in Chain Country
By B.A. Nilsson
54 Clifton Country Road, Clifton Park, 688-1548. Serving dinner
Tue-Sun from 4:30. AE, D, MC, V.
price range: $16 (steamed salmon) to $34 (grilled veal
If this were a movie, we’d begin with a close up of an entrée
plate, wisps of steam rising from the artfully arranged fish
and vegetables, the camera following the plate as it travels,
in a server’s hand, from kitchen to dining room. As the camera
pulls back, we can see the high, dark walls of a restaurant
dining room, large windows giving a view of the lighted malls
and manses of Clifton Park.
The green and orange of asparagus spears and carrot slices
gives vibrance to the image, radiant against the white of
the plate. We now see some of the customers, looking handsome
at their windowside tables, pale yellow window drapes adding
swaths of color behind them. Conversation is murmured, punctuated
by shotgun blasts of laughter from the bar, the nervous sound
of people trying to unwrap themselves from the workday.
The Gospel According to Clifton Park is, of course, work,
a religious force that persuades people to live in the soulless
developments of the town with almost no sidewalks, where they’re
surrounded by seemingly every chain store and restaurant known
to man. Since this building opened in 1997 (as the Conservatory
Grill), it has been a succession of independently owned restaurants.
Mike Pietrocola, who renamed and reopened the restaurant on
Valentine’s Day, wants to stake his own independent stand
against the chains, and couldn’t have picked a more auspicious
location. The place is not only tastefully redecorated but
also acoustically improved so that it’s no longer the echo
chamber that used to drive me and so many others crazy.
We caught them at the tail end of an early menu, a nice two-page
listing of everything you need to inspire a nicely arranged
meal. Although in real life, my family is increasingly foregoing
the appetizer-entrée route, we splurge on your behalf, and
thus it was that I confronted a plate of sliced meats—the
salumi platter ($12)—that presented three contrasting flavors.
First and best was the duck prosciutto, made by Pietrocola
himself. Duck meat is flavorful enough to stand up to many
variations, and this method of curing it brings out its richness.
Likewise, the dry-cured pork shoulder known as coppa had a
nice bite and landed differently on the tongue. And some slices
of spicy sopresatta rounded it all out, complemented by Dijon
mustard, cornichons and pickled pearl onions.
The plate shared a handful of baby greens with the diver scallops
appetizer ($10), featuring two plump, perfectly seared scallops
resting atop swirls of crimson beet-flavored vinaigrette and
a yellow pepper-based ketchup. Take the first bite solo, then
experiment with the dressings (scallops are also available
as a $22 entrée).
Butternut squash soup ($5) couldn’t be more seasonal or more
deftly seasoned, emphasizing the sweetness and the earthiness
of the meat, set off with a dollop of crème fraîche.
Crabmeat figures in a pair of appetizers: a crab cake with
chipotle aïoli ($9) and a crab tower ($12) that turns the
meat into a salad and accompanies it with cucumber and avocado.
Salad is an à la carte item, and there are two: a bibb lettuce
creation with olives ($5) and a chop salad combining greens
and celery with avocado, peppers and blue cheese crumbles
Back to that entrée we left in midair. It’s an order of sea
bass wrapped in potato ($22), and artfully wrapped it is,
the thin-sliced tuber a tasty glove, hiding sprigs of fresh
thyme and, of course, the fish itself, moist and delicious.
And it sits atop slices of braised fennel, giving the fish
a whiff of that licorice-like flavor—and leaving the fennel
itself to be enjoyed alongside the asparagus and carrots.
The plate is drizzled with a light sauce that gently suggests
its origins in a more robustly flavored red wine—a syrah,
in fact. This is characteristic of Pietrocola’s sauces. The
roasted pork ($19), a meat that’s brined before it hits the
oven, is served with its own juice, reduced and scented with
thyme, and it’s fascinating in its lightness, making it a
complement to the meat but by no means a crutch. The meat
itself is surprisingly moist and tender, set off by apple
slices roasted alongside. As if that’s not enough, potatoes
au gratin and Brussels sprouts finish the dish, making an
art out of comfort food.
The menu includes a couple of steak preparations, steamed
salmon, duckling, and a clams and mussels combo. Chicken,
too: roasted garlic glazed free-range chicken ($22) that puts
a half bird in front of you and gives it a lemon-garlic glaze
and accompanying asparagus and rice (a mix of white and wild).
The new menu adds a few old favorites from Pietrocola’s earlier,
eponymous restaurant in Schenectady, items like an appetizer
of tortellini and prosciutto ($7) and such entrées as veal
with three cheeses (it comes bubbling out as you slice into
the meat, $18) and chicken and shrimp with prosciutto over
gnocchi in a Marsala cream sauce ($20). Because there’s a
generous selection of wine, both in bottles and by the glass,
the new menu suggests wine pairings as well.
Mike’s wife, Deena, runs the floor, supervising a young, enthusiastic
crew. “We’re all still learning,” she assured me when I grumped
that the person delivering our plates shouldn’t be asking
who gets what. I have confidence in her ability to get what
she needs out of her staff.
Look for the outdoor deck to open for dining, with its own
pub menu, as the weather warms; meanwhile, there’s a companionable
bar on the premises for socializing. Having this restaurant
back at the top of its game is a wonderful thing; to have
Mike Pietrocola back in the business is better still.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
month’s storm hit Saratoga hard enough to delay
work on the new home of Chez Sophie Bistro,
which now plans an April opening at the Saratoga
Hotel and Conference Center, 534 Broadway. Meanwhile,
you still have time to say goodbye to the old
steel diner as you enjoy a meal at the Route 9
location in Malta Ridge. Chef Paul Parker is trying
out some of the new menu items, and hopes to gather
the opinions of his friends before the move. The
restaurant will be open at its current location
until March 31; phone 583-3538. . . . Here’s a
deft melding of drama and food: The hit play Fully
Committed, which uproariously details the
life of a reservations clerk, will be performed
at New World Home Cooking Co. (1411 Route
212, Saugerties) at 7:30 PM each Sunday in March.
Tickets for the show are $10, and you might want
to arrive early enough to enjoy a dinner there
as well before facing the struggles a popular
restaurant has in fielding the demands of its
needy clientele (that’s the show, not New World,
which fields such demands quite well). (845) 246-0900.
. . . 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..