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Critic: B. A. Nilsson

Lorenzoís

photo:Maertin Benjamin

The dining-out population can be divided into two species: Those who patronize chain restaurants, and those who do not. Those who patronize chain restaurants do so with a limited awareness of the impact on the local economy and oneís own culinary sensibility. According to my highly unscientific study, the principal motivations behind chain-restaurant fealty are laziness and fear. Chain joints plop down where the big-box stores spring up, giving the unimaginative goods seeker a sort of Stepford shopping-and-dining environment. Effort is required to discover the goods outside the garden path, and a spirit of adventure to depabulumize the palate. We want wheat loaves, not white bread; brioche, not biscuits.

So hereís a bakerís dozen of the best of the places I visited during the past 12 months. They run the gamut of pricing and cuisine; theyíre near, theyíre far. Youíre covered.

Only a couple of weeks ago I shared my impressions of Avenue A (289 New Scotland Ave., Albany), a new, casual eatery with an anything-but-casual menu. Different cuisines swirl around from plate to plate, with a menu that ranges from meatloaf to Korean bulgogi. Albany traditionally is about 20 years behind food trends the hipper parts of the country enjoy; Avenue A pares the gap to 10.

Back at the beginning of the year, I visited Koto Japanese Restaurant (260 Wolf Road, Colonie), still thriving in a spot that has housed a variety of Asian eateries. Here you have high-tech meeting the old traditions, with LCD screens over the bar even as the special dinners arrive in quaint lacquer boxes. A room of teppanyaki tables provides entertainment; a subdued back room gives you peace.

A combo of Japanese and Korean fare is offered at San & Bada Sushi Bar (1800 Western Ave., Guilderland), where Eddie, the sushi master (formerly of Lathamís Ginza), plies his magic. The menu doesnít venture beyond what (seasoned) area diners would expect, but youíll find an excellent soup called gji gae, which mixes kimchi, a rich broth and pork or tofu. Teriyaki, tempuraóitís all there.

Also in Guilderland, we revisited BFS Restaurant & Catering (1736 Western Ave.), where chef-owner Shaw Rabadi continues to offer excellent Med iterranean dishes along with a continental menu that features some of the best heart-healthy and vegetarian dishes Iíve tasted. But itís the falafel, those deep-fried chickpea patties, that I canít resist.

Which is one of the reasons I also revisited the Hidden Cafť (180 Delaware Ave., Delmar). Still tucked into its corner of Delaware Plaza, the place has transformed in obvious and subtle ways, dressing up inside even as the menu has gone beyond its core of Middle Eastern dishes to include chef-owner Joseph Solimanís inspired versions of continental classics as well as his excellent original dishes. Itís worth visiting for the marinade on the lamb kebab alone, but Iíve never had a less-than-excellent dish there.

artisan

photo:Shannon DeCelle

Maybe this Middle Eastern cookery is a local trend. I devoted a piece early in the month to three such places in Troy. Ali Baba (2243 15th St.) is a long-lived stalwart where Turkish fare reigns (including some wonderful pizza variations) and the durum wrapped kebab (akin to a gyro) is the areaís best. And donít forget the puffy loaves of lavash with garlic sauce. Marmora Cafť (203 River St.) is a breakfast-lunch place that features the cooking of Moheb Habib, whose Egyptian-inspired specialties are served alongside classic deli sandwiches and amazing soups. Donít forget a slice of baklava. And Iíve been back a few times since to Al-Baraki (184 River St.), where Paul Chedrawee produces specialties from his native Lebanon; get the sampler plate and youíll be hooked; try the garlic spread and youíll go out of your mind.

Head nearby to Latham for the best taste of India in the area: itís at Karavalli (9B Johnson Road), where youíll be able to sample items from more of the countryís provinces than is typical. Such as dosai, a paper-thin lentil and rice confection served with aromatic dipping sauces and a side of dal, and chemmeen pappas, from Kerala, flavoring shrimp with coconut, chili and coriander. The staff couldnít be more gracious.

Schenectady hosted yet another Italian restaurant, but this one, Lorenzoís (1733 Van Vranken Ave.), raises the bar. Danny DeLorenzo takes a gourmet approach to northern Italian fare, and you can tell by his creamy polenta and crispy chicken alla forno that he knows what heís doing.

Meanwhile, the Bearís Steakhouse (Route 7, Duanesburg) approaches 40 years in business, relentlessly turning out the best steaks in the Capital Region in the most accommodating house hosted by the nicest family on the remotest stretch of road you can imagine.

Saratogaís restaurant scene is relentlessly aswirl, with enough changes in store for 2006 to keep us very busy. A couple of recent arrivals proved impressive: Tiznow (84 Henry St.), named for a racehorse, galloped through its first summer with ease. Owner John Costanzo has recreated the feel of his favorite Manhattan bistros, while the menu reflects an upscale, French-Asian influence.

The Artisan opened a few blocks down Caroline Street from Broadway, mixing fine dining with an artistic sensibility (note the changing displays). Start with something like the fried eggplant Napoleon and enjoy the way the house-smoked tomato sauce infiltrates the component veggies and cheese; go on to the Chilean sea bass because of the caramelized fennel and leek that comes with it.

Our farther-flung favorites included New World Home Cooking Co. (1411 Route 212, Saugerties), where chef-owner Ric Orlando continues to defy convention and coax amazingly wonderful flavors from the freshest ingredients, and Rodizio at Turning Stone (5218 Patrick Road, Verona), where you can seek respite from the slots and roulette at the Brazilian-inspired churrascaria. Itís gimmicky as all get-out, but the food is terrific, including an excellent salad bar of exotic side dishes and an endless procession of grilled meats. Itís worth a gamble.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Schenectady recently celebrated the grand opening of Villa Italia Pasticceria in a beautiful new building at 226 Broadway. It signals the rebirth of an institution that served the city for 40 years from its former space in Rotterdam. The Mallozzi family (which also runs their namesake restaurant in Rotterdam) is positioning itself to be part of the rebirth of downtown Schenectady itself, characterized by the expansion of Proctorís and the expected arrival of several new shops and restaurants. The new Villa Italia totals 7,200 square feet, five-sixths of which is given over to the commercial bakery, producing breads, pastries, fancy cakes and much more; the retail shop also features sandwiches and homemade gelato. And the display cases, true to the familyís roots, were imported from Italy. . . . 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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