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Beekman Street Bistro

PHOTO: B.A. Nilsson

The year in review 2006

 By B.A. Nilsson

It started in February when Arnold Rosenstein murmured, “Welcome home” as we entered Jack’s Oyster House, proving that this 94-year-old Albany stalwart (at 42 State St.) still sets a standard for hospitality, in a big, old-fashioned dining room redolent of Albany’s party-machine past. And it sets a standard for fine dining, exemplified by the fare crafted by certified master chef Dale Miller. It’s been honed into a meat-centric menu that reflects Albany’s ongoing fear of culinary innovation. Black Angus shoulder, filet mignon or a 14-ounce dry-aged strip steak are the centerpieces here, but Miller’s own recipe for steak Diane endures, and there are excellent seafood entrées and an excellent duck. And don’t forget an order of oysters.

Choosing the best of the past 12 months, I’ve concentrated on places fairly close to home, and leaned heavily towards white-linen establishments, where you tend to find the best ingredients and the most innovation. And it was going to be a top 10, until my last-of-the-year review turned up a winner in Lanci’s, so I stretched it to 11.

Continuing chronologically, Park 54 (54 Clifton Country Road, Clifton Park) is the latest and best brainchild of chef Michael Pietrocola, who lately welcomed chef Mark Graham to the kitchen of one of the more fabulous dining rooms in the area, a vast, airy, yet oddly intimate space where we enjoyed homemade prosciutto, sea bass wrapped in thin potato slices and served over braised fennel, brined roasted pork, and much more innovative fare. And the service, guided by Mike’s wife, Deena, has an equally classy touch.

Saratoga’s Beekman Street Bistro (62 Beekman St.), open now for a year and a half, also has proved itself with innovative fare, and chef Dan Spitz recently won the March of Dimes Iron Chef competition, up against a number of area heavy hitters. Using meat and produce from area purveyors whenever possible, Spitz presents an ever-changing menu that included, during our visit last spring, braised rabbit over soft polenta and stuffed oxtail. Located in what’s fast becoming a Saratoga arts center, the walls of the restaurant are decorated with work by area artists.

Given the chance to celebrate my 50th birthday in the best possible style, we visited the newly reopened Yono’s at the Hampton Inn and Suites (25 Chapel St., Albany). Freed from the Armory Center, Yono and Donna Purnomo have crafted an eatery that easily defines the pinnacle of luxury. The dining room couldn’t be more handsome; alongside is a more casual eatery bursting with charm. All of which finally gives Yono’s award-winning meals a proper showcase; a mixture of Indonesian (try the rijsttafel) and Continental cookery, topped by Donna’s scrumptious desserts. Their son, Dominick, supervises the floor with similar elegance. One shouldn’t wait for zero-enhanced birthdays to visit.

We paused in this expensive parade for a springtime visit to a new barbecue joint. I’m always nervous of such places, because it’s so easy to do barbecue badly, but Chico’s BBQ & Restaurant (2490 Western Ave., Guilderland) not only does it right but sees to it that the dining experience is also done right. Like so many artists of the smoker, Adrian Arceci started by catering parties; now he’s able to offer his pulled pork, baby back ribs, beef brisket and much else besides (like excellent chicken wings) in a casual, comfortable dining room at which we’ve made many a subsequent stop.

It had been a few years between visits, so when we got back to Round Lake’s Lake Ridge (35 Burlington Ave.), it was a relief to find chef Scott Ringwood still offering superb food in his out-of-the-way setting. Elegant dining rooms, knowledgeable servers, and a menu with difficult choices of familiar items creatively altered, like a sauté of cornmeal-dusted tilapia, pecan-crusted pork chop and roasted salmon served with goat cheese.

I usually avoid Saratoga in August; this year, we ended up there twice then, both times for excellent meals. Back to Beekman Street for a visit to Gotchya’s Trattoria (68 Beekman St.), on opening day of the track, no less. Chef Dominic Colose joined forces with owners Michelle Corbett and Michael Pape to craft a restaurant with a northern Italian heart, featuring creations of homemade pasta alongside a short list of entrées that includes a traditional Florentine-style steak. Make sure you sample the fettuccine Bolognese.

After a frustratingly delayed process, Chez Sophie finally opened at the Saratoga Hotel (534 Broadway, Saratoga Springs) and achieved the elegance only hinted at in its former location. Owners Paul Parker and Cheryl Clark know food and know how to present it. Chef Parker has a restless curiosity about the food he prepares, which pays off in the brilliance of the way he approached the local ingredients he collects. Even the not-so-local, as with a beautiful bouillabaisse I sampled. Subscribe to Clark’s newsletter and you’ll salivate weekly.

Advertising itself as a tapas restaurant is a little disingenuous: Vin Santo (Latham Farms, 579 Troy Schenectady Road, Latham) does offer tapas, but most of the menu is a series of smaller plates that essentially split the traditional entrée into components. Which actually makes it more economical if you’re not looking to eat so much. But how can you resist chef Chris Sisinni’s cooking? Like the ahi tuna tartare, or a ramekin of duck rillette, or seafood paella. Add to that more than 400 wines to choose from, and you might just have to settle in for a while.

Just last month we found two excellent Italian restaurants that are nothing like the red-sauce joints we grew up with. Especially in Schenectady, where Cella Bistro (2015 Rosa Road) goes against the mold by offering steak frites (grilled ribeye with French fries), duck two ways (seared breast, confit of leg) and homemade pasta, such as the pappardelle with Bolognese sauce (love that Bolognese!). Chef Michael Cella does the kitchen magic, while his wife, Julia, runs the floor, another example of how it can take a family to make a restaurant really purr.

Which is what we found at Lanci’s Ristorante (68 Putnam St., Saratoga Springs), a hard-to-get-into place with but eight tables and no reservations. The Lanci family—chef John, his wife Cathy (who divides time between desserts and the floor), as well as some of the kids, including Michael, our server—give the place a welcome-to-our-house feel, where you’ll enjoy homemade gnocchi, ossobuco Milanese, penne with grilled eggplant, or whatever is fresh and appealing, with traditional sides like polenta and risotto similarly crafted.

And so the culinary lesson of the year simmers down to this: Find the freshest ingredients. Source them locally whenever you can. Dream the possibilities inherent in those ingredients. Make those dreams come true.

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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