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PHOTO: B.A. Nilsson

Heading North and Points Beyond

 

Cella Bistro

2015 Rosa Road, Schenectady, 381-2080. Serving dinner Tue-Sat 5-9. AE, MC, V.

Cuisine: thoughtfully continental

Entrée price range: $15 (gemelli with asparagus and mushrooms) to $27 (duck two ways)

Ambiance: comfortable

 

By B.A. Nilsson

 

Cella Bistro is the newly opened successor to Perrino’s, which opened on a corner of Schenectady’s Rosa Road in 1973. But where Perrino’s was a red-sauce joint, Cella Bistro offers something more Northern Italian, if not downright gourmet. And the cuisine goes beyond that, with tapas served in the bar and entrées that show an international flair.

The menu is strategically designed to give a variety of entry points to the entrées and such. Soup and salad is $6 to $7; generous-sized appetizers plates average $9. Pasta dinners are priced in the teens, while other entrées push into the 20s.

There’s an old-fashioned-looking bar, expansive and welcoming; on the other side of a low divider are some bar tables. A nearby blackboard lists tapas items, available in that room and an excellent way to make a meal out of a drink’s visit. Past a wine rack and through a doorway is the main dining room. A practical divider holds olive oil (for bread dipping) and pepper mills, among other decorative items; the brick wall in which the doorway is framed sports an attractive array of candles.

A family birthday party was taking place in another, smaller room off to the side, virtually unobtrusive; our dinner, with a handful of other tables filling around us, was quiet and restful.

Arriving in advance of my family, I settled in with a glass of sparkling wine and learned, to my initial disappointment, that the tapas, listed in the bar area, aren’t served in the dining room. The list changes daily; when I was there, three dollars would buy some cheese samples, a Spanish tortilla, or beef braciole, among other items; for five bucks, stuffed mushrooms or a mixed seafood-sausage grill were representative items.

I wanted a $2 dish of spiced olives. “I can do that for you,” a server said, and so she did. And it was just what I needed to wake up the palate—with crisped rosemary and a dusting of seasonings adding a lively flavor.

With my fellow explorers in place, we charted a three-course meal that began with selections from the appetizers list. I like the idea of eponymous eating, so the escargot O’Sullivan ($9), named for a regular customer, caught my eye—and my olfactory sense, too, when the dish arrived, with puff pastry shells slowly moistening in a garlicky demi-glace. With white wine and leeks broadening the flavor, you could almost forget that snails are at the heart of the dish. But those squishy little monsters had a delicious vehicle for their delivery.

Spring rolls are ever-more-common menu visitors these days, but the Cella version ($6) puts artichoke hearts and goat cheese into the wrappers, a very compelling combo. Other apps include filet mignon carpaccio ($11), baby back ribs ($9) and a fried calamari ($8) that chef Michael learned on a recent trip to Italy.

Four different salads include additions of fruit, nuts and cheese in varying combinations; roasted beets, walnuts and cheese ($7) are a tasty trio found in many a recipe; in this case it’s goat cheese, with a bed of arugula.

We shared an order of pappardelle ($17)—homemade pasta, wide as lasagna, with a delicious bolognese. The sauce is as tricky as it’s traditional, a confluence of different meats finished with cream, making the journey from one flavor to the next with careful seasoning—all of which was in place here.

In the entrée realm, a classic steak frites ($26) caught my fancy. It’s a big slab of ribeye smothered in fries, but this cut is more than that: It’s more flavorful than a filet, and once it takes its trip across the grill, cooked rare, it’s a sensual experience. The potatoes are a bonus: in this case, a generous heap of hand-cut fries. What’s best is when they’re aggressively crisp, which they weren’t, and which is a sign of oil that’s not hot enough.

If there’s an inviting-sounding chicken dish available, my wife is guaranteed to order it. But even I, my palate dulled by too many at-home chicken dinners, was delighted with the roasted (under a brick) free-range half bird ($19), moist and tasty and served with a light pan gravy, with a side of savory bread pudding.

Duck confit, where the dark meat is pressed in its own fat, is a marvel—the basis of cassoulet, for instance. Cella presents it as half of the duck two ways ($27), the other way a seared breast served with a cherry-laced port sauce. Goat cheese made its third appearance in our dinner as part—a hidden part, fun to discover—of the mashed potatoes.

Chef Michael put in quality time at other area restaurants, most notably at Troy’s Allegro Café; here he’s able to flex his muscles or spread his wings, depending upon how you regard creative freedom, and craft a changing menu that honors the season with its use of fresh ingredients.

His parents, Jim and Cheryl, and his wife, Julia, also are principals in the place; Julia kept a keen eye on the commendable service even as she wrestled with computer problems during our visit. There’s nothing like a dedicated family to give a warm feeling to a restaurant, and dining at Cella Bistro has that vital but elusive sense of being at home.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Preview the new year with New World Home Cooking Companys 10th annual Champagne Dinner, which takes place at 6:30 PM on Dec. 14. Chef Ric Orlando and Michael Weiss, wine instructor at the Culinary Institute of America, join forces to present a seven-course meal paired with seven wines. Start with a clam foursome—raw littlenecks with mustard sauce, cherrystone ceviche with cilantro, razor clam spicy Asian barbecue, and Manila clam paella with peas and chorizo—and continue through a meal that includes a trio of lamb (lamb filet mignon, sweetbreads with strawberry-chipotle sauce, and crepinettes with tomato jam) and much more. It’s $79 per person, plus tax and tip, and you can reserve seats by calling (845) 246-0900. The restaurant is at 1411 Route 212, Saugerties; check out newworldhomecooking.com for more info. . . . 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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