Plaza, 2050 Western Ave., Guilderland, 608-5410. Serving lunch
11-3 Mon-Fri, noon-3 Sat, dinner 4:30-9 Mon-Sat. AE, D, MC,
price range: $16 (vegetarian jambalaya) to $24 (tuna
of the area’s most creative chefs have combined their talents
to produce an unlikely restaurant. It’s in an unlikely spot,
boasts an unlikely array of entrées, and is unusually inexpensive.
Joseph Soliman opened the Hidden Café in 2002, evolving, over
time, a small Mediterranean menu into a more ambitiously Continental
array maintained by that restaurant’s current owner. And Un-Hui
Filomeno created a menu at Avenue A that showcased Korean
fare in a fusion-minded setting.
Although a synthesis of the two would seem unlikely, had you
described it as a possibility, they’ve put something together
in this intimate, friendly space that plays with 15 to 20
entrées a night, enhancing the favorites with unusual twists
(shiitake lamb, for example [$20], in which the roasted, marinated
meat is topped with a shiraz and shallot sauce with mushrooms),
presenting straightforward classics—chicken Valdostana ($18),
with prosciutto and fontina—and delving into Filomeno’s realm
with items like beef bulgokee ($19), about which there’s
The restaurant opened quietly in October. Soliman learned
of the available space (it was Aromi d’Italia for several
years) and, while putting together a plan to build on his
Hidden Café approach, learned that Filomeno was available
and could add a unique culinary personality. “I just want
to serve good food,” he says. “Food that people are familiar
with. She has her following, and I know I have my own.”
His approach was evident in one of the evening’s specials
when my family and I visited recently. Grilled lamb top round
($19) takes a neglected cut of my favorite meat and turns
it into an ovine London broil, its good flavor complemented
by a sweet glaze of balsamic vinegar and served atop roasted
scallions and tomato slices. The accompanying couscous was
similarly sweet thanks to the currants and golden raisins
Another special, yaki man do, is an $8 appetizer of
homemade (of course) dumplings filled with ground chicken
and napa cabbage, the flavors gentle but still pungent, enhance-able,
if you think it necessary, with a sauce of soy and ginger.
And that’s where we were on Filomino’s turf, enjoying the
subtle flavors and more intricate texture of an item that’s
been blanded-down by mass production. Among the other Avenue
A favorites that have migrated here are chap chae ($19),
a sauté of beef tenderloin strips and sweet potato noodles,
mushrooms and carrots, dressed with scallions and sesame seeds;
five-cheese lobster mac and cheese ($23, or swap chicken for
lobster for $19), which was my all-time favorite at the other
restaurant but that I didn’t order this time only because
there was tuna Un-Hui ($24) to revisit as well.
There was a time when I felt tuna-ed out. I’d supplanted what
seemed a constant stream of salmon with what I believed was
a more ecologically sound alternative, but even as I learned
the complicated details of making such a choice, I felt that
I’d enjoyed a sufficiency. As Un-Hui’s preparation reminded
me, there’s room for more. The fish is rolled in sesame seeds.
As with a good New York bagel, little else shows through.
The outside of the meat is seared; the inside is sushily pink.
The flavor: Ah, there’s a lot going on upon the tuna’s surface,
more than soy and sesame, although both are prominent. It
must be the way that fish hits the skillet. It’s served upon
small pillars of sesame rice and a thumb of wasabi squats
alongside an intimate array of sautéed vegetable strips.
I asked Filomeno about her cooking style. “I want people to
be happy,” she said. “I like to see them smile.”
Among the nine appetizers are Soliman’s trademark hummus ($7),
Korean shrimp and vegetable pancakes ($9) and veggie tempura
($7). I sampled one that’s new to me: Mediterranean feta salad
($7), which puts a scoop of a tomato-olive- scallion mix livened
with a generous helping of crumbled feta alongside wedges
of warm pita. It’s similar to the tapenade ($7), which expands
the classic olives-capers-anchovies compote into a more dense
creation with eggplant, sun-dried tomatoes and a good presence
of garlic—again, served with warm pita.
Caldo verde ($4) is a standout among the soup offerings, by
virtue of doing little more than following a traditional recipe
that combines puréed potatoes with chopped kale and spicy
Portuguese chorizo. It’s not too thick, thus a good appetizer
consistency, and the flavor blend is mouth-filling. Chorizo
also figured into a stuffed pork chop entrée ($20), a special
of the day, with lots of tender meat around what’s otherwise
a familiar mix of bread and celery. The sausage not only takes
it to a more fascinating place but also well complements the
pork. Mashed Korean sweet potatoes and a mixed- vegetable
julienne complete the plate.
The abovementioned beef bulgokee starts with tenderloin
strips, hit with soy and sesame oil, along with garlic, scallions
and sesame seeds. It’s presented alongside a plate of lettuce
leaves in which you wrap small sandwiches of the beef mixture,
topping it with house-made gochujang, a hot, sweet
chili paste. And there was a serving of excellent kimchi,
the traditional Korean side-dish of fermented vegetables,
with cabbage a dominant item.
The restaurant mixes booths and tables, with counter space
in front and a large display of gelato inherited from its
previous life. It has been redecorated for a more dignified
appearance, but it remains roomy and comfortable. The staff
is young and enthusiastic, and we always felt well-looked-after
during the meal. Even if this place weren’t so economical
it would be a bargain, and I suspect we’ll soon be fighting
the regulars to find seats.
Bistro, Star Plaza, 2050 Western Ave., Guilderland, 608-5410,
sagebistroguilderland.com. Owner Joseph Soliman and chef Un-Hui
Filomeno combine their talents into a menu of economically
priced Mediterranean, Korean and Continental fare. Serving
lunch 11-3 Mon-Fri, noon-3 Sat, dinner 4:30-9 Mon-Sat. AE,
D, MC, V.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
digging in as much as you are in order to eat
well while money is scarce. So I thought I’d share
some tips and techniques, and will do so over
four weeks at the Arts Center of the Capital
Region in Troy, with a class called Cooking
for the New Economy. Make your shopping trips
more efficient and plan menus without waste. Can
I cook anywhere as well as those I criticize?
Find out and enjoy some (putatively) tasty food
over the course of four Mondays (Jan. 24-Feb.
14) from 6 to 9 PM. More info at artscenteronline.org.
. . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.