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photo:Shannon DeCelle

Downtown Delight
By B.A. Nilsson

Franklin’s Tower

414 Broadway, Albany, 431-1920. Pub menu available Mon-Thu 11:30-9, Fri 11:30-10, dinner Mon-Thu 5-9, Fri-Sat 5-10. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: eclectic American

Entrée price range: $17 (penne Bolognese) to $24 (miso yellowfin)

Ambiance: classic pub/elegant eatery

It’s easy to take a mainstay for granted, and the Plaza Grill, a couple of doors down from Coulson’s on Broadway in the bowels of Albany, persevered for some 70 years without drawing much recent attention.

Perhaps it was fated to lose its luster once the old-time political machine lost its most colorful characters. Perhaps it was just the shift to the malls. Reborn now as Franklin’s Tower, rising, as it were, from the dead, the restaurant’s new owners are keeping it true to its roots even as they offer an up-to-date, well-prepared menu.

It’s actually two restaurants. There’s a ground-floor pub in which you dine at booths amid dark paneling and an upstairs room with more elegant, nicely decorated surroundings. There’s also a third-floor banquet room, so the restaurant is ready for anything.

New owners David Kuk and Patrick Hall come to the business with different backgrounds: It’s Kuk’s first restaurant, while Hall has been in the business for quite some time. Their shared goal is to preserve and maintain the sense of heritage here while providing good food and entertainment.

Franklin’s Tower has been open for about six months; the past four have seen a wide variety of live music events. Now that some outdoor tables are available, the entertainment can include downtown Albany itself.

Kuk notes that the lunch menu has a deliberate Oriental influence, which shows most clearly in the appetizers list. Asian chicken wings ($6.25) sport a soy, ginger and garlic sauce; spring rolls ($6.25) are reminiscent of the thin-skinned Vietnamese variety. We sampled the rolls as a dinner appetizer (when they’re priced at $8), where four half-rolls are presented around a mound of fresh greens; the sweet-and-sour sauce doubles as dressing.

Back to lunch: Sandwiches are a mainstay, priced from about $7 to $9; a strip steak sandwich is $13. And it’s a nice variety of offerings, including blackened chicken breast, smoked turkey, grilled shrimp and even catfish. The pulled pork sandwich ($9), while it doesn’t taste like it spent a whole lot of hours on the smoke, nevertheless is tender and flavorful. Served in a generous-sized baguette, it has the potential for two meals.

A selection of wraps (including a pulled pork wrap) lets you cut the carbs, and a selection of burgers lets you put them back again. I sampled—all right, fully consumed—the Broadway burger ($8), where a portobello mushroom tops the beef beneath provolone cheese. It’s served with fries, and thus well suits the publike atmosphere.

Consider some of the appetizers as meals in themselves. Barbecued con carne ($6) doesn’t really translate accurately as a name for this dish, but it approaches the classic Southwestern chili con carne preparation by presenting chunks of tender beef in a chipotle-spiced barbecue sauce. Accompanying chips turn it into a dipping compote.

Two soups we sampled at two visits were both creamy and rambunctiously thick, which also makes for a satisfying meal if you like your soup that way. Cream of broccoli and a seafood chowder both were not sparing in their use of the named ingredients.

Dinner starters also include prosciutto-wrapped shrimp ($12.50) and spiced littleneck clams ($14), along with three fancy salads. An order of fried brie ($8.50) was more successful than I anticipated; a pairing with spinach and a red pepper sauce helped cut the cheese intensity.

The nine-entrée-item dinner menu takes a chamber music approach, with a single beef dish (grilled N.Y. strip, $24, served with wild mushroom-rosemary demi glacé), a couple of seafood items (blackened catfish, $17, and miso yellowfin tuna, $24), a grilled porterhouse pork chop ($24) and a couple of chicken dishes among the offerings. Chicken panzanella ($18) is a breaded cutlet strewn with tomatoes, onions and mozzarella atop steamed spinach; chicken frangelico ($20), which I tasted, is sautéed and served with mushrooms and pecans in a slightly sweet brown sauce. The combination was effective, although there was a saltier flavor than I prefer—a characteristic that also appeared (to a lesser extent) in the marinated pork special ($20).

It worked in that context. The pork was given a deep, slightly spicy flavor from the marinade, and the meat was fork-cut tender and well paired with a fluffy pile of garlicky, for-real mashed potatoes. Crunchy string beans and a couple of outsized decorative potato chips finished the plate.

Eggplant roulade was a quiet, massive success. This $18 entrée substitutes goat cheese for the more traditional ricotta, and the flavor difference is extraordinary—there’s no going back. A selection of sautéed veggies, including the usual suspects like carrots and broccoli, and a cream-sauced heap of angel hair pasta tied the dish together and kept it appealing even in its leftover life.

The servers are friendly and talented enough that I’d like to see them work more cooperatively. The upstairs dining room quickly feels remote when nobody is on hand for a while. And they need to take the open flames off the table. They’re cute, and add gently to the light, but one of the plastic-sheathed menus came into too-close contact at an adjacent table and the subsequent aroma lingered.

I’m betting that having a superior restaurant at this address will be a boon as Albany refashions itself. Downtowns need more places like this.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Celebrate spring with a wine-tasting dinner Apr 14-17 at the Saratoga Lake Bistro (Route 9P, where Saratoga meets Stillwater) where a four-course dinner is offered with three glasses of wine for $45 (not including tax and tip). You have a choice of appetizer, each paired with an appropriate wine. Entrées include poached salmon on a bed of creamy spinach served with steamed mussels and a 2004 Petit Bourgeois (Loire) Sauvignon Blanc, grilled filet mignon topped with a four-peppercorn-and-Cognac sauce served with a 1998 Chateau Bel Air Haut Médoc, and roasted leg of spring lamb rubbed with Rosemary and garlic, served with a 2002 Guigal Côtes du Rhone. A cheese selection and dessert follows. Wine experts will go from table to table to give you information about the wine selection. And note that the outdoor deck is now open! Call the restaurant for reservations: 587-8280 (www.saratogalakebistro.com). . . . Paul Parker, chef-owner of Chez Sophie Bistro (Route 9, Malta) is offering the last cooking class before the summer season kicks in at 11 AM on Sunday, May 29. The theme is appetizers and hors d’oeuvres, and will be a voyage through the kind of fare you make at home for dinner parties—and dishes to take to parties to impress your friends. The class culminates with a 4 PM sit-down meal. Because the class is a very hands-on experience, it’s limited to 12 participants, and the cost is $125 per person, which includes instruction, food and wine. To reserve a place, call the restaurant at 583-3538 (www.chez sophie.com). . . . 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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