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PHOTO: B.A. Nilsson

A Healthy Bounty

 

By B.A. Nilsson

September signifies harvest season, which is the time to think again about the 100-Mile Diet Challenge. Eating locally is about fueling your body with the freshest possible ingredients, but it’s also much more: It’s a way of rebelling against the corporate control of farming; it conserves that tremendous amount of energy wasted on food transportation; and it offers the probability that your food hasn’t been genetically debilitated.

The Mohawk Valley is an especially bounteous area, offering not only plenty of produce but also a wealth of small farms that specialize in conscientious meat production. The menu at Church and Main in Canajoharie makes a point of listing those purveyors. Free Bird Farm and Hand’s Honey are from the western Montgomery County neighborhood; somewhat farther afield are Highland Farms in Red Hook and Newport’s Sunset Hill Farm. Local co-ops also provide ingredients.

The restaurant, which opened in 2004, originally wasn’t intended to be so inclined. What happened? “I got pregnant while we were renovating the building,” says co-owner Robyn Dousharm, “and that convinced me to start learning more about the food I was eating, and the food my child would eat.” Her husband, Michael Lapi, is the restaurant’s chef, and he embraced this concept right away, developing a menu that recontextualized his culinary prowess.

The couple met while working together in a restaurant downstate in Red Hook; the return to Lapi’s native city was supposed to give Dousharm a chance to pursue a job related to her teaching degree. Then they found the empty building at Church and Main.

It’s a big, old-fashioned space, with wooden floors and high ceilings and a well-chosen array of paintings on the walls. We dined near a front window, giving the servers a skating rink-sized area to traverse from the kitchen.

If you’re using chickens, you’ll have chicken livers on hand. So there’s a risotto appetizer ($10) made with innards sourced from Free Bird Farm birds. Risotto, which we seem to be sampling week after week, is a creamy rice dish that serves as a palette upon which the colors of other ingredients are mixed. Complementing the liverish flavor were lemon and scallions, which suggest something light and summery—and which therefore made for a deceptively filling starter.

The rest of the chicken was slow-roasted into a $24 entrée that boasts a richer flavor than supermarket hen ever can achieve. Served with its own juices, accompanied by just-right sides of green beans and a salad of quinoa and purple potatoes, it was a tribute to simplicity. Assuming your simple kitchen stocks quinoa.

Free Bird Farm also is the source of salad greens, served in a salad ($8) that also boasted hard-boiled eggs. Sourced elsewhere, no doubt, is mojama, a new-to-me tuna preparation that’s salt-cured in a Spanish style. Completing the salad were fresh basil, croutons and an aioli dressing.

Living and eating close to the farm means using all possible ingredients. Sweetbreads, for instance, the thymus glands of a calf, which were offered as an $11 appetizer, were ordered out from under me by my daughter, who is determined to continue expanding her culinary horizons. Properly cleaned, lightly sautéed, sweetbreads deserve their ironic moniker. A terrific starter.

Caraquette oysters ($14) are a small salty oyster harvested in New Brunswick, the flavor of which is all about summer vacation. They were served appropriately unadorned.

Consider the ugly skate, a fish that looks like a squid with wings. Those wings, deboned and sautéed, have a scallops-like consistently and a unique flavor that makes it a delicacy, although one that’s often hard to come by. The classic preparation, with black butter ($26), was expertly done, served with a mix of mahogany rice and lentils alongside sautéed radicchio.

Part of our dining strategy was to order items we wouldn’t ordinarily consume, and so my wife chose the polenta cake ($24) because she’s so rarely satisfied by this simple cornmeal preparation. Lapi seasons it so that it’s tangy without losing the sweetness of corn, and presents it with mushrooms (chanterelles) and braised Swiss chard, two of Susan’s favorites—and the real reason she ordered the dish. Until the polenta proved equally persuasive.

Those side dishes are masterworks in themselves. The pan-roasted cod ($26) came with roasted beets and pattypan squash, while the braised goat shoulder ($35) was presented with fried potatoes and leeks and caramelized baby carrots. A word about that goat meat: it suggested a hint of gaminess, but only in the good sense of being more complex than what we expect from all that chicken we consume.

Dousharm makes the desserts, and we indulged in pannacotta served with (local) honey-drizzled cantaloupe, flourless chocolate cake, blueberry bread pudding with basil sauce and, for me, homemade biscotti with a cappuccino.

Canajoharie native James Arkell made a fortune by inventing folding paper bags; his son Bartlett started Beech-Nut, and the family went on to establish the Arkell Foundation, which has funded many important area arts-related features, not least of which is the performing arts center at the local high school. Arkell money went into the city’s impressive library (now reopened after flood-damage repair) with its astonishing art collection—you’ll see paintings by Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins, Mary Cassatt and many others—and the city’s downtown is sparking its own slow revival.

So this is a city with a culturally hip core. But you don’t find it reflected much in the downtown shops. Let’s hope that Church and Main is a harbinger.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

The 74 State Hotel’s Marché restau- rant in Albany is hosting a Farmer/Beer evening at 7 PM Friday, Sept. 14, that features ingredients from Indian Ladder Farm and Flying Pigs Farm, pairing each of the courses with an appropriate beer. The seven-course tasting menu will spotlight fruit from Indian Ladder, a fourth-generation orchard in New Scotland, and pork products from heritage Tamworth and Gloucestershire breeds at Flying Pig Farms. On Oct. 5 they’ll present a five-course meal featuring wines selected by noted négociant Joseph Carr. Pricing for both events is being determined this week, and reservations are required, so call 434-7410 to get the scoop and nab a table. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail food@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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* E-mail address not required to submit your feedback, but required to be placed in running for a Van Dyck Gift Certificate.

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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