Garlic Lover’s Corner
North Greenbush Road, North Greenbush, 283-1621. Serving lunch
Mon-Fri 11-3, dinner Mon-Sat 4:30-9. MC, V.
price range: $8 (small papardelle with Bolognese sauce)
to $17 (NY strip)
certainly a more euphonious name available, something that
would suggest Mediterranean cuisine in the unlikely venue
of a North Greenbush strip mall, but there’s no question that
this lays it on the line: You’re probably going to eat garlic.
Here’s the good part: You’re going to enjoy it.
The Garlic Lover’s Corner opened with little fanfare about
six months ago in a long, narrow space that featured a cooking
area near the front and a full kitchen out of sight in the
rear. “It was too much work, trying to use them both,” says
chef-owner Bill Assad, so he recently moved all of the cooking
into the back, taking the opportunity to spruce up the dining
room as well. It’s still a casual-looking space, but it’s
roomy and comfortable and even sports a modest-sized Mediterranean-themed
mural on a segment of one of the walls.
It’s the menu (and the food that subsequently appears) that
sets this place apart from other restaurants in its price
range, not to mention other restaurants you’d find in strip
malls. The emphasis is on a range of affordable preparations
that give Italy a nod even as they roam the Middle East.
If the Mediterranean plate, a $10 appetizer assortment, seems
familiar, then you’ve enjoyed dinner at the Hidden Café in
Delmar. Assad helped to open that restaurant a few years ago,
and the menus have much in common. As I’ve previously noted
in Hidden Café reviews, the baba ganouj is the best in the
area, the grilled eggplant at the heart of it pushing its
intense flavor to the fore.
You’ll want to make mini-sandwiches with the excellent falafel,
using the warm pita slices and accompanying tzatziki (yogurt
and cucumber) sauce. There’s also a creamy, garlicky hummus
and lots of olives to add a darker edge to the flavors.
There’s enough here to take the edge off the appetites of
a foursome, but we added an order of GLC crisps ($7), for
which I’d happily abandon my potato-chip passion. These are
a freshly fried batch to which lemon juice and crumbled feta
cheese are added. Addictive.
Sampler plate items are available separately for $5 to $7,
and you also can choose a starter of crab cakes ($8) or a
salad: the $3 house mixture, a $5 goat cheese-enhanced version
or a $5 Lebanese salad that features a generous mixture of
vegetables along with croutons and sumac seasoning.
Not surprisingly, kebabs are a specialty. Lamb, chicken or
beef gets cubed and grilled ($14 to $16), with sides of jasmine
rice and the day’s vegetables, or go for the veggies themselves
in a $14 skewer of seasonal items.
Tempting, but we were otherwise distracted. I stared longingly
at the listing for New York strip Mediterraneo ($17), that
tops the beef with tapenade, until our server mentioned a
special of tilapia topped with crabmeat and shrimp ($16).
I have no special love for any of those items, but the combination
proved to be as tasty as I anticipated, with the sweetness
of the crab and the shrimp’s crunchy earthiness pulling more
flavor resonance from the tilapia than it tends to show when
Regular-menu seafood offerings include marinated salmon with
goat cheese and tapenade ($16), mahi-mahi coated with Moroccan
chermoula (a spicy sauce with cumin and cilantro, $15), and
sauté of mussels, shrimp and chorizo ($17).
Pasta preparations are frequent specials, I’m told, but of
the two on the menu, go for that Bolognese ($8 or $15). It’s
a killer sauce, beef and lamb at its core, with subtle additions
of tomato and cream. The full portion, completed with papardelle,
provides enough for a second helping.
Stews should show off a chef’s creativity. During my antediluvian
days in the kitchen, I learned stew-making as a means of preparing
leftover ingredients with which to feed the staff, and these
concoctions, crafted with more culinary abandon than many
of the regular-menu items, often were the most interesting
food of the night.
Moroccan vegetable stew ($14) stars butternut squash and potatoes.
Karahi chicken stew ($15) adds the Indian combo spice known
as garam masala. My wife zeroed in on the lamb-and-apricot
stew ($16), which proves that the tastiest cuts of the meat
are those that require the most cooking, like lamb shanks
prepared osso buco style. In this recipe, the braised meat
is served in a rich, osso buco-like sauce that gets a magical
lift from the fruit it also contains. It’s served over orzo,
an easygoing prolonger of flavor.
Here’s a thought: Try that stew for lunch. You’ll pay $11,
get the same great stuff, and be able to sample your way around
many other menu items for a slightly lower price. Replacing
the big meat and fish entrées are sandwiches, some of them
on pita bread, some on ciabatta—and what a novel context for
the burgers they serve. (Sandwiches are $8, except for the
$10 open-faced New York strip on ciabatta.)
A wine-and-beer license is in the works, so check ahead if
you’re looking to imbibe. Service is prompt and friendly,
and Assad is often available to help you through the menu.
If you’re a Hidden Café fan and rue the fact that it’s often
very busy there, here’s your alternative. Until it gets discovered,
derided, Chardonnay deserves the respect it has earned
too long ago, I offered to bring wine to a dinner party and
asked my host if he had any requests. “ABC,” he replied: “Anything
But Chardonnay.” Ouch.
I know it’s been a decade or so, but to me it seems like only
yesterday that big, buttery, oaky American Chardonnay was
the belle of every ball. Now, like a prom queen deserted by
her fickle court, she’s the butt of snide jokes and snarky
Have you heard the one about the Mother Superior? She calls
all the nuns together and says to them: “I must tell you all
something. We have a case of gonorrhea in the convent.” “Thank
God,” says an elderly nun at the back of the room. “I’m so
tired of Chardonnay.”
Well. It’s true that the wine world has, regrettably, never
been better stocked with dime-a-dozen, knock-off Chardonnays
that sit around taking up shelf space and ruining the reputation
of a perfectly good grape. You know what I’m talking about:
those sweet, urinous yellow wines that just sit there in a
glass like a proverbial dumb blonde, no sparkle, no zest,
no life. Think poor, doomed Marilyn Monroe in her last years,
all those luscious curves turned to overripe flab.
But in the hands of an inspired winemaker, Chardonnay can
be something vastly better. How about a wine like Grace Kelly,
all classic blonde beauty, with perfect bone structure and
a little cool reserve? Or Owen Wilson, a lean California golden
boy with a bit of acid lurking behind the smile? You’ll have
to look harder and spend more to find Chardonnays like these—but
they’re worth it.
Movie-star metaphors are sort of inescapable when it comes
to California Chardonnays. In fact, the story of its discovery
as a young American wine, its triumph over Europe’s established
superstars and its subsequent transformation into an icon
of American viticulture has all the makings of a Hollywood
No surprise then, that the rise of American Chardonnay is
the subject of two forthcoming Hollywood features. Both purport
to tell the story of the famous—or infamous, depending on
your nationality—“Judgment of Paris,” when at a blind tasting
in 1976, a Chateau Montelena Chardonnay beat out some of the
most exalted French wines in the world—to the shock and dismay
of the French judges, whose chortling over wines they had
mistakenly assumed to be French proved particularly embarrassing.
(“Ah, back to France!” a French judge is reported to have
crowed, as he sipped a Napa vintage.)
Shock, which premiered a few weeks ago at the Sundance
Festival, stars Alan Rickman as Steven Spurrier, the British
wine-shop owner who organized this wine smackdown. The
Judgment of Paris, due out later this year, tells virtually
the same story and is rumored to star Hugh Grant and/or Jude
Law. Spurrier himself consulted on the second film and has
filed complaints against the first, which I’m sure has nothing
to do with the fact that he doesn’t seem too thrilled at seeing
himself played by Professor Snape.
Innocence and youth famously can’t be recaptured, but with
a little forethought, you can still taste what California
Chardonnay must have been like back in the day, when it arrived
as a gorgeous ingénue and stole the show. And you don’t have
to bankrupt yourself in the process, either.
I recently sampled several wines—not all, strictly speaking,
from California—to get a sense of how different Chardonnay
can be, depending on how it’s made.
First, I wanted to wallow in happy memories of the lush, rich,
buttery Chardonnays I fell in love with long ago. Rombauer
Vineyards 2006 Carneros ($30) had me at the first sip; it’s
a beautiful, full-bodied, creamy wine with long notes of butterscotch
and vanilla. Cybill Shepherd in a glass.
Botega Catena Zapata’s 2006 Catena Alta ($28), from Argentina’s
Mendoza region, also took me back. This is a wine made in
the cool foothills of the Andes, and it has a wonderful rich,
honeyed feeling in the mouth, with a little zingy freshness
underneath. Think of the creaminess of a ripe mango or perfect
pear and then imagine the stony freshness of a mountain stream.
Or just think of Angelina Jolie—sultry and steely and center
If you like your Chardonnay brighter and lighter—often a good
choice if you’re looking for a wine that will pair well with
food—then Laetitia’s 2006 Estate ($19), from California’s
Arroyo Grande Valley, is a tart, lemony wine, with a nutty
finish. Meg Ryan, anyone?
The best bargain of the bunch was Trevor Jones’ 2006 Virgin
Chardonnay ($17), a wine that combines something of the best
of both styles. Trevor Jones is an award-winning Australian
winemaker with a 20-year philosophy of creating Chardonnays
from “free-run juice.” His Virgin Chardonnay is intensely
floral and perfumed up front, but there’s some muscle under
all the delicious nectar, and it has a finish that just doesn’t
Of all the others, this is the one that reminded me just how
wonderful a good Chardonnay can be—warm as a summer sunset,
juicy as a ripe peach. As I took the remains of the bottle
up to bed with me, I thought happily that there’s just one
word for a wine like this: dreamboat.
Strainchamps writes for Isthmus, in Mad ison, Wis., where
this story first appeared.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
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).