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photo:Shannon DeCelle

Forty Something
By B.A. Nilsson

The Barnsider

480 Sand Creek Road, Colonie, 869-2448. Serving dinner Mon-Thu 4-10, Fri-Sat 4-10:30, Sun 4-9. AE, D, DC, MC, V.

Cuisine: steakhouse classic

Entrée price range: $18.50 (chicken teriyaki) to $32 (lobster casserole)

Ambiance: classic steakhouse

 

Sure, it seems like the Barnsider always has been there, but the fact that the place has been going strong for more than 40 years still seems somehow shocking. Forty years? A steakhouse?

That’s probably one of the keys to its success. It offers, and always has offered, a menu that’s compelling in its reliability. In a market that is notoriously averse to culinary innovation, the Barnsider is more conservative still. Steaks, seafood, salad bar.

Another key: terrific service. It’s easy to argue that steaks are steaks, so there needs to be an extra touch to keep the customers coming back. The Barnsider does it nicely.

When I last wrote about the place, in 1994, I complained that the filet mignon was a pricey $19. Today it’s $23. And pricing on the rest of the menu is consistent with what you’ll find in other area steakhouses; in fact, compared to some of the better ones, the Barnsider is a bargain.

And there’s a secret bargain it offers: A birthday boy or girl gets a 50-percent discount on that special day. You can even have the birthday kid serenaded, something we witnessed a few times during our visits.

It’s not a place that crackles with ambiance. More than likely, you’ll be seated, as we were, in the cavernous main dining room—yet it doesn’t feel like so many people are splayed around you. I studied the room to figure out the secret, but I haven’t cracked the mystery. It could be the large tables and very comfortable chairs; certainly the high ceiling helps diffuse surrounding chatter.

Unless you’re in a party of five or more, reservations aren’t available. Early on a weeknight we were seated immediately; a weekend visit necessitated a brief wait. Once you’re seated, however, the show begins. You’re taken in hand.

“Our servers work in teams of three,” says general manager Michelle Hughes, who has served in several different capacities at the place for many years. “It’s a system that we’ve used here since the beginning, and it works very well for us.”

The beginning, by the way, was at Colonie Center for the restaurant’s first 20 years. It moved—around the time of its only change of ownership—to the former Victoria Station on Sand Creek Road, not too far from its former location.

Hughes explained that all of the food is prepared in house; furthermore, the steaks are dry-aged on the premises for at least three weeks, after which they’re broken down and trimmed in the Barnsider’s own butcher shop.

Such attention shows. “It’s as good a steak as I’ve ever tasted,” said Gary, an actor. He was commenting on the meat that makes up the steak au poivre ($24), a cut of sirloin cooked exactly to his specification. The au poivre part, however, was far less peppery than we expected: Typically, the meat has cracked peppercorns pounded into its surface; here, it’s a light dusting of pepper.

I checked my old review after the fact and found myself complaining of the same thing, so both the restaurant and I remain consistent, and it’s clearly a house style that is popular with the customers. The sauce, which is thick and suitably rich, also contains nothing too peppery for your parents.

Other steaks range from top sirloin ($19) to a 28-oz. sirloin for two ($38), with cuts of tenderloin and even a teriyaki sirloin ($20) among them. I sampled the New York sirloin ($27 for a 23-ounce cut) during one visit and found it an excellent cut, conservatively cooked—but I like to smear the steaks I grill with wasabi butter.

Seafood dishes include baked stuffed shrimp ($20), tomato basil salmon ($20), baked haddock ($19), crab-stuffed scrod ($22) and more; in the chicken realm, there’s a teriyaki-seasoned pound of breast ($18.50) and the item that overwhelmed my wife: chicken Florentine ($19.50).

Two breasts are stuffed with spinach and cheese, then wrapped in puff pastry before baking. It looked so good and was browned so nicely that she was convinced it came from elsewhere, already prepared, but Hughes assured me otherwise.

I also sampled the rack of lamb ($25), which gets a crunch from a coating of herbs and is served in its juice with a hint of mint. Excellent—even a little too much—for a lamb lover like me.

Unnecessarily, I started with a special appetizer of escargot ($10), cooked and served in little pastry jackets surrounded by garlic butter. The snails were tender; the combo was good.

But there’s a robust salad bar that awaits with every entrée order! It doesn’t go too crazy with auxiliary salads, but the basics are there, and they’re fresh, and there are a few loaves of bread for you to slice and a Matterhorn of cheddar from which to extract slices. You’ll easily fill up on this stuff, which explains the number of take-home containers we saw.

It’s easy to forget that this reliable gem of an eatery is tucked to one side of Wolf Road, but it’s worth a visit when your appetite is stoked and you want to avoid the chain restaurants that otherwise throng the area. Here’s a sound reminder that it’s possible to be local and better.

Port Authority
By Taylor Eason

Sweet but oh-so-strong, port wine is not to be taken lightly

Nothing evokes social pa nache like serving a good port wine. A carefully chosen port can get you laid, secure a raise, or impress the in-laws. Since it’s a mystery to so many, it always makes an impact, more than scotch, more than liqueurs like Amaretto or Bailey’s, and definitely more than regular wine. And, although this high-alcohol treat is an acquired taste, it’s acquired quickly. The robust, syrupy, dried-fruit sweetness is made for sipping after dinner or for a late-night snort. You sip because two glasses can render you a stumbling, slurring mess—it’s 17 percent to 22 percent alcohol (regular wine is 11 percent to 14 percent). But beyond that, sipping it is just the right thing to do.

Port wine (or porto in Portuguese) developed out of necessity in the 17th century. Back then, as today, Britain was one of Portugal’s biggest wine customers. After realizing that a summer’s hot boat ride up the Atlantic was ruining the red wine, Portuguese producers began adding brandy to stabilize it. The addition of neutral spirits stopped fermentation and left the natural sugar unfermented, so a sweeter, higher-alcohol wine remained.

Amid several styles, there are five main varieties of red port (a white version exists but is difficult to find). Ruby port tastes fruity, light and young, and is the most unrefined. Its fruit-forward sweetness and alcohol aroma can overwhelm the uninitiated, so it’s safer to start with a velvety, mellow tawny port.

Both tawny and ruby are blends from several years, so they’re not tagged with a vintage, but some tawnies carry a 10-, 20-, 30- or 40-year designation, indicating the average amount of time the wine spent in an oak barrel. Recently released 10-year tawnies have been excellent deals, so don’t feel pressured to shell out the extra bucks for the 20- or 40-year tastes. Australia also makes some delicious and affordable tawny ports, like the caramel-tinged Benjamin Port ($10).

Vintage port, on the other hand, is produced from a single harvest year. Rich, full of fruit flavor and aromatic, vintage port garners attention from aficionados who rave about it (including this one). Winemakers declare vintages when the harvest is particularly notable, but be aware that younger ones can taste a bit astringent and harsh. Some of the best port houses, albeit expensive, are Warre, Taylor, Cockburn (pronounced “CO-burn”), Osbourne, Sandeman, Fonseca, Dow and Graham.

The fourth variety of port is late- bottled vintage (LBV), produced from a vintage-declared crop, but aged twice as long in oak barrels. And the fifth type, “vintage character,” “special” or “reserve” port, is a blend of high-quality ruby ports from several different vintages. These often taste smoother than most rubies.

Because of the added distilled spirit, once opened, ports keep up to year if they are kept in a cool, dry area with an airtight cork. They will lose some of their freshness after a few months, but no worries.

Recommended Wines

Galway Pipe Tawny Port (Australia). Sweet = 7. $30. Tastes like walnuts and macadamia nuts sauteed in creamy butter, then drizzled with sweet, opulent caramel. Has a beautiful, never-ending, prune-tinged finish. Simply gorgeous and worth like $90.

2002 Quinta de Roriz Vintage Port (Portugal). SW = 5. $52. Smells like fresh raspberries, and tastes like a fruity Shiraz that has been reduced to a rich, silky syrup. Decadent, luscious and fun.

Cockburn 1998 Late Bottled Vintage Port (Portugal). SW = 6. $20. Aroma of almonds steeped in rose water, with the sip giving dark roasted or grilled berries. Finish of intense caramel and raisins.

Graham 10-Year Tawny Port (Portugal). SW = 7. $30. Like ripe black cherries soaked in brown sugar, butter and maple syrup. After some time in the glass, it offers a pecan praline flavor that lasts for minutes.

Cockburn Fine Ruby (Portugal). SW = 5. $15. It starts with big alcoholic chocolate and a dark cherry blast, but the fun disappointingly ends long before it hits the tummy.

corkscrew@creativeloafing.com

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Chef/owner Damon Baehrel of The Basement Bistro in Earlton (Greene County) will prepare and host his restaurant’s final Winter Wine Tasting Luncheon of the season. He will pair three of his favorite Hudson Valley wines with courses served in his popular “Chef’s Tasting Menu” format. The luncheon takes place at 1:30 PM on Feb. 26, and the cost is $54 per person plus tax and gratuity. Reservations are required; call 269-1009. For more info, visit www.sagecrestcatering.com. . . . Provence (Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany) presents its Regional Wine Spectacular 2006, during which the restaurant offers a 25-percent discount on region-specific bottles of wine on Sundays and Mondays. During February, Old World Wines are the feature, specifically Italian, French and Spanish vintages; the March feature is Australian, New Zealand and South African wine. Call the restaurant at 689-7777, or visit www.provence-restaurant.net for more information. . . . Learn the basics of making pasta from chef Dominic Colose at his Saratoga pasta emporium, The Yawning Duck (51 Ash St.) from 7 to 9 PM on Feb. 16. The class covers making, rolling and cutting pasta dough, as well as a guide to filled and flavored pasta, and cooking tips. The class is $45 plus tax per person. Feel free to bring your own equipment (rolling pins, pasta machine, etc.). The second class, “The Fundamentals of Italian Sauce Making,” is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 23. Call 584-0929 for information and reservations. . . . 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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