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B.A. Nilsson

Artfully off the Track

By B.A. Nilsson

Opening day at the track! The day when Saratoga’s population swells even as the locals bail. Probably the worst possible day to form an objective opinion about a new restaurant. Yet it was the only day I had available, so with a hangdog expression, my notepad hidden from view, I slunk into Gotchya’s with the hope of enjoying at least a fair-to-middling meal.

“Actually, it’s slower tonight than it was last night,” one of the servers noted. “We’ve been incredibly busy up to now.”

Which is impressive considering that the restaurant only opened in March. But it’s in the city’s up-and-coming artists’ neighborhood, surrounded by galleries and adjacent to another fine restaurant, the Beekman Street Bistro.

I’d given myself half an hour to find parking and walk to Gotchya’s. We were lucky enough to find parking on the crowded street within a block of the place, and so presented ourselves at the door in case our early arrival might facilitate seating. “It’s no problem if you don’t mind sitting outside,” said the hostess. “We have a nice patio in back.”

My daughter considers an al fresco table the zenith of fine dining, so we sat at one of a half-dozen wooden tables in a nicely landscaped enclosure in back. The sun was setting; the air was cool. That elusive sense of well-being already began to settle in. And there was the prospect of fresh pasta ahead.

Gotchya’s initially opened as a coffeehouse and bar. Not far down the street, Dominic Colose was operating the Yawning Duck, selling fresh pasta and hosting an occasional dinner. Gotchya’s owners Michelle Corbett and Michael Pape convinced Colose—who has been chef at such restaurants as Café Capriccio and Chameleon on the Lake—to join forces.

Even then, the plan was to retail the pasta products by day, but the workload of running a popular kitchen overwhelmed that idea. So you’ll have to do as we did, and order the fettuccine Bolognese (or any of a number of other pasta dishes) to enjoy that unmistakable texture.

Then imagine yourself back to the golden era of Saratoga’s history, when Monty Woolley prowled the streets and stopped here when it was DeRossi’s Italian Restaurant. Although it probably was barely noticeable over the speakeasy trade, DeRossi’s got the city’s first post-Prohibition liquor license. It was the first to offer outdoor dining. And you might have rubbed shoulders with Rita Hayworth (nice shoulders to rub) or Jimmy Durante, not to mention any of the gangsters whose portraits adorn the indoor walls.

After DeRossi’s 72-year run, the building deteriorated. When Corbett and Pape bought it three years ago, they saw beyond the nightmare of renovation to a rebirth of fine dining. And they’ve succeeded.

Colose has proven, with the many menus he has presented over the years, that he doesn’t have to overadorn his food to make it special. His menu here exemplifies that. Northern Italian at heart, it starts you with salad or seafood, offers a bounty of pasta creations and finishes off with a brief list of varied entrées. You’ve got your steak (a Florentine-style strip, $24), you’ve got your chicken parm ($16) and there’s a meatless eggplant with five cheeses served over fettuccine ($15).

We wanted to dive in a little deeper. So we ordered a plate of antipasto ($8) while we studied the menu for a while longer. There’s a wine list on the back, so I also asked for a glass of Orvieto Classico to help stoke the Italian mood.

Which the antipasto helped. Some of the best cappiccola I’ve tasted—spicy and not too lean—along with spears of grilled squash, roasted red pepper slices, artichoke hearts, olives, grape tomatoes and a couple of terrific cheeses, one a soft gorgonzola, the other a provolone-like sheep’s cheese.

The fettuccine Bolognese was a given. It’s available in a half or full portion ($10/$15), and we ordered the latter to ensure leftovers. As a prelude, Susan ordered a house salad ($4), simple and fresh, romaine lettuce garnished with red onions and grape tomatoes, dressed with sea salt, lemon juice and excellent olive oil.

My daughter, ever more fond of seafood, dug into a plate of steamed littlenecks ($10) with gusto, noting that they not only had a wonderful flavor, enhanced with a buttery white wine broth, but they also were cleaner than some she’s encountered recently.

Mussels were similarly delicious, a set of the tender Prince Edward Island variety, but here mixed with lemon zest as a flavoring for an appetizer portion of risotto.

Calves’ liver ($16) is always an appealing option, but I spotted porcetta, a Tuscan-style pork roast ($18), and was more than pleased with the combination of simply prepared meat—lots of garlic and rosemary accompanies it into the oven—and a tangy homemade sausage link. Fingerling potatoes and grilled squash were the appropriate sides.

Keeping on the seafood theme, Lily ordered roasted whole trout ($18), and received it, at her request, sans head, a move she regretted when actually confronted with the rest of the carcass. Don’t ask me to explain. Lemon and thyme are the dominant seasonings, but you don’t need much with a fish like this, which bursts with its own flavor when carefully cooked.

By the time we’d finished what we could, we hardly wanted to leave, and thus prolonged our stay with some lovely desserts, including a blueberry tart with a killer crust and a dish of peaches in a chilled sabayon sauce. It was a superb meal with a surprisingly low price, and we look forward to returning—once the city empties again.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Don’t 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 (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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