54 Philip St. (at Madison Avenue), Albany, 462-2190. Serving
Sun-Thu 11-9:30, Fri 11-7. Closed Saturday! MC, V.
price range: $4 (burger and fries) to $10.50 (two seven-ounce
small and unassuming
dissonance is a term not usually applied to food service,
yet I’ve just come across the most compelling example of the
concept I’ve ever heard. Francisco Vazquez, who opened La
Familia 10 months ago, has spent 17 years cooking for the
Fresno’s chain. Seventeen years dishing ersatz Tex-Mex fare,
which he now alternates with the cuisine of his native Oaxaca,
one of the southern states of Mexico. Comparing the foodstuffs
is like comparing Diego Rivera to Thomas Kinkade, the latter
being a pale, populist imitation of painting.
Yet the menu at La Familia couldn’t be more unassuming. It’s
intended to please any and all, with a page apiece of Mexican
and Gringo fare. “North of the Border Favorites” gives you
some burgers, with or without cheese ($4-$5.50), a couple
of sirloin dishes ($10.50 each) and, in what strikes me as
a swipe at the Americanization of Mexican food (why else would
they be categorized on this page?), a quesadilla grande ($8.50)
and a trio of burrito wraps ($5.75 with chicken to $7.50 with
Although my dining companions and I avoided this side of the
menu, I remain curious to see how these items are prepared.
Because what we sampled from the Mexican list was so tasty,
I’m suspecting an equally deft spin will be put on the anything
that’s served here.
First: the location. It’s at the corner of Madison Avenue
and Philip Street in Albany, a few blocks up from Lombardo’s
and north of the Mansion Hill Inn. Parking is catch as catch
can, although I managed to grab spots on the street each of
the two times I stopped by.
The building itself is a simple storefront with a scattering
of tables within. And it really is a family place. If Vazquez
isn’t there to take care of you, his son Alberto Perez or
daughter-in-law Magdalene Perez may take care of you. Or all
three will be there, and I heard references to even more of
Informality is the order of the day. You’re greeted as a friend,
seated (if a seat is available) as you might be at a friend’s
dining room table.
I was persuaded away from an American soda by the availability
of Jarritos juice sodas, from Mexico, of which grapefruit
is my favorite flavor ($1.25). I have yet to try the agua
de Horchata ($1.50), which includes fruit and crushed
almonds, and the agua de Jamaica, described as an “iced
sorell tea drink.”
They’ll start you off with a basket of tortilla chips (fried
in-house) and a spicy homemade salsa that packs a comforting
kick. We also had a quesadilla to start, which are $2 each
(or three for $5). Although I was most interested in the filling
of mashed potatoes and chorizo, this combo was unavailable,
so I went with Oaxaca cheese (which has the consistency of
stiff mozzarella) and sprigs of epazote, otherwise
used in tea. The tortillas on which this is placed are themselves
homemade, so we’re even further away from what passes for
quesadillas in the outside world. Me being me, I drizzled
salsa on the aggregation, but it was perfectly delicious even
without the savory addition, and certainly says what this
dish can be.
That commentary, so to speak, increased as the entrées arrived.
A chimichanga ($9.50) proved to be a generous-sized flour
tortilla wrapped, as expected, around chopped beef, with salsa
verde and Oaxaca cheese. It resembles that which you may
know as a chimichanga, but it reveals a more complex flavor,
aided in its own subtle way by the cheese, and a slightly
higher kick of heat. This also informs the rice accompanying
the dish, and there’s a serving of refried beans as well.
Heat also characterized the chicken à la Mexicana ($9.50),
which proved to be the comeuppance of my wife, who believes
that a chicken dish is the safest option on any menu. This
entrée, which also can be ordered with steak, begins with
a grilled slab of chicken breast that then hits the sauté
pan with onions, peppers, and jalapeño slices, and it is the
last-named that got to her.
Why this is so baffles me. I tasted the dish. It was terrific.
The chicken itself didn’t declare any particularly strong
or distinctive flavor, but wrapped as it was in the flavorful
vegetables, it had a nice swirl of flavors around it. And
the heat level, while pronounced, wasn’t oppressive. She says
I don’t notice it anymore. I say she’s growing wimpier. Thanks
to this column, I get the last word.
But let this be the last word: Oaxaca is famous for its moles
(moh-lays), a sauce that balances the strength of chile
peppers with the bitterness of chocolate. I asked Alberto
what best would showcase a mole, and he suggested the
enchiladas rojas ($8.50).
The enchiladas peek from beneath a generous coating of rich,
aromatic sauce, almost burying the chicken-filled fried tortillas,
and the sauce—along with onions and cheese—makes the dish.
The accompanying wedge of beef (chicken also is available)
is almost superfluous. And this is the dish, above all the
others, that will persuade me back to the place.
You’ll find tacos and tamales and tostadas as well, but the
food here merits exploration and you’ll be ably assisted in
your pursuit. As the restaurant’s name suggests, it’s all
in the family.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
Pietrocola, a chef
with an impressive list of credits—he valiantly
battled the curse of Schenectady’s State Street
to run his eponymous restaurant there, and helmed
the kitchen at the Clare before that—is back in
business at a nice address. He has just opened
the Park 54 at 54 Clifton Country Road,
a building that has housed a few different eateries,
beginning with the Conservatory Grill. The menu
sports innovative New American cuisine, with such
entrées as potato-wrapped sea bass, lemon-glazed
chicken with roasted garlic and a monkfish and
mussels combo, and there are 35 wines by glass
and more than 80 bottles to choose from. 688-1548.
. . . Albany’s Barefoot Gypsy Bistro, which
had served creative fare in comfy, eclectic surroundings
and was well-loved among residents of the Delaware
Avenue neighborhood surrounding it, has closed
its doors. We’ll miss the desserts, especially.
. . . 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..