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photo: Shannon DeCelle

Lucky Sevens
By B.A. Nilsson

The Olde Shaker Inn

1171 Troy Schenectady Road (Route 7), Latham, 783-6460, www.theoldeshakerinn.com. Serving lunch Mon-Fri 11:30-3, dinner Mon-Thu 5-9:30, Fri-Sat 5-10, Sun 4-9. Sunday brunch 10-2. AE, D, DC, MC, V.

Cuisine: continental

Entrée price range: $15 (sweet potato pork) to $20 (filet mignon)

Ambiance: elegant farmhouse

It wasn’t that I last reviewed the place almost exactly seven years ago that unnerved me. It was discovering that the time before that—the first time I reviewed it—was almost exactly seven years earlier.

The Olde Shaker Inn opened in the summer of 1991, a partnership between Tom Wallace and chef Jim Westervelt. The menu, unusual for the time, featured exotic ingredients and bold flavors, and proved to be just what area cognoscenti were seeking. When Westervelt died, two years later, Wallace determined to keep the restaurant going in a style consistent with his partner’s vision.

This year, Westervelt’s oldest son, Christopher, has joined the kitchen, beginning his journey to chefdom with prep work. “So we get a sense of things coming full circle,” says Wallace, adding, “even though I tried to talk him out of it.”

Succumbing to our septennial urge, we visited recently and were pleased (surprised, relieved) to discover that the Olde Shaker soldiers on, delivering food and service every bit as good as we remember it. And Wallace has adhered to a from-the-start policy of keeping the entrée prices under $20, “although I’m afraid we’re not going to be able to keep that tenderloin at that price much longer,” he says, citing a host of rising costs against which he’s been fighting.

The restaurant, a much-renovated old house, offers a number of dining rooms, including an enclosed porch. We sat in what might have been the house’s living room and enjoyed the attention of Reneé, a server who was with the restaurant when it opened, took time off to raise some kids, and now (with the kids more self-sufficient) is back.

“But that’s the case with a lot of the people who work here,” says Wallace. “We have staff turnover, sure, but at least half of the employees have been here for 10 years or longer.” Both staff and regular customers enjoy a sense of being part of a family, and have a great deal of say in what stays on and goes from the menu.

With about two dozen entrées to tempt you, the choice is both simple and difficult. You’ll find something you like; the challenge is to force yourself to narrow your scope. Seafood items include pan-seared scallops ($18) and citrus-crusted salmon filet ($18), as well as several preparations of sole.

My wife uncharacteristically chose sole nori ($19), which cooks a generous portion of fish in a crinkly dark seaweed wrapper: what you see on your sushi, but on a grander scale. With that scale comes a more pronounced flavor, accentuated by cooking, and it proved intimidating. “Not one of my favorites, either,” commented Wallace, “and it’s coming off the menu. The funny thing is that it worked as a special. But I’ve seen it happen before—it goes on the menu and all of a sudden it’s not so special.” (Interestingly, it endured more successfully as a leftover than usually happens with fish. I peeled off the wrapper and steamed some heat back into it.)

In the beef department, there are cuts of sirloin and tenderloin, and a nightly offering of prime rib. Although the pastry-wrapped Wellington preparation is traditionally associated with tenderloin of beef, here it’s offered with chicken ($17), which also gets the saltimbocca treatment ($17) if you so desire.

Duck is a favorite poultry item, and we sampled a roasted duck special ($22) that presented a wonderfully crispy mélange of leg and breast, served over a not-too-sweet cranberry relish that highlighted the bird’s flavor.

A few pork and veal items round out the menu, which also includes an $18 vegetarian platter. The slices of veal roulade ($18) sported colorful peppers rolled inside the cutlet, tender and nicely sauced, complemented by cream-rich mashed potatoes.

All of the plate presentations were simple yet handsome, with crisp, tasty sides of seasonal vegetables to finish them. And more than half of each entrée came home with us because of a full complement of appetizers, bread and salad to start the meal.

The starters, in the $4-$8 range, are irresistible, with sautéed chicken livers, Asian-crusted crabcakes and Thai blackened scallops among them. A martini glass of duck-filled fried wontons ($11) was spectacular, with a sweet-spicy relish to complement the pastries. Sweet potato corn fritters are the top seller, and it’s easy to understand why. With roasted corn filling out the filling and a dipping sauce that mixes roasted peppers and honey, you’ve got an all-points embrace of the palate here. The only drawback is you’ll feel compelled to share it.

The kitchen is run as a team effort, but one of the chefs is an old friend—Greg Pomakoy—who worked as a sous chef in the restaurant’s early days. No doubt he’s helping maintain the admirable consistency of the place.

There’s no better testament to the Olde Shaker Inn’s enduring quality than the fact that it fills its tables on midweek nights. Fourteen years ago it was avant-garde; it has since settled into a reliable rhythm of good service and food that keeps it a worthy area favorite.

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 Proctor’s 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 family’s 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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