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PHOTO: B.A. Nilsson

Dramatic Effect

Tosca Grille

200 Broadway, Troy, 272-3013. Serving dinner Mon-Sat 5-10, brunch Sunday 10-3. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: top-flight creative continental

Entrée price range: $19 (gnocchi Bolognese) to $46 (beef tournedos and seafood Neapolitan)

Ambiance: trés elegant

By B.A. Nilsson

Once upon a time it was a men’s club, one of those fusty assemblies of waning testosterone that flourished in every city during an earlier era. Most of them have evanesced: Schenectady’s Mohawk Club is now the Stockade Inn, and it’s a pleasure to report that the former Troy Club, occupying a handsome corner of the Hendrick Hudson building at Monument Square, has become the Tosca Grille, the fine-dining brainchild of chef Larry Schepici.

Schepici made his culinary mark locally at such white-linen establishments as the Tavern at Sterup Square and Sargo’s; with the Tosca Grille, he was able to design the entire mise en scene, building around the theme of the eponymous heroine best known from Puccini’s opera—and the composer himself peers from one of the murals.

Music plays a key part here, from the instruments that decorate the pillars and walls to the tasteful selections—instrumental works by the likes of Mozart and Beethoven—that play throughout dinner. And it’s fitting to apply musical comparisons to the meal itself. Fine dining is a theatrical experience, and the opera stage is the theatrical pinnacle, so it’s a worthy metaphor for a superior restaurant meal.

Before we get to the overture, then, consider the hall itself. You enter into a space that welcomes you with its soft lights and a gentle susurrus of sound. A mix of dark paneling and pale walls keeps the appearance subdued and attractive. And the tables are large and comfortable.

On to the overture. A well-chosen wine list, many of its selections from Schepici’s personal collection, brings you in at about the $25 mark. Although I was dining with a vegetarian, and thus the red-meat selection would be limited, we agreed on a red—an Australian shiraz—to carry us through the meal.

The menu sits in a price range generous enough to allow the pursuit of the best ingredients and the most appropriate preparations—but, in civilian life, it’s a bit rich for the proletarian likes of me.

Although the offerings are fancy, the foundations are familiar. There’s beef, of course, which appears in three guises (pan-roasted sirloin, $34; roquefort encrusted filet mignon, $42; and a tournedos-and-seafood combo for $46). Veal, pork and lamb dishes also get inventive treatments, and there’s a full complement of fish, such as seafood bianco ($34, a stew of lobster, shrimp, mussels, scallops and more served over pasta), caramelized sea scallops ($26), salmon in a Tahitian Champagne sauce ($24) and the rarely seen Dover sole ($36), a superb fish the allure of which proved too compelling for my dining companion to resist.

“We’ll see if it arrives on the bone,” she said. “That’s the test.”

In fact, it didn’t, but that’s because the presentation far exceeded what we expected. Dover sole is a flat, ugly brute that needs minimal preparation: Rip the skin off its bottom, dredge it in flour, sauté. Decide if the customer should deal with the head and tail. At least, that’s how it was done when I was in the kitchen. Schepici not only eliminates the offal but also decoratively arranges the nacreous flesh that’s left around the garnishes, flowing over the colorfully striated vegetable pavé, a sort of Napoleon of turnips and carrots and such, and pointing to the glistening stack of bright green haricot verts. A subtle finish comes from a grapefruit sauce that carefully tops the dish.

Even a simple dish like crab cakes ($13) gets its own reimagining. As you’d expect, the crabmeat-to-breading ratio tilts generously toward the seafood—in this case, Jonah crab—but the attention grabber here really is the sauce, decorative swirls of an aïoli heated with chipotle, cooled with mango.

You won’t mistake the ingredients in the artichoke and pecorino tart ($9), a starter that serves the purpose of this course by livening the palate with a quick hit of flavor. Artichoke isn’t one of those big-flavored ingredients; vinegar is the usual complement, but Schepici opts instead to enhance the natural flavor with the similarly earthy flavor of pecorino, a sheep’s-milk cheese, nicely rounded with an olive sauce and tomato gremolata.

Although New Zealand seems to have a lock on lamb, the domestic product is typically tastier, borne out in Tosca’s American rack of lamb ($38), a full complement of chops rubbed with honey, then crusted with pistachio, porcini and herbs. Degree of doneness? Let the chef decide, I said, noting my preference for rareness—and rare it came, deliciously so.

A native of Boston, Schepici made his name at fine-dining restaurants in Massachusetts and Vermont, and, among many other awards, won a bronze medal at the international Hotelympia 2000 Salon Culinaire Master Chefs Grand Prix. Accessible and very affable, he seems almost surprised by his own success.

“This is where I want to be, and what I want to do,” he says, proudly surveying the dining room, and there’s no doubt that he’s found a superb place for his top-flight talents.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Chameleon on the Lake (251 Stafford Bridge Road, Saratoga Springs) is hosting its third annual “Married with Singles” pre-Valentine’s Day party at 8 PM on Feb. 9. Married couples are invited to bring their single friends, and new friendships are, of course, encouraged. With belly dancers and a tarot card reader on hand, how can you miss? Stations of the restaurant’s signature food will be provided, along with entertainment by the band Groove Syndicate—all for $30 per person. Reservations are required, so call 581-3928 or visit www.cha meleononthelake.com. . . . What better way to celebrate your special someone than with a wine-tasting event paired with aphrodisiac foods? That’s the theme of the Feb. 5 dinner at Parisi’s Steakhouse (11 N. Broadway, Schenectady), with a five-course meal and an international selection of wines. Oysters, of course, with a sparkler, as well as braised lobster, espresso-cured beef tenderloin and a finale of a chocolate ménage a trois. Reservations are required. The dinner starts at 7 PM and costs $55 plus tax and tip; for more info, call 374-0100. . . . Ready for a trip into hell? Ric Orlando, chef-owner of the New World Home Cooking Co. in Saugerties, announces the first-ever Hell Night at 6:30 PM on Feb. 2. It’s a hot-luck wine dinner in which each course is hotter than the last, with added hot sauce available if your eyeballs aren’t perspiring yet. And the wines are presented in reverse order, with the biggest reds to start and sweet whites to ease the pain at the end of it all. Courses include smoked duck and sausage gumbo, lamb vindaloo and Trinidad oxtails from hell with a red hot habanero mash; to finish, hottest of all, a dessert of passion fruit-habanero jiggle. Dinner is $49 per person plus tax and tip; reserve seats by calling (845) 246-0900. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail food at 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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