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PHOTO CREDIT: B.A. Nilsson

No Electricity

Katie O’Byrne’s

121 Wall St., Schenectady, 395-5999, www.katieobyrnes.com. Serving Mon-Fri 11:30-10, Sat 12:30-11, Sun 12:30-9. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: pub fare with an Irish twist

Entrée price range: $6 (veggie wrap) to $13.79 (New York strip steak)

Ambiance: neighborhood pub

By B.A. Nilsson

From the deafening to the sepulchral, we experienced this restaurant at the two opposite poles of its personality. On a Friday night, when it’s party time, the place was so packed with people that food service seemed incidental. Unfortunately, on a subsequent lunchtime visit, with almost nobody in the place, food service was the same. And there’s my problem: I went seeking a restaurant. Katie O’Byrne’s is a bar with food.

Not that that’s an excuse for the food to be mediocre, but I’m guessing that after a Guinness or two some of the culinary coarseness goes away. Or perhaps it’s unimportant when toping is your mission.

Schenectady is undergoing all kinds of improvement-revival-refurbishment activity, clearly hoping that the if-you-build-it-they-will-come adage holds true. Much as I sometimes rag on the city (where I resided for a decade), I’m hopeful the promised turnaround will occur, and I laud a vision that includes an emphasis on the arts, as Proctor’s Theatre is pursuing.

Katie O’Byrne’s has a great location, in a building just off State Street, not far from the Amtrak station. The place looks very attractive inside, with large windows wrapping around the corner and a high-ceilinged pair of rooms (dining area and bar) decorated with Irish-themed gewgaws. When it was about to open, last July, advance press promised good cookery and a menu that would include such classic fare as shepherd’s pie.

Ah, but that’s a tricky dish to pull off, and, if ever it was offered, it’s gone now, along with the flatiron steak that was served for a while. You can console yourself with Irish stew, but the serving we sampled was practically inedible, with an overpowering amount of rosemary and sage—what amounted to an attack of the aromatics.

We probably should have known better than to visit on a Friday night. That’s often a party night, and Katie O’Byrne’s has established itself as a place to party. It was a loud, lubricious event, and we elbowed through the wall-to-wall bodies, folks with ties loosened, skirts askew, voices pitched to outshout the throbbing music. We pinballed our way into the dining room, most of the 14 tables filled but with room enough for another threesome, and after a long while caught a server’s eye and were seated.

That’s why I revisited on a weekday afternoon, when the only diners dining were the staff, while a single bartender seated us and took our drinks order, poured the sodas—I watched from my seat—and then stayed for a full five minutes, yakking with the sole barside occupant, before returning to our table.

During both visits our food was delivered promptly once we ordered, and servers were pleasant, if perfunctory, but I was dismayed to see my culinary bugbear, the spray bottle of solvent, wielded on table after table as the Friday customers left, misting the air with its chemical aroma. After which, the server swept all the leavings—crumbs, crud, whatever—to the floor, then shook out the fabric placemats (over the floor) and re-placed them.

I started dinner with a pint of Guinness, which was the high point of the meal. Soup of the day was cream of broccoli ($3 or $4.49), a milky broth with not much vegetable. Spinach-and-artichoke dip ($7.29) was a better bet, with hearty chunks of hearts in a creamy mix, served with a basket of tortilla chips.

Hot sandwiches, deli sandwiches and wraps are the lower-priced entrées, while a handful of over-$10 items round out the menu. That’s where we spotted corned beef and cabbage ($10.49), which is always irresistible. Except here. Thick, tough slabs of undercooked meat glared from the plate in opposition to a chunk of cabbage that seemed to be a cornucopia of odd tastes, lacking, however, much in the way of cabbage (usually so dominant a flavor!).

In a similar vein, the classic fish and chips ($12) offered little in the way of either. The fish was tough and the coating not at all flaky, suggesting something that had been fried long ago, while the fries were a mushy pile of the seasoned-shoestring variety. This is the peril of relying too heavily upon all-in-one food suppliers, whose prepackaged, precooked offerings are temptingly cheap but mediocre.

The fries were better during a lunchtime visit, when they at least achieved crispness. I had them alongside a hamburger ($8) that I bravely ordered rare. And so it—sort of—was, but a good rare burger is one that seethes with juiciness, while this one lacked any such moisture.

Winning the day was a grilled chicken Caesar wrap ($7.29 for lunch, $7.79 for dinner), which was exactly as expected, and served alongside an order of tasty sweet potato fries (50 cents extra).

Perhaps the bar business has been so fantastically successful that the food-service end of things never was completed, like the restaurant’s Web site, which sports a series of “under construction” signs. Why not finish the job? Train the kitchen and floor staff to care about what they’re serving, and thus offer the city something valuable for its rebirth of downtown.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Parisi’s Steakhouse (11 N. Broadway, Schenectady) features selections from the Finger Lakes-based Hosmer Winery during its Wine Tasting Dinner at 7 PM on Monday (March 5). The five-course dinner features five wines, beginning with a crisp pinot noir to accompany Cajun shrimp bruschetta. Ravioli Bolognese with a cabernet franc and bacon-wrapped filet mignon paired with a hearty Estate Red are among the courses. The cost is $55 plus tax and tip. For more info and reservations, call the restaurant at 374-0100, or e-mail enjoyparisi at nycap.rr.com. . . . 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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