Beyond the Burger
Western Ave., Albany, 452-5670. Serving Mon-Sat 11:30-11,
Sun 11-10. Brunch Sunday 11-3. AE, D, MC, V.
price range: $18 (grilled vegetable penne) to $29 (rack
spacious and comfortable
After gaining plenty of experience with burgers and beer,
Henry Klein III has upscaled to ahi and chardonnay. His family
owns and runs Sutter’s Mill and Mining Co., a popular college-student
spot on the UAlbany stretch of Western Avenue; he moved a
little further west and rehabbed the former Figliomeni’s into
a much more elegant eatery that still makes casual diners
welcome as they sample the tasty fare.
It’s a gamble, of course, but the 8-weeks-old establishment
already is gaining a group of regulars who enjoy Klein’s marriage
of good food and fine wine. It’s a pricey union: Entrées run
$18 to $29, and a recent special came in at $35. But that
special was a generous cut of filet mignon topped with foie
gras, so it’s not entirely shocking.
The jury has to stay out for a little while because, as Klein
explains, it’s a work in progress. The downstairs, which will
include an extensive wine cellar and some charming dining
areas, is unfinished, although a tantalizing glimpse is offered
through the transparent flooring you’ll cross as you enter.
Along with a complete refurbishment, the building has been
enlarged. The main dining area is a large room that relies
on lighting and decor to give it a more intimate feel. Tables
near the front window are separated from the rest of the room
by a low wall; a few tables are in a more private dining area.
Casual this may be, but my impression is that Klein is aiming
for a level of class that’s tough to pursue. So many intangibles
factor into it that you’re more likely to achieve it by getting
the operation up and running and then tweaking the daylights
out of it—which means that he’s on the right track.
Although food quality would seem the most obvious ingredient
of a restaurant’s status, I find the quality of service to
be even more compelling. It colors your dining experience
from the moment you enter the establishment, and is your lifeline
throughout the meal. Disappointing food can be corrected,
but not without a server on your side.
The Cabernet Café staff is youthful, experienced, friendly
and knowledgeable. They also wear pagers, which don’t belong
in a fine-dining establishment. A server’s first loyalty is
to the customer; hence the generous tip that’s expected. And
a well-organized floor staff knows when to visit the kitchen.
It’s part of a rhythm that’s established as the gears of service
mesh into place. What’s going to push this restaurant to top
destination status will be a refinement of that service into
something smooth and cooperative.
Because there were no disappointments with the menu. Chef
Gary Yeung, a veteran locally of La Serre and the Albany Country
Club, has assembled a concise à la carte dinner menu that
starts you off with appetizers that might be dinners themselves.
The pork shanks ($13) are a case in point. Prepared in the
classic osso buco manner and served in a hearty wine sauce
with carrots and onions, they very nearly overwhelm anything
that might follow.
Sautéed scallops ($13) are large, plump and browned just right;
the accompanying flavors, of basil-enhanced crème fraîche
and tomato concassé, are meted with excellent restraint.
Seafood is a clear enthusiasm, and ceviche, a cold marinade
that cooks the fish in the acid of lime juice. For this $14
starter, tuna, shrimp and bay scallops nestled in a martini
glass in a puckery juice decorated with plantain chips.
Risotto ($9) is more of a presentation challenge. Sculpting
a pyramid on the plate doesn’t do it; perhaps a different,
possibly edible container would improve the appearance. The
flavor, however, has the delightfully unexpected punch of
cabernet sauvignon, and extra tartness is added by parmesan
Salads are available: $5 for a good-looking, fresh mesclun
(I recommend the pomegranate vinaigrette) and $7 for a Caesar.
Entrées embrace the favorite meatstuffs: In addition to a
few beef selections (including prime rib), there are preparations
of duck, veal, lamb and chicken. Roasted sea bass ($25), nori-wrapped
ahi tuna ($25), a cheese-intensive eggplant Cabernet ($18)
and stuffed pork tenderloin ($20) are among the other offerings.
In addition to the filet mignon mentioned above, we were able
to sample other representative dishes, each a winner. Pomegranate
figures into the glaze that coats the cedar-planked baked
salmon ($20), nicely accented with jasmine rice. The $29 rack
of lamb gives you all eight ribs on a large, apricot-mustard-garlic-crusted
roast. Is there any choice but mashed potatoes with this dish?
Starch dominates the paella ($25), of course, but the rice
picks up broth flavored with the mix of seafood (shrimp and
scallops predominating), chorizo and chicken. It’s so often
disappointing that I dread ordering paella; here, I was more
Wine is also an important component, although the current
list is a bit pricey for my taste. Nevertheless, a $25 Monte
pulciano proved a good accompaniment to the meat dishes during
one of my visits.
An in-house dessert called “xango” puts a creamy banana filling
inside a calzone-like pastry ($6); other, outsourced desserts
looked sweet and serviceable. One unnecessary surprise was
the price of espresso: $5.50 per demitasse! I’m confident
such insanity will calm in the future as the restaurant takes
its place with area’s best.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
fine-dining restaurant at Saratoga Gaming and
Raceway has been completely rebuilt and is now
open for business. Fortunes, a 500-seat
venue that sits above the harness track and offers
an excellent view from all seats, has been handsomely
reappointed and boasts chef Thomas Gisler, formerly
of Cooperstown’s Otesaga Hotel. Both à la carte
and buffet dining are available; watch this space
for a review. . . . Jack’s Oyster House
(42 State Street, Albany) has been selected by
the Nation’s Restaurant News Editorial
Board as a 2005 Nation’s Restaurant News Fine
Dining Hall of Fame Honoree. Criteria for nomination
include excellence in food, quality, service,
ambience and leadership in staff training and
motivation. Jack’s owner Brad Rosenstein will
attend the induction at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel
in Chicago on May 22, and an upcoming issue of
Nation’s Restaurant News will feature an
in-depth profile of Rosenstein and the restaurant.
. . . This Saturday (April 30) will be the grand
opening of the Battenkill Kitchen, Inc.,
a shared-use kitchen that will be available for
rentals, classes, product launches, etc. It is
located at the Historic Salem Courthouse on 58
E. Broadway in Salem. Saturday’s event will include
a ribbon- cutting ceremony, cooking demonstrations
and tastings. For more information on joining
BKI or renting the facility, call 854-3095. .
. . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland
(e-mail food@ banilsson.com).
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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.
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
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!
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..