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PHOTO: Shannon DeCelle

Spirit of 74

 Marché

74 State St., Albany, 434-7410. Serving breakfast 7-10 Mon-Sat, lunch 11:30-2 Mon-Sat, dinner 6-10 Mon-Sat, brunch 10-2 Sunday. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: contemporary American with a French flair

Entrée price range: $19 (crispy duck confit) to $42 (grilled Edelweiss veal chop)

Ambiance: soft-lit classic

 

By Laura Leon

The monotonous drone of a ro botic voice intoning something to the effect of “The system has detected a problem; please exit the building at once . . . ” did not faze the scores of placid diners more intently focused on the food in front of them than on the possibility of impending doom. My husband nervously raised his eyebrows and looked across the table at me; we were having our first dinner at the just-opened Marché at 74 State Street, and I was really, really enjoying the combined effects of a perfectly concocted Stoli martini, a comfortable dining room, and a babysitter at home with my kids. We really should get out of here, his expression telegraphed to me. Remember the Coconut Grove. Think about the children!

Luckily, all of us were saved from having to do what we should have done when our gracious maître d’ hurried over to inform us, with a thousand apologies, that the kitchen’s security system was having an electronic glitch—a normal if embarrassing occurrence in a brand new facility—and within a few short minutes, the problem subsided. As I said, nobody seemed to mind, and that’s as much a factor of being well cared-for at this pleasing new dining room, as it is our society’s collective immunity to things like emergency storm warnings.

At the time of that visit, Marché had already had a bit of drama, as its well-known French chef Eric Masson left under cloudy circumstances just days into the foray. Scrambling to regain its early footing, the powers that be promoted Brian Molino from sous chef to top chef, and while diners and foodies still speculate as to what really happened to Masson, the food has not been a casualty.

The overall atmosphere of Marché is one of quiet gentility, with soft neutral colors and even softer lighting giving off the feel of the kind of place that, when I was little, I thought grown-ups went to. The soft neutrality carries through to the table accessories and, to an extent, the service. On an early visit, just as I was admiring the presentation of said martini, served in a classic glass on a gleaming silver plate, which itself was atop a snowy white napkin, the waiter arrived to fumblingly remove the silver plate. Generally, waiters have been loath to give an opinion on which special looks the best; perhaps this is a house rule, but I prefer a modicum of knowledge and a smidgen of opinion when I’m debating between two entrees. (On the other hand, the bartenders at the second-floor bar are more than happy to share insights or offer suggestions regarding wines.)

The menu opens with a fresh-food manifesto, pledging among other things to use local produce whenever available, utilize organic and free-range meats as a first preference, subscribe to Seafood Watch guidelines, and be socially and environmentally responsible in the purchasing and preparation of all products. This is a welcome trend, indeed, but, what exactly is local? On my first visit, the presence of things like octopus, Hawaiian pineapple and plantains, seemed incongruous given the frigid night outside. That said, the winter tasting menu, with items like a winter-squash bisque with gingered cranberry coulis and rosemary cream, and maple-glazed duck breast with roasted chestnuts and gratin Dauphinois, was a lovely, well-thought-out sampling of produce, tastes and textures, that was beautifully in keeping with the cold late winter/early spring of the Northeast.

Since taking over as head chef, Molino has developed more confidence. Early on, I found strange inconsistencies in several items. The yellowfin poke, an appetizer dish outfitted with cucumber carpaccio, pineapple, ginger confit and crispy plantain chips, was decidedly mild and almost mushy, with no clear definition between the meat and its tangy counterparts. A wild-mushroom tart was very good, if a tad salty, but for the fact that the pastry was hard as a rock, and veal sweetbreads were a little overcooked. Subsequent visits have seen marked improvements in each of these dishes.

One dish that didn’t need too much tweaking is the grass-fed beef carpaccio ($11), delectable strips of raw beef drizzled with a bit of truffle aioli. The first time we had this, the kitchen was a little heavy-handed in the chopped-onion accompaniment, slightly overpowering the delicate flavor of the meat. This, too, has been tempered.

Molino’s salads are plentiful arrangements of excellent quality greens—field, mixed baby, Belgium endive, etc.—accompanied by a bit of sweetness (beets, lavender-honey vinaigrette, apples) and some crunch or tang (toasted nuts, pickled shallots, blue cheese). The lunchtime salads, in particular, which include traditional favorites like Cobb and Caesar, are just the ticket to tempt a diehard carnivore into at least trying a greener repast.

Marché separates its entrees into two categories, main courses and “74 Classics.” From the former, the grilled edelweiss veal chop is a real bone-sucker, although this doesn’t seem the right place to actually do that sort of thing. Served atop a creamy risotto spiked with shiitake, toasted pine nuts and laced with a shallot marmalade and wild mushroom jus, it’s one dish that is completely wolfed down, regardless of who I’ve seen order it. My husband enjoyed the New York sirloin, prime dry-aged and served with delectable bone marrow, truffled potato “napoleon,” grilled asparagus and enriched with a caramelized shallot sauce. A dining friend rhapsodized about the sesame-seared ahi tuna, served perfectly and lightly cooked over wasabi mashed potatoes and baby bok choy and pickled ginger with a miso-soy glaze.

Molino also shows a deft hand at scallops, often featured as a special. Among the so-called classics, the crispy duck confit is a masterful rendering of the French standby, and Molino pairs it well with lentils, roasted beets, baby arugula and, for a needed shot of acidity, sherry vinaigrette. Braised lamb shank, with rosemary scented couscous, golden raisins and roasted baby vegetables, is a welcome dish on cooler nights—one wonders how, if at all, this section of the menu will change with the warmer weather upon us. Only the bouillabaisse, which I’ve tried twice, has failed to excite me. While the scallops and shrimp are good and firm, and the broth’s saffron and fennel flavorings are delicate and haunting, the bass has been overcooked and, worse, included the dark fatty part of this fish that most American diners prefer to do without.

Just about all of the mains are executed with precision, although I can’t help but think about the most recent season of Top Chef, in which contender Cliff finally got the boot because his dishes and their presentation were just a little too . . . textbook. “Hotel cooking” is how hosts Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons described it, and that phrase comes to mind here—with no pun intended, since, obviously, Marché is housed within a new boutique hotel. But for a place striving to be special, a cut above the stereotypical business travel hotel, it should cut loose a little, take a few chances. (Among those chances: How about opening on Sunday evenings, perhaps with a special, limited menu?)

An earlier incarnation of the wine list was darn near impossible to read: Its impressive listings were presented in tiny type, and I completely missed several Cabernets, the listing of which jumped from the bottom of column one to the top of column two without direction. Like so many of the dishes, the look and utility of the list has improved over time, and it’s indicative that one of the very positive things about Marché is the care being taken by its owners and Molino to get it right. Despite a few early and mostly minor missteps, Marché has shown an ability to right itself, and to put the needs and tastes of its clientele where they belong, at the forefront of the dining experience.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Schenectady Day Nursery will hold “A Little Bit of Jazz,” a food-intense benefit at Schenectady County Community College from 5:30-8 PM tonight (Thursday) with a buffet that includes a carving station, antipasto table, pasta station, tapenade, coffee and desert. The event also will feature vocalist Colleen Pratt and Friends, wine tastings and a silent auction. John and Karen Mantas, owners of Mike’s Hot Dogs on Erie Boulevard in Schenectady, will be honored. Admission is $50 per person. For an invitation, contact Joanne DeVoe at 573-0773. . . . 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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