things sound too noble to be for real. Take the Century House’s
“enjoy one/share one” program, which donates a meal to a regional
food bank for every meal you purchase at the restaurant. Since
its implementation in June, the program has been extremely
successful, traveling to a different area food bank each month,
where the restaurant’s managing partner, Colin DeMers, is
among those serving the meals.
I spoke with DeMers about the program, trying to tease out
of him some ulterior motive that would explain such altruism.
“I wanted to find a way to give back to the community,” he
explained. “Sure, it’s a way of calling attention to the Century
House, but it’s also something I believe is my responsibility
to do.” The usual promotion benefits the customer’s pocketbook
and/or palate. This one assuages your guilt. Is there a payoff
Yes, as a matter of fact, and this is the province of chef
Michael Niccoli, who has crafted a menu that adds delightful
gourmet touches to a list of traditional (meaning non-scary)
items. In other words, the nervous traveler, accustomed to
chain-restaurant sameness, should be as happy with the dinner
here as the more adventurous diner who enjoys seeing, say,
The Century House is a 60-year-old hotel and restaurant complex
that’s been owned by the same family since it opened. Recent
renovations have rendered the dining room especially attractive,
celebrating the building’s Federal-era roots. There’s a comfortable
tavern feel about the combination of plank floors, exposed
brick and antique tables, accented by a fireplace and comfortable
The lunch menu offers salads ($5 to $12, depending on the
meat you add), a large list of sandwiches at $9 apiece, burgers
($10) and such entrées as fish and chips ($11) and a five-ounce
Something of the same sensibility informs the tavern menu,
where again you find burgers along with salads ($7), pizzas
($10) and steak ($18), among other items. But we explored
the dinner fare, drawing from a three-page menu of well-chosen
I watched as appetizers went to a nearby party of eight, a
procession of cocktail-sauced martini glasses rim-lined with
shrimp, the least imaginative of starters ever offered. This
drove me to try the gnocchi ($8), which delivers a one-two
punch of sin by being fried in butter and served atop a gorgonzola
cream. It was a dramatic departure ablaze with flavor.
Signature soups include a three-onion brew ($6) and lobster
chowder ($9), the latter a longtime favorite that remained
as appealing as ever, thick and crowded with sweet chunks
Even the salads, with some austerity potential, are rich:
Buttered walnuts liven the arugula salad ($7), with added
blue cheese and an apple-walnut vinaigrette, while the iceberg-based
chopped salad ($7) sports crisped pancetta and purple beets.
Other starters include bacon-wrapped shrimp brochette ($11),
crab cakes with peppadew aioli ($15) and grilled eggplant
The entrée list starts humbly enough with a turkey pot pie
($19) that I’m sure is anything but ordinary, and includes
roasted Cornish game hen ($23), hanger steak ($23), braised
short ribs ($22), and a number of seafood dishes, including
pan-seared sea bass ($24), a Cape Cod pot of lobster, scallops,
shrimp, clams and whitefish over pasta ($38), and the lighthouse
shore dinner ($35) that gives you broiled lobster, pan-seared
scallops and crab-stuffed shrimp.
Much as I wished to explore some manner of fish, when told
that one of the evening’s specials was veal osso buco, I felt
I had no choice but to sample what turned out to be a superb
preparation of slow-cooked shanks, richly dressed with crisped
onions and served with a needed marrow fork. It was served
atop a rich risotto, making it almost its own appetizer and
dessert. But I did get to sample the potato-wrapped cod ($25),
which puts the fish in a nicely textured jacket of Yukon gold
potato strings, served on a rich clam-based cream sauce and
surrounded by littleneck clams.
Chef Niccoli has a different take on chicken piccata ($20).
Traditionally a sautée of thin meat slices, his presents a
whole roasted breast in lemon-caper sauce. “We get such a
good chicken,” says Niccoli, “that I wanted the meat to speak
for itself.” It did so, loud and clear, quite nicely. Alongside
were broccoli and rice. Another locally obtained product is
duck, and it’s celebrated with an accompaniment of blackberry
duck jus in a $21 dish that presents sliced breast crusted
with peppercorns, served with field greens.
We enjoyed the excellent attention of longtime waiter Gordon,
who exemplifies the elegance good service demands.
For a sweet finish, we sampled a baked Alaska (single but
still-large portion, flamed in the kitchen) and a superb chocolate
mousse. Then we were asked to sign the “enjoy one/share one”
book, giving us a glimpse of comments from other diners, and
it felt good to know that our excess would benefit someone
in far more need of food than I am.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
is just the prelude to All Saints’ Day and All
Souls’ Day, celebrated in Mexico as El Dia
de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead—an
upbeat holiday in which departed loved ones are
expected to visit their still-quick relatives,
who honor the dead with an altar and special offerings.
El Loco Mexican Café (465 Madison Ave.,
Albany) holds its fourth annual observance of
the Day of the Dead with a traditional celebration
from 4:40 to 9:30 PM on Sunday (Nov. 1). The altar
will be decorated with sugar skulls, flowers,
candles, and pictures and other mementos of the
departed. Guests are invited to bring photos or
other objects meant to honor their deceased loved
ones (pets included); also honored will be those
in the public eye who passed away in the last
year. And there’s a culinary incentive: All who
bring something to share at the altar will receive
a complimentary piece of pumpkin-pecan cheesecake.
More info: 436-1855. Web site: ellocomexicancafe.com.
. . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.