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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

On Home Turf

After returning to his local roots, Marché chef Brian Molino turns to local suppliers

By B.A. Nilsson

Career success usually results from skill larded with luck. In Brian Molino’s case, he hit the right kitchen at an opportune moment. Although a Capital Region native, as a Culinary Institute graduate, he made the logical move of heading for New York City.

Having married his high-school sweetheart, the two pursued their respective careers there with Molino achieving the enviable position of sous chef at Manhattan’s Craft, one of celebrity chef Tom Colicchio’s acclaimed eateries.

But the couple also shared a growing desire to return to their roots, and Molino lucked into a sous-chef position at Marché as the downtown Albany restaurant was getting ready to open in 2007 (the name was chosen to signify a melding of French tradition and market freshness). Barely a week after that opening, the original chef and hotel management had a quiet parting of the ways, and Molino was promoted to executive chef. “Yeah, it was unexpected,” he says, “and I took over a menu that was already in place. But we change it often enough that I’ve been able to slowly make it my own.”

Marché, the fine-dining realm of 74 State, the name-is-the-address hotel in the heart of downtown Albany, is a few steps from the venerable Jack’s Oyster House, a few blocks from stalwarts like Yono’s and Café Capriccio, and not far from legislative buildings and a million lawyers’ offices. And Marché performs the tricky dual service of offering some of the area’s best continental fare while satisfying the not-always-adventurous culinary desires of neighbors and hotel guests.

Molino pursues this balance with great confidence, a deft hand, and the support of a staff equally committed to his mission. He’s been doing it for more than three years, which is as long as the restaurant has been open, in a style heavily influenced by classic French cooking. But, as with any good chef who trained the Escoffier way, he has devised many a new direction in which to take his cuisine.

A cheerful, placid 28-year-old, Molino says his approach includes at least 25 percent experimentation, always looking to customer response for affirmation. “I try to get out on the floor whenever possible to talk to people, which is the best way to figure out what’s working.”

How does it start? “Usually, with the order guy,” Molino says with a laugh. “I pick items and get a general idea of what I’ll be working with. If I’m going to do a chicken dish, I’ll see what’s in season, what’s available, and take it from there. I get what I can locally,” he adds, and notes that he’s able to slip away most weekends to hit the area farmer’s markets.

Molino usually starts with the protein: a serving of diver scallops, for example. These are the plump ones that escape the offshore (on boat, in fact) processing that robs them of flavor, so there’s no need to overcompensate. Thus: butternut squash risotto, adding a contrasting type of creamy sweetness to a creamy, slightly salty dish.

“I have cauliflower in now,” he says, “that I’m going to build a risotto around. I’ll roast the florets, and puree the rest of the stalk to use either as more flavoring, or put it in a soup, or use it in a sauce for scallops.”

A current free-range chicken offering, observing seasonality, is served with a flageolet bean ragout that’s flavored with seasonal vegetables—any of several types of squash and root vegetable are in current rotation—and presented alongside roasted hen-of-the-wood mushrooms to reinforce the earthy flavors therein.

Molino designs his plates to feature subtle textures alongside pronounced flavors, but keeping dishes simple also is important. You won’t find tall food flecked with foam, but you may enjoy a tender sirloin short rib that leaps from the bone alongside its bed of rich and very classical Bordelaise sauce.

Does the French influence include the kind of sauces that worry health-conscious eaters? “It hasn’t been a problem, because we make sauces that have a lightness about them,” Molino says. “They’re stock-based but not fatty, and get their flavor from slow cooking. Yes, there are some sauces that we melt butter into, but those are the exception.”

Molino recently has been encouraging some of the farms he patronizes to grow items specifically for his kitchen, and the local-support angle also extends to other food and beverage businesses. There will be a dinner June 18 that pairs his food with Ommegang beer from Cooperstown; local wine and cheese also have been featured at such events.

Alongside the steaks and seafood that are staples of a hotel restaurant are items that spend much more time in the preparation phase: items like duck confit and tender short ribs. “I like to build flavors slowly,” Molino says, “and roasting and braising are great ways to do that. I don’t know if I can really say I have a signature dish, but I’ll tell you that time is my secret ingredient.”

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

The Local Pub and Restaurant, 142 Grand Ave., Saratoga Springs, 587-7256, thelocalpubandteahouse.com. Burgers, tea sandwiches, salads, and pub fare that includethe best fish and chips in the area. Serving 11:30-10:30 Mon-Thu, 11:30-11 Fri, 9:30 AM-11 PM Sat, 9:30 AM-10:30 PM Sun, brunch 9:30-3 Sat-Sun. AE, D, MC. V.

20 Railroad, 20 Railroad St., Great Barrington, Mass., (413) 528-9345. Recently reopened local favorite featuring updates on pub comfort food with Asain flourishes along with a nice selection of craft beers. Serving lunch and dinner 11:30-10 Sun-Thu, 11:30-11 Fri-Sat. AE, D, MC, V.

Provence, Stuyvesant Plaza, 1475 Western Ave., Albany, 689-7777, provence- restaurant.net. Classical French cooking with some modern twists, from bouillabaisse to steak au poivre with plenty in between. Serving lunch 11:30-3 Mon-Sat, dinner 5-9 Mon, 5-10 Tue-Thu, 5-10:30 Fri-Sat, 4:30-8:30 Sun. AE, D, MC, V.

Joe’s Pizza Place & Restaurant, 2780 Hamburg St., Schenectady, 355-7700. Forty years of made-from-scratch pizzas along with a full menu of Italian specialties and American sandwiches. Serving 11-10 Mon, Wed-Thu, 11-11 Fri-Sat, 11-10 Sun. AE, MC, V.

Chez Daisie, 183 Jay St., Schenectady, 344-7082, chezdaisie.com. Sweet and savory crêpes offered on a bargain-priced menu in a quaint serve-yourself setting within sight of Proctors Theatre. Serving lunch 11-2 Mon-Fri, 9-2 Sat; dinner 5-7:30 Mon-Sat. MC, V.

Wolff’s Biergarten, 895 Broadway, Albany, 427-2461, wolffsbier garten.com. A surprising variety of German fare in a wide-open space with hanging lights and picnic tables. Great selection of German beer. Serving 11 AM-2 AM Mon-Fri, 9 AM-2 AM Sat, 9 AM-midnight Sun. Lunch specials 11-4 daily. Brunch 9-4 Sat-Sun. Cash only (ATM on premises).

Turf Tavern, 40 Mohawk Ave., Scotia, 393-3344, turftavern.com. Scotia’s 60-year-old dining destination, offering excellent steaks and an old- fashioned attitude that includes old- fashioned prices. Serving lunch 11:30-1:30 Tue-Fri; dinner 5-9 Tue-Fri, 5-10 Sat, 11:30-8 Sun. AE, D, MC, V.



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