By B.A. Nilsson
Lark St., Albany, 436-7008. Serving lunch Mon-Sat 11:30-4,
dinner Sun-Thu 5-10, Fri-Sat 5-10:30, brunch Sat-Sun 11-4.
AE, DC, MC, V.
price range: $17 (jerk chicken) to $23 (lamb chops)
Lark Street stalwart remains true. Itís always nerve-wracking
when a successful eatery changes hands, but I have to confess
I wasnít at all perturbed to hear that John DeJohn bought
Justinís not long ago. DeJohn already put in place his eponymous
restaurant across the street, and has proved heís hip to what
makes such a place run well.
Justinís ups the ante a little, with a long history of fine
and fascinating dining. It was the proving ground for Ric
Orlando, now chef-owner of New World Home Cooking. It flourished
after Orlandoís departure, each successive chef evolving new
menus around signature dishes like jerk chicken and ropa
So DeJohnís challenge was to facelift the place without imperiling
its well-earned appeal. He did so by targeting its weaknesses,
particularly the fading look of the place, while shoring up
its strengths, which have long flourished in the menu and
Despite some significant changes in personnel, the focusóbased
on my recent pair of visitsóremains sharp without any sense
of corporate control. Which is only to say that the staff
is as accommodating as ever, their various personalities undimmed,
while DeJohn himself is highly visible and eager to please.
That said, letís take a look at the menu. In fact, letís study
it over a platter of chips and guacamole ($6.75). California
style, the menu explains, which designates the addition of
tomatoes to the avocado-based concoction.
I like mine spicy, and spiciness is never a problem at Justinís
because youíll get a basket of four different bottles of hot
sauce, allowing you to perk up an item with jalapenos, habaneros,
or whatever the fire-source of a particular brew might be.
I found the sauces fun to taste just dabbed by themselves
on those chips.
Donít let such nibbling distract you from the warm rolls that
also will hit the table, each day with a differently seasoned
scoop of butter. A kind of maple walnut blend proved way too
tempting, and I melted bits of it over various items that
were served throughout the evening.
I try, with these visits, to be a good customer, which means
Iím there to dine and enjoy myselfóand enjoy the company Iím
with. And sometimes I get so caught up in the food-enhanced
flow of conversation that I almost forget to apply the critical
lens. Happily, Justinís didnít hand me much cause to be critical
in the pejorative sense of the term.
You neednít follow the traditional appetizer-entrťe scheme,
and the hot muggy days that recently consumed us made it impossible
to consume too much. Thatís why I was delighted to find the
salad chop chop ($7.50) which, its dubious name notwithstanding,
is a cold plate of well-chopped greens tossed with peanuts,
blue cheese, croutons and moreóall of it sized for easy forkfuls.
Another good warm-weather starter is smoked salmon ($8), which
has a dill weed-laced sour-cream sauce and some insanely rich
homemade cheese crackers. And the Caesar salad ($6.50) is
as youíd expect, with anchovies if you wish, and not, as is
too often the case, overdressedóalthough my server hurried
extra dressing to the table just in case.
The $9 scallop cakes offer a good ratio of seafood to breading,
and the lime-cilantro mayo that comes with it doesnít need
any enhancementóbut those hot sauces are always tempting.
Chicken and beef and fish are menu regulars, and Iím happy
to report that the signature Jamaican jerk chicken ($17) remains
a winner, that incredible melange of flavors giving the meat
a through-and-through kick.
Roasted half-duckling ($20), a standby on many a traditional
menu, here gets a fresh idea of sweetness with a mint-infused
orange glaze. Itís served on a bed of wild rice tricked out
with colorful grains. Other menu items include a grilled rib-eye
steak ($21), exotic mushroom ravioli ($18), Cajun peppered
shrimp ($22) and Cuban ropa vieja ($17), a spicy beef
A couple of specials we sampled included a shrimp-stuffed
flounder ($20), which was very much as expected, and flank
steak ($22), served London-broil style, with good mashed potatoes
soaking up the juices underneath.
Service was exemplary. I was under the watchful eye of the
dynamic Victoria during both visits, although the cheerful
team spirit left me never neglected.
As you no doubt recall, Justinís sits near the corner of Lark
and Madison, and its entryway takes you between a long bar
and a row of small tables, an area that fills early and remains
filled. A U-turn at the far end takes you to the dining room,
which looks more handsome than itís ever been thanks to a
recent refurbishment. Dark but muted colors on the walls with
accents of splashy artwork, a scheme carried to the tables
and the long banquette that lines each side of the room.
Toward the front: a new piano and, as is traditional, a reliable
line-up of jazz talent to provide entertainment. Although
my dinner visits took place relatively early each evening,
I had to stop by later one night to retrieve leftovers refrigerated
for me while I attended a concert. And the later-at-night
bar scene at Justinís was an eye-opener for a long-married
guy like me. Even I, who boast the sex appeal of Zero Mostel,
got checked out.
So you have plenty of reasons to visit the place anew.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
in North Adams, Mass., recently was awarded a
three-diamond rating by AAA, an honor given only
to the highest-caliber restaurants. In addition
to the new AAA rating, the restaurant was rated
4.7 out of 5 at Fodors.com and was given four
stars (out of five) on NYTimes.com in 2004. Gramercy
Bistro is a chef-owned and -operated restaurant
that serves creative American cuisine with a focus
on local, farm-fresh ingredients. The restaurant
is located across from the MASS MoCA campus at
24 Marshall St. Call (413) 663-5300 for more info.
. . . Brush off your palate for a dinner and wine-tasting
event at Parisiís Steakhouse (11 N. Broadway,
Schenectady) at 7 PM Monday (June 6). Featured
are Wine Merchantsí Picks for the Summer, with
Wine Merchants representative Joe Benny to guide
you through the selections. Itís a six-course
meal with five wines; they include blackened chicken
with parmesan risotto paired with a White Haven
(New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc; grilled summer
vegetables & chorizo with a Frei Brothers
(Russian River Valley, California) Pinot Noir;
and a Frei Brothers Merlot to highlight grilled
swordfish with beef steak tomato and peppered
vinaigrette. The event is $50 plus tax and tip,
and reservations are required. Call 374-0100.
. . . The New York State Department of Agriculture
& Marketsí Pride of New York program kicks
off a series of farm-to-table dinners tomorrow
(Friday) at Howe Caverns Restaurant in
Schoharie County, which will continue every Friday
in June and September. Menus (created by Howe
Caverns executive chef JoAnne Cloughly) will feature
Pride of New York products while members share
recipes and product samples with attendees. For
more info, call 457-3136 or visit www.prideofny.
com. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland
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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..