End’s New Beginning
Ave., Albany, 489-8859. Serving breakfast and lunch 7:30-2
Mon-Fri, 7:30-3 Sat-Sun; dinner 5-10 Sun-Thu, 5-11 Fri-Sat.
AE, D, MC, V.
American with Southern accents
price range: $10 (café burger) to $26 (lavender-and-ale
warm and inviting
nature to resist change. This is especially true when that
change involves a longtime favorite, such as a soap opera
recast. It’s even more relevant when it comes to restaurants.
For years, Albanians have enjoyed the simple comforts of Madison’s
End Cafe, so much so that when regulars found out that the
former owner was selling, nervous antennae sprang up. Then,
the new owners—Mike Viglucci, his son Brian, and Tony Lounello—decide
to renovate, admittedly a much needed step, but still, regulars
(myself included) wondered, what will happen? Will this charming
neighborhood haunt be irreparably changed in the process?
Perhaps this sounds too dramatic for a restaurant review,
but seriously, when you think about all the times an area
institution has undergone transformation, be it in the person
of a new owner or via a new name, look and menu, there is
always that question of continuity or improvement. And the
concern often is well-founded; remember Ogdens, that marvelous
downtown landmark once known by diners for years of first-rate
food and service? In its last incarnation, it was run into
the ground with hit-or-miss food and shoddy service. Just
like in the Cheers theme song, we gravitate toward
places where we are known and liked, or at least treated that
way, so places like the former Madison’s End, which also happened
to have good food (and was a regular Metroland Best
Of winner for Best Breakfast), are so near and dear to our
culinary hearts that the apprehension felt during its transformation
to Cafe Madison can be expected, even forgiven.
of the staff of Cafe Madison are the same people who so efficiently
waited on us in the not-so-old days, which is a reassuring
presence. Stepping inside the restaurant, one can easily see
how needed the rehab was. What once was a narrow, rather blandly
decorated and quite loud room has been transformed into a
series of intimate dining areas, encompassing on two levels
cozy booths, larger tables and a full-service bar. The colors
are rustic and spicy, the lighting is soft. The front wall
now features French doors, which open, in good weather, to
allow al fresco dining, and this heightens the feeling of
openness and light. The entryway itself, which used to be
a part of a hallway and then a cramped front space where folks
in search of breakfast would queue for a table, has been opened
up in a way that make the waiting less crowded and more comfortable—a
minor point, perhaps, but this attention to detail does lend
itself pos itively to your overall experience at the restaurant.
The breakfast and lunch menu is basically the same as it was
before, with daily specials in cluding creative variations
on eggs benedict using seasonal fresh vegetables, fresh fruit
crepes or waffles, and an array of omelets. On recent morning
forays we enjoyed Italian Eggs Benedict featuring tomato and
mozzarella (it was kind of incongruous to hear the waiter
ask if we wanted Irish bacon with that). A BLT omelet was
marred only by undercooked bacon, and the Tuscan frittata
was skimpy on the roasted tomatoes, which give it a needed
acidity, but the hash and eggs was a definite spot hitter.
And the home fries—for years the leathery weak spot in the
Madison’s End breakfast—are much improved.
While the restaurant allows you to take your time mulling
over your coffee and paper, some of the service picks up on
that leisurely quality. We waited nearly 15 minutes one morning
for a server to take our drink order after the hostess forgot
to do so, perhaps because she was busy asking the diners at
every table around us whether they would like more coffee.
Another time, when the server brought us one fewer orange
juice than we had requested, he retorted that he had
in fact brought us what we’d asked for, rather than simply
go back for the extra glass. Things like this detract from
an otherwise pleasant breakfast, though admittedly, they are
not the norm at Café Madison.
What’s new here, in terms of food, is a Southern-inspired
dinner menu and carefully-thought-out wine list, both of which
position the restaurant in the fine-dining category. Executive
chef Hugh Horner’s North Carolinian roots come through in
dishes like braised short ribs—savory slow-cooked ribs that
were fall-off-the-bone tender—with Carolina collard greens
and sweet potato grits ($20); low country shrimp and grits
($18), which plays sautéed shrimp with stone-ground grits,
andouille sausage, bell peppers and onion, with a roasted
garlic pan gravy; and an appetizer of buttermilk-fried chicken
satay ($7), served with a slow-cooked honey mustard sauce.
Even more interesting is the way that Horner incorporates
local produce and ingredients into the mix, making for an
eclectic North-meets-South menu featuring a nice balance of
opposite textures and flavors. A great example is the pan-seared
Hudson Valley duck breast ($26), cooked to a tender shade
of baby pink, infused with lavender and ale, served with cauliflower
puree and sautéed Swiss chard and finished in a cognac butter
sauce. The tartness of a vegetarian main, eggplant and roasted
tomato torte ($16), is tempered by honey curry orzo. Salmon,
which when it’s good can be full of rich flavor, is given
a delightful spike when poached in lemonade, and adding to
the clean, astringent quality of such a dish, served atop
a grilled fennel and mustard seed salad and finished with
a beurre blanc sauce ($20).
Among the appetizers we tried were mussels Rockefeller ($9),
which featured Prince Edward Island mussels served with applewood
smoked bacon and wilted spinach in a surprisingly light parmesan
cream broth, and an artichoke and asiago cheese salad ($8),
which included chives and freshly grilled focaccia. Cafe Madison
also features a small tapas menu, from which we tried the
goat-cheese-stuffed figs wrapped in pancetta, a little treat
that captivates the palate with its mix of sweet and salt,
soft and crisp.
Too often, wine lists are limited, in that they offer nothing
new and exciting for you to discover, or they have too many
bottles lumped in one price range—usually one that’s just
beyond your budget, so that ordering the one wine priced considerably
lower than the rest makes you feel like you’ve got “cheapskate”
tattooed on your forehead. Cafe Madison’s list was nicely
rounded, with a number of selections available by the glass,
and featuring some off-the-beaten-track vineyards. We savored
a Joseph Carr cabernet with notes of black currant and berries
and a hint of smoke and vanilla. The wine selection was all
the more enjoyable because our waiter knowledgeably explained
the differences between this and another bottle we were contemplating.
So it’s back, and yet it’s different. In its relatively short
life, Cafe Madison has managed to retain its neighborhood
warmth while elevating its game to new heights, with a menu
stamped with personality and service that is generally friendly
and professional. Change may be hard, but it’s not necessarily
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
fight it—Bastille Day approaches, and, per tradition,
Nicole’s Bistro (Quackenbush House, Clinton
& Broadway, Albany) celebrates on July 14
with a four-course meal and entertainment. Start
with an appetizer of vichyssoise, charcuterie
or PEI mussels (among other selections); entrée
choices include roasted leg of lamb, sautéed trout
meuniere and semi-boneless roasted duckling.
Sonny & Perley provide an evening of jazz
and cabaret. The noninclusive per-person fee is
$50 (465-1111). . . . Speaking of things Gallic,
Provence Restaurant (1475 Western Ave.,
Albany) presents its first summer wine dinner
on July 19 at 7 PM. With the theme “Napoleon’s
Favorites,” the dinner will feature vintages around
the world that Napoleon Bonaparte celebrated in
his memoirs. Food, too, will be Napoleonic—meaning
multilayered. Chef Michael Cunningham thus will
be making towers of such dishes as ahi tuna Nicoise
with heirloom tomatoes, torchon of foie gras,
and sliced breast of duck with leg confit. It’s
$75 per person (689-7777). . . . Several weeks
ago, Gotchya’s Trading Co. and The Yawning Duck
Pasta Co. combined to open the restaurant Gotchya’s
Trattoria at 68 Beekman St., Saratoga Springs.
They will host a Sicilian themed Communal Dinner—a
multicourse event at one large table, featuring
roasted lamb and grilled swordfish—on July 19,
and all courses will be paired with appropriate
wines. Dinners ($75 per person) are limited to
16 and reservations are required (584-5772). .
. . 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..