine.com. You can reserve spaces by phoning the restaurant at 325-3412. . . . 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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