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Upstairs, Downstairs

 

Daisy Baker’s/Bacchus

33 2nd St., Troy, 266-9200/687-0345. Daisy Baker’s: serving lunch Mon-Fri 11:30-3, dinner Mon-Thu 5-9, Sat-Sun 5-10. Bacchus: serving Tue-Thu 11-10, Fri 11-midnight, Sat 4-midnight, Sun 4-10. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: American/Italian

Entrée price range: $7 (cheese pizza) to $27 (filet mignon)

Ambiance: cathedraled/cloistered

 

By B.A. Nilsson

 

It was a surprise to me. I went to Daisy Baker’s for dinner and discovered a new restaurant downstairs, a place called Bacchus. I dined at Daisy’s but, being of a Dionysian disposition, returned to try the other place. They’re nominally two separate restaurants, but they share a building (and bathrooms), an owner and a worthy approach to food. So here’s a two-in-one review.

Back when Troy was one of the country’s most prosperous communities (you have to go back more than a century), a handsome building went up on 2nd Street to house the young women flocking in to find work. This Marcus Cummings-designed edifice went on to become a Christian Science Church, so when it turned into a restaurant in the 1970s, it was going to be monikered in sardonic tribute to the denomination’s founder, Mary Baker Eddy. “Daisy Baker’s” evolved as a compromise.

And so it functioned until 1985, when the eatery was shuttered. Another restaurant, a fine-dining venue called Allegro Café, was established in the warrens of the basement level, and enjoyed a few prosperous years; but, by the time Daisy Baker’s reopened in 2000 under new ownership, Allegro was long gone.

Now the spaces are both functioning. Owner Jim Scully has refurbished the downstairs, installed a wood-fired pizza oven, and named the operation Bacchus. Upstairs remains as it has been: a cathedral-like space with a low divider between bar and floor, and a comfortable spread of tables and banquettes.

The best place to start is barside. Arrive early, enjoy a pint, greet your date—then head for a table. I bellied up with a friend named David, with whom I shared a fruit-and-cheese plate ($9) to whet the appetite. It’s a polite mixture of cheeses firm and creamy, with grapes and apples and a few (too few) crackers.

Being barside also starts you off with more of a sense of intimacy than the dining room provides. Which leads me to my only adverse criticism of the place: The high ceiling is handsome, as are the stained-glass decorated walls, but the effect is slightly cavernous, an effect that doesn’t go away when the tables fill.

Lunch at Daisy’s centers around salads and sandwiches, all in the $7-$8 range unless you opt for something with sirloin or shrimp, with a handful of more formal entrées. Dinner stretches the entrée list to eight well- chosen preparations, distributed among beef, seafood, chicken and pasta. Chef Adam Bastidas favors a tidy, attractive plate over portion excess. Judging from the special I ordered—sea bass wrapped in prosciutto, $22—he’s also pursuing dramatic contrasts of flavor, as the combo of sweet fish and spicy ham suggested.

My dinner proper began with an order of crab cakes ($11) that were a very good example of how these ought to taste, the texture enhanced by a coating of panko, the flavor complemented by a smoky, spicy, mango-sweetened dipping sauce.

Appetizers are a commitment here, including items like shrimp tempura ($11), clams and chorizo ($10), grilled brie ($9) and more, more like tapas than starters. Which is why David opted for the lighter-fare pear salad to start—a $9 compote that also included blue cheese, walnuts and dried cherries on a bed of greens. Other salads range from a simple $6 green salad to a Mediterranean- flavored mixture top with marinated tenderloin slices ($11).

Even with lobster ravioli ($21), lemon tarragon chicken ($17) and a NY strip ($24) available, David opted for the filet mignon ($27), a disarmingly tender slice of beef enhanced in this presentation with cracked peppercorns and a mushroom-flavored demi-glace, on a bed of buttery Yukon gold mashed potatoes.

Service was prompt and attentive, and the feel of fine dining never flagged. Dining in the old Allegro, by contrast, was a trip to a Dickensian environ of crowds and cramped space. The transformation to Bacchus is remarkable (or I’ve decreased in size). Ceilings still are low, but the tables are spacious and the polished wood and discreet lighting make it very comfortable.

The menu, which serves for day and evening fare, is all about pasta and pizza, and you’ll want to try the wood-fired latter your first visit there. Chef Chris Davies offers a few suggestions, of which the simple pizza Margarita (tomatoes, garlic, basil, mozzarella, $10 for an eight-incher, $14 for 12) gives a flavorful taste of what wood-fired is all about. The combo of thin crust and very high heat makes the pie crackle, and the toppings seem that much more lively.

So go for the three-cheese pizza, or the one topped with shrimp pesto or clams casino—or put together your own with a host of familiar and exotic possibilities. Even the sauce can be replaced or enhanced, with alternatives like pesto or roasted garlic Alfredo in the wings.

Pasta possibilities, priced from $12 to $16, include a mix of blackened chicken and Italian sausage (Rome’s Inferno), penne with broccoli rabe, roasted shrimp and feta cheese over linguini and more—including my favorite, the Hercules, which combines prosciutto, ham and Italian sausage with roasted red peppers over farfalle.

As is true upstairs, the service here, under the able guidance of Daryl Burchfield, was casual, brisk and friendly, and Bacchus is not only an appealing destination but also bids fair to become a popular hangout for my Troy-based friends.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Several salubrious and timely events are scheduled this week at the Honest Weight Food Co-Op’s Community Room (484 Central Ave., Albany). “Living Gluten Free” is the subject of a workshop with Amy Pagano from 1 to 3 PM Saturday (March 8); the store’s plant buyer, Gayle Anderson, discusses “Starting Seeds” from noon to 2 PM Sunday (March 9); and “Eat Good Fats” will be the topic from 6 to 7 PM Wednesday (March 12). For more info, call the Co-Op at 482-2667. . . . Enjoy a Southern Italian dinner and wine tasting at Saratoga Rose Inn and Restaurant (4136 Rockwell St., Hadley) at 7 PM Saturday, March 15, an event featuring five courses paired with five wines and commentary by Janine Stowell of Opici Wine Co. Chef-owner Richard Ferrugio will be preparing leek and pancetta frittata, Sicilian pesto with mint and almonds, braised rabbit agrodolce and much more. Dinner is $70 per person, plus tax and tip, and seating is limited. Call 696-2861 for reservations. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (food at banilsson.com).



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