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PHOTO CREDIT: B.A. Nilsson

Good for You

Moon & River Café

115 S. Ferry St., Schenectady, 382-1938. Serving daily 9 AM-11 PM. Cash only.

Cuisine: mostly vegetarian

Entrée price range: $5 (vegan veggie wrap) to $8 (many items, e.g. soy chicken molé)

Ambiance: groovy (in a true ’60s sense)

By B.A. Nilsson

Shortly after we arrived, a spirited discussion broke out at the counter about personal philosophy, reminding me that it’s been a dog’s age since I’ve heard any self-definition beyond “I’m a Mets a fan” or “Yeah, I’m a Democrat. Wanna make something of it?”

This discussion soon veered toward food, a natural segue both because of the good food served at Moon & River and because there’s something ’60s-enough about the vibe here that it should inspire one to recall that “you are what you eat.”

Moon & River Café opened three years ago at what was long ago a shabby deli on Front Street in Schenectady’s charming Stockade area. It’s been refurbished to a fare-thee-well and appointed with living-room-like furnishings that should remind some customers of a place called Mother Earth’s Café that once thrived in Albany.

That’s because they’re the same furnishings. “I put them in storage when I closed Mother Earth’s,” says Richard Genest, “and now they’ve found a new home.” This means that you can sit at tables, at a counter, in an armchair; you can play board games, read the paper. You can observe, as we did, the darkening skies of a summer thunderstorm while nursing a good beverage—my own cup of tea was appropriately soothing, but my daughter’s cup of creamy, aromatic chocolatl ($2, styled as “Aztec hot cocoa with sweet spices”) seemed more appropriate to the changing weather.

Genest’s restaurants have been distinguished not only by their sociable natures, recalling the coffeehouses of the days of Addison and Steele (long before Starbucks plasticized the concept), but also by the vegetarian fare he offers. “I ran the Half Moon Café in the ’80s,” he recalls, “and Mother Earth in the ’90s. I’ve been doing this for over 30 years, and I’m still doing it because this is my life.”

It’s a long room that seems narrow thanks to that length. Several tables fill the front, near the windows that look out on Front Street. Keep heading back and you pass a counter with a few stools and a deli case filled with fresh fruit and veggies, cheeses and desserts, behind which the cooking occurs.

A few shelves sport packaged food items for sale, including good-for-you snacks and a line of Indian items. The walls are littered with an array of flyers and posters that give the place a clubhouse feel.

PHOTO CREDIT: B.A. Nilsson

Don’t think in traditional restaurant terms when you get here. You can fashion an appetizer-entrée meal with what’s offered, but it’s more tapas-like in its cornucopia of smaller plates, none of which costs more than $8. And Genest has even sneaked in a few real-meat dishes this time, although I saw no reason to bother with them what with all the less-available fare that’s offered.

Beverages include good coffee, smoothies, shakes, a java flip with ice cream, coffee beverages, soy-milk drinks, juices, ades, Italian sodas. The pot of tea I enjoyed ($3.50) was enough for four cups.

While awaiting my storm-delayed wife, I munched on a plate of veggies—fresh zucchini, carrots and broccoli—with hummus ($3.50). I noticed that bagels are offered with a tapenade spread, and, being a great fan of the chopped-olive compote, I asked for a plate of tapenade and chips. No problem!

Sandwiches hot ($7) and cold ($6) dominate one page of the menu, with tofu, hummus, tempeh and cheese the dominant components. You can get a Reuben with tempeh, smoked tofu or real turkey. You can get a soy-beef burger on a bagel or bun.

Bagels also provide the foundation for pizza bagel melts ($7.50), which can be dolled up with pesto or salsa or much, much more.

At the heart of the meatless entrées are patties of wheat and soy fashioned, in many cases, to resemble meatstuffs. So you find a version of chicken tenders ($6.50), which may be the best thing ever to happen to the whole revolting chicken-tenders concept.

Vegan spare-ribs and vegetables ($6.50) was an instant choice for my daughter, who already is familiar with these pseudo-meats and loves the idea of replicating ribs with them. Although the alien look of them puts me in mind of the entrées cooked up by Randy Quaid in the movie Parents, you can’t deny their tastiness.

Ersatz chicken served with real pierogies ($8) was Susan’s dinner, and arrived on two plates, giving the pierogies their own little platter to keep the accompanying horseradish sauce confined. As she later described it, it was a satisfying dish that didn’t leave her with that logy, I’ve-just-eaten-too-much feeling thereafter.

Genest recently added many Mexican items to the menu, a good fit for vegetarian cooking. Although tempted by the Big Enchilada ($8), which gives you beans, potatoes, cheese, enchilada sauce and more, I’m a sucker for molé, the not-sweet Mexican chocolate sauce. Tacos molé ($7) puts it with a bean-and-cheese bed.

But Genest had stepped out for a moment when my order hit the kitchen, and his assistant, Kateri, confessed that the menu was so new she’d yet to cook this item. We discussed the molé concept and she decided simply to have a go at it—an approach absolutely appropriate to this place, and which fazed me not at all. Although Genest was back by the time she finished the dish, I enjoyed the idea of this fresh surge of creativity.

By the time we left, Genest was introducing a movie he was about to screen, a documentary about Cuba’s solution to its food crisis (a solution we’d do well to emulate). This is the kind of place where social change occurs, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to accompany such planning with a tasty, healthful meal.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Table scraps: Bastille Day approaches, and there’s nowhere better to celebrate than at Nicole’s Bistro (Quackenbush House, Clinton Avenue and Broadway, Albany). Chef Daniel E. Smith and owner Nicole Plisson present a menu of French classics on Sat., July 14, with choices including vichyssoise, escargot a l’ancienne, grenouilles Provençale, gigot d’agneau and mousse au chocolat—and much more, along with an evening of jazz and international cabaret songs with Sonny & Perley. Dinner is $50, not including tax and tip, and you can reserve seats by calling the restaurant at 465-1111. . . . Tomorrow (Friday) night is Hell Night at New World Home Cooking Co. (Route 212, Saugerties), with a wine pairing to set off the hottest of spicy fare. Actually, most of the food is only moderately spiced, but you’re given the tools to wreak havoc upon your palate—and the wine to cool it down. Start with a Cambodian chili duck salad and an Australian shiraz, then try the Mexican five-chile streaked fondue with shrimp and mushrooms alongside the St. Chapelle Sparkling Riesling from Idaho. There’s much more, including a triple-chile sundae for dessert. Six courses for $60; the event starts at 7 PM. Call (845) 246-0900 for info and reservations. . . . 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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