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photo:B.A. Nilsson

A Sure Thing
By B.A. Nilsson

Rodizio

Turning Stone Resort, 5218 Patrick Road, Verona, (800) 771-7711. Serving lunch Sat-Sun 11-2, dinner Sun-Thu 5-10, Fri-Sat 5-11. AE, D, DC, MC, V.

Cuisine: Brazilian steakhouse

Entrée price range: $37.50 (full buffet)

Ambiance: handsomely warm

Although this is ostensibly a piece about a single restaurant, it’s so much a part of the Turning Stone Resort in general that a larger perspective is necessary. But first, to the restaurant.

It’s a churrascaria, which is the name given to a restaurant that specializes in churrasco, a tradition in southern Brazil born of the gauchos who slow-roasted meat over open fires after a hard day on the pampas.

Those fires are now contained behind glass, in a room you’ll see as you enter the restaurant. One rotisserie bar after another spins slowly, the captive beef and pork and lamb sparkling with marinade.

But your first course is at a salad bar, a buffet unlike any found in this area. Again, Brazilian cuisine is the theme, and chef Ruben Lopez offers such staples as feijoada, a black-bean and sausage stew, a tomato-and-onion salad with hearts of palm, a compote of jicama, corn and tomatoes, piquant and tender calamari ceviche, beets, oranges and fennel tossed in a sweet salad, a slaw of cabbage and roasted red peppers finished with a chipotle aioli, and one of the most amazing potato salads I’ve ever sampled, taking its flavor from apples and much more I couldn’t identify.

Rodizio is part of an ambitious expansion program that the onetime bingo hall, now massive casino, has been enjoying during the past several years. Having visited casinos in Las Vegas, Atlantic City and the Bahamas, I’m impressed by the context. The casino itself is what you’d expect, except that it’s fueled not by cash but a kind of ATM-card arrangement of in-house plastic. Because I don’t gamble, I’m typically not interested in such places.

But that also allows me to take advantage of the deals offered to gamblers. The house just doesn’t get anything extra off of me. At Turning Stone, the resort has grown to offer everything from luxury accommodations to an RV park, with a dozen different restaurants and the promise of a full-fledged health spa (in addition to an existing facility) in the near future.

The Oneida Indian Nation, which owns and operates the facility, is known as the People of the Standing Stone. The casino was seen as a significant turning point in their lives, hence its name. And, as a Rodizio customer, you turn a stone of your own at your table, at which each place setting sports a flat, palm-sized rock decorated with red on one side, green on the other.

Red is uppermost as you’re seated; turn it to green and the gauchos begin streaming to your tableside. And this is why you do well not to eat too much at the very tempting salad bar.

Each arrival signals a new taste of meat. There were 11 the evening I visited, begining with a chunk of filet mignon wrapped in bacon. Then the top sirloin marinated in ginger and soy. Then the roasted pork in cumin and oregano. Then the rosemary-scented leg of lamb. Then the bottom sirloin spicy with garlic.

And that was about all I could . . . wait. Then came the Portuguese pork sausage, the grilled skin crunchy with flavor. And falling-off-the-bone beef ribs with a rum and fruit glaze. And spicy pork ribs. And orange-marinated chicken. Enough, I said, and then caught sight of the salmon. And on it went.

Family-style dishes of mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli accompanied the meat; these, too, were perfectly finished, the broccoli still full of snap. Did I also mention there was pepper-encrusted rib-eye steak?

Where carving is needed, the meat is carved at tableside. You have a pair of tongs to assist in securing your slices.

All that’s missing is a hearty red wine, but you’ll have to bring that yourself because the State Liquor Authority continues, for its own scurrilous political reasons, to deny the resort a license.

Golf and weddings and business meetings are a few of the resort’s popular activities; I would add simply hanging out as another. We spent a night at the Lodge, one of the upscale accommodation possibilities, and the room, like the building itself, is a marvel of inventive planning—the place is a modern take on an Adirondack style—and excellent construction.

Service is second to none. This was as true in the restaurant as in the Lodge, where you get no sense of employees merely doing a job. We spoke to many employees, and all were delighted to share information.

Breakfast in Wildflowers, a fine-dining option with nouveau takes on continental fare, was equally impressive. Bathed in the morning sun, the elegant room was charming and the service excellent. And the food was superb: a serving of prime-rib hash and fried eggs transfigured the notion of breakfast, challah-based French toast was maddeningly good (maddening because I have yet to duplicate it at home) and even the fresh fruit plate was surprising—the fruit was truly fresh!

Because every casino has a full-blown buffet, you’ll find Season’s Harvest here, but more of an array of manned stations that assures consistent quality. Other dining options include Peach Blossom, for high-end Asian cuisine, including Thai specialties; Pino Bianco, an Italian restaurant; a straight-ahead steakhouse called Forest Grill; and the Emerald, a 24-hour Denny’s-like operation. And there are delis and dessert stops—wait till you see the made-in-house pastries!—coffee shops and more.

Given my recreational preferences, there’s no gamble at all about dining and relaxing at Turning Stone, and I’m looking forward to a return to Rodizio once my appetite recovers.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

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@ 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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