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Tropical Troy
By B.A. Nilsson

First Choice Caribbean Cuisine

451 Fulton St., Troy, 272-4544. Serving lunch Mon-Fri 11:30-2, dinner Mon-Sat 11-9. MC, V.

Cuisine: Jamaican inspired

Entrée price range: $7.50 (tripe and beans) to $15 (snapper)

Ambiance: beachside joint

First of all, the lunch buffet is one of the best values in town. For $5.50 you get a choice of jerk or curried chicken, or a robust chicken stew, peas and rice, steamed cabbage, fried plantain and a vegetarian dish like ital stew (mixed vegetables cooked with plantains in coconut milk). The buffet runs from 11:30 to 2:30.

The dining room is casual, with a dozen or so tables and booths in the cheerful space, its ambiance livened by reggae and the many images of Bob Marley on the walls.

We get along with others much better when we dine at their tables. This isn’t simply true of otherness characterized by ethnic or geographical differences: I dine often with known conservatives and thus maintain close friendships with them.

When seeking to understand other countries, nothing bridges cultural and philosophical gaps like good cuisine. We all enjoy what’s satisfying and delicious, and shared food engenders shared trust. So why is it that college students tend to be the best gustatory ambassadors? Is there a hidden food mandate in the American Dream, something on the order of: Graduate, Get a Job, Settle Down, Henceforth Eat Only Hamburgers and Pizza?

In the three years that Ricardo Brown has been running First Choice Caribbean in downtown Troy, he’s noticed that business slows a little during the summer when the students go home.

Nevertheless, there was business afoot during my couple of recent visits, including some customers clearly unfamiliar with the cuisine but willing to take a chance on the affordable buffet. Brown was happy to help, pointing out what was what and explaining how it was made.

He’s a native of Jamaica who has a hand both in the kitchen and in running the floor, and who likes to keep that personal touch part of the restaurant’s identity. “We make our own jerk seasoning,” he says, referring to the pungent blend that combines the heat of Scotch bonnet peppers with the sweetness of nutmeg and allspice.

It’s a seasoning—and cooking style—thought to have originated with the Cormantees, the runaway slaves of the islands, in conjunction with an Arawak Indian method of preparing pork. And pork was, at first, the favorite meat for this process, first bathed in the seasoned marinade, then cooked in an earthen pit. Now it’s a recipe applied with equal success to chicken and other meat, and the chicken at First Choice sports an excellent mix of flavors that adds just enough fire to keep it lively without searing your lips.

The chicken curry, on the other hand, leans in the milder direction, although there’s no lack of flavor complexity. My young daughter, whose spicy food tolerance threshold is growing ever more accommodating, named both dishes as favorites (and would dine here daily, given the chance).

You can get chicken wings here ($5.75), or a cheeseburger ($3.50) or even a plate of fish and chips ($6). But why bother? For $9 you can enjoy a jerk chicken dinner, which comes with peas and rice and a salad. (Keep in mind that “peas” is a term for beans, “red peas” for kidney beans.)

A variety of beef cuts are on the menu, including pepper steak ($11), stew beef ($8.50), roast beef ($12) and some variety cuts like tripe and beans ($7.50) and oxtail ($10). I’m quoting the full dinner prices, by the way; most of these items are available without salad and a side for a dollar or two less, and those that make it to the lunch menu are less expensive still.

Traditional jerk pork is available at both lunch ($5.50) and dinner ($8.50). I made a point of trying the curried goat ($5.50/$9) because it’s a meat I haven’t enjoyed in a while and I was pleased to be reminded of its inherent sweetness, a nice compliment to the complicated spice mixture surrounding it.

Don’t forget the seafood offerings: Your generic fish dinner is $12; if you make it snapper, you’ll pay $15. Curried shrimp is $11.

Another signature dish is callaloo ($9), a thick soup based on the large, heart-shaped leaves of the dasheen plant, which also has a tuber that can go into a mix that also includes carrots, onions, salted beef and a bunch of okra, all of it cooked in coconut milk.

Obviously, one of the benefits of a meal here besides the good food is that sense of dining in an exotic locale. True, there aren’t any palm trees or ocean-scented breezes to enhance your tropical experience, but I can guarantee that you’ll be a little disoriented when you open the door at your dinner’s end and find that it’s only downtown Troy staring you in the face.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Microbrewed beer is back at the Van Dyck (237 Union St., Schenectady), with 60 kegs of ale already in the fermenters and another 20 being brewed this week. The first batches, now on tap, are an unfiltered pale ale and a full-bodied brown, with a blond ale to follow next week. A porter, amber and wheat beer will be on tap in the weeks to come. Troy’s Michael Beauchea is the Van Dyck’s brewer, and the brewery itself is the only true German brew house in the Capital Region, with the precise temperature control necessary for the production of pilsner-style beer. Brewery tours will be available, as well as beer tasting for private and corporate groups. The Van Dyck is open 4-11 Tuesday-Thursday and 4-midnight Friday-Saturday; for more info, call the restaurant at 381-1111. . . . Also in Schenectady, the Farmer’s Market continues until the end of October, with local farmers selling their wares Tuesdays at St. Luke’s Church at 1216 State St. and Thursdays at City Hall on the corner of Franklin and Jay streets. You’ll find everything from vegetables to flowers to handcrafted candles, and there’s even a chair massage available. . . . 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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* E-mail address not required to submit your feedback, but required to be placed in running for a Van Dyck Gift Certificate.

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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