PHOTO: B.A. Nilsson
year in review 2006
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
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.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
the new year with New World Home Cooking Company’s
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 email@example.com).
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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..