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photo:Shannon DeCelle

Far Beyond the Burger
By B.A. Nilsson

Cabernet Café

1814 Western Ave., Albany, 452-5670. Serving Mon-Sat 11:30-11, Sun 11-10. Brunch Sunday 11-3. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: eclectic continental

Entrée price range: $18 (grilled vegetable penne) to $29 (rack of lamb)

Ambiance: 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 cheese shavings.

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 than pleased.

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.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


The 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@

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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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