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PHOTO: B.A. Nilsson

Seafood at a Snail’s Pace
By B.A. Nilsson

The Real Seafood Company

195 Wolf Road, Colonie, 458-2068. Serving Mon-Thu 11-10, Fri 11-11, Sat 3-11, Sun 3-9:30. AE, D, DC, MC, V.

Cuisine: seafood and continental items

Entrée price range: $16 (fried shrimp) to $29 (stuffed filet mignon)

Ambiance: bustling

Back in 1984, before Wolf Road exploded with chain restaurants, the Real Seafood Co. established itself as one of the area’s better restaurants, and certainly the best seafood emporium. When I first visited, three years after that opening, I was impressed by the casual decor, the extensive menu, and the efficient service—efficient almost to the point of being frantic.

Such was not the case during a recent visit, when what should have been an easygoing dinner dragged on for over two hours, well beyond the length of time it should have taken. Part of the problem may have been the number of servers—I didn’t see many bodies working the floor—but most of it stems from a handicap I noted in my last review, in 1996. It’s an epidemic in local (and not-so-local) restaurants. It’s the lack of cooperative service, remanding you into the hands of one server only, whose skill—or distractions—will completely color your dining experience.

When servers work together, customer comfort increases a hundredfold. When they don’t, you, the customer, will suffer that all-too-common annoyance of seeing one server after another whisk by with nary a glance in your direction because “you’re not my table.”

During my recent Real Seafood visit, I sat not far from a party of 12, and watched as a harried server hauled a tray with several plastic-lidded entrée plates to a nearby traystand, then leave it there. For five minutes (I timed it).

My inner waiter was horrified. It’s been 30 years since I hauled a tray, but I could feel my old maître d’ breathing fire. He would have lopped off my hands.

Here, there’s no such supervision. And, as I feared, when my party’s entrées finally arrived, they, too, were lukewarm (at best). At that point, we were well past the point of complaining. We just wanted to get out of there.

Just as well, too, because the entrées were a disappointment. Not only in and of themselves, but in the context of a meal that began with a magnificent raw-bar assortment. For $10, I was treated to a platter (heavy on the ice) of two pieces each of poached shrimp and raw cherrystones and oysters.

Thirteen years ago, reporting on a pleasant visit to this restaurant, I noted my lack of enthusiasm for oysters. This has changed. Perhaps, with the vaunted link between oysters and romance, I’m growing more romantic. In any event, I found myself first coursing through the shrimp (with a dollop of horseradish-laced cocktail sauce) and the clams (with a dollop of nothing), before savoring the two little mollusks. Like a glass of good wine, they contributed mightily to that elusive sense of well-being.

Other appetizers were similarly appealing. Fried calamari ($7), a reliable standby, here is presented in a light, tempura-like batter. Stuffed mushrooms, escargot, coconut shrimp and crab cakes are among the regular-menu apps, priced from $8 to $11; specials of the week included roasted-garlic grilled scallop skewers, salmon quesadilla and a marvelous winter beet salad ($8) that filled out the plate with chunks of gorgonzola, sunflower seeds and mandarin orange slices on a bed of spinach, with a warm, spinach-friendly bacon vinaigrette.

We assumed that our appetizers took as long as they did to arrive because we still were being eased into the service stream. Not so: The pause between courses grew longer. Salads arrived at the time when we should have been finishing our entrées, and we never caught sight of our server when we weren’t actually being served. Salads, by the way, are $2 extra with the entrées, which otherwise are served with a less-interesting side of cole slaw.

And so, as I noted, by the time those entrées arrived we had grown restive. Had we the forbearance to send back the plates, we would have asked, first of all, that the items be hot. And that’s usually just a matter of timely service.

The lemon crumb cod with hotel butter ($16), one of the day’s specials, had an excellent piece of fish at its core, but those crumbs go from crisp to soggy the longer it sits. Fresh seafood doesn’t need much in the way of enhancement, a fact stressed on the restaurant’s menu and Web site (www.real seafood.com), but that shouldn’t stop you from having fun with the food.

Thus the Tandoori salmon ($19), a novel approach that gives the fish a yogurt marinade—but then puts it under a broiler, which doesn’t replicate a hot Tandoor oven. Still, the leek-curry cream served on top had a diverting, pleasing flavor. It was served atop a basmati rice cake laced with almonds and raisins, but overcooked to the point of crisping the rice.

The worst problem was with what should be a signature entrée: a shrimp-and-scallops combo ($20) that pairs crumb-coated, herb-scented baked shrimp with a handful of plump, broiled scallops. Because they were overcooked, the shrimp were palatable at best—but the scallops bore an aftertaste of baking soda, belying the restaurant’s claim that the scallops aren’t chemically treated.

We should have fussed. We should have protested. But we were exhausted, and we slunk out into the night like the cowards we’ve learned, thanks to years of mediocre service, to become. Ten years ago, the Real Seafood Company went through an impressive physical overhaul. It’s time now to do one of those overhauls with the servers and kitchen.

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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