By B.A. Nilsson
521 Troy Schenectady
Road, Latham, 782-2326. Serving Sun-Thu 7 AM-9 PM, Fri-Sat
7 AM-10 PM. AE, MC, V.
One of our entrées was garnished with three thin asparagus
spears, but instead of losing their woody bottoms, they’d
been shorn of the tasty tops. This proved to be symbolic of
our dinner visit to the Vanilla Bean.
It actually started elsewhere. With plans to take my daughter
to a movie one recent weeknight, I included a restaurant-review
visit. We stopped at a bar and grill promising fun fare. We
seated ourselves and sat for five minutes before going in
search of menus; thereupon we sat for another 10 minutes before
giving up. “Can you actually get dinner here?” I asked the
bartender. “Oh! I forgot about you!” she said. We were the
only customers for dinner.
And so we went instead to the Vanilla Bean. It’s a pleasant-looking
building that’s very close to the Latham Circle, with a treacherously
small parking lot that doesn’t accommodate overlapping coming
and going. Thus we had to wait as an outsize car jockeyed
into a space before we could make our own approach.
The restaurant was built four years ago as an offshoot to
the very successful bakery business started by Carl and Debbie
Alberino in 1986, and is an addition to their bakery-only
space in Troy. In Latham, much of the floor space is given
over to shelves of baked goods, such as the irresistible cookies,
and wedding cake displays.
A nice array of sandwiches, salads and more dinnerlike entrées
is offered, augmented by daily specials, all accessibly priced.
As our server’s attention was dominated by a needy quartet
of white-haired gents nearby, Lily and I considered our options.
My Caesar salad ($2.75 for the small size) was as plain as
they come: romaine lettuce tossed in a thin dressing that
lacked the distinctive flavors (olive oil, anchovies, parmesan
cheese) that should characterize this salad. I hesitate to
call the small, commercially packaged croutons stale, because
stale is a good thing where croutons are concerned. They’d
gone beyond stale, I guess, and started absorbing moisture,
along with all manner of flavors found in kitchen.
Because our server was back to extensively chatting with the
adjoining foursome, she wasn’t timing the arrival of our course
components. Lily’s tomato bisque ($2.25) arrived somewhat
after my salad, and looked and tasted wonderful, except that
it was tepid. Lots of strong tomato flavor, and I think I
even detected some sun-dried tomatoes in the mix; a hint of
cream added sweetness.
We turned down the salads that come with entrées because I
already was having one and Lily won’t eat them. The menu promises
“warm rolls and flavored butter” as well, but we also didn’t
get any of that, and not by choice.
Some kitchens fire the entrées when the salads go out; I worried
that without salads, our timing might be disrupted. We still
had plenty of time before our movie would start, but we all
know how movie relativity works, speeding your watch as showtime
As it turned out, the kitchen was working on our dinners,
and I saw my pasta plate hit the holding shelf below the heat
lamps. But our server had now seated herself at the table
with the Old Fart Quartet, and was happily disclosing her
life story to their ongoing fusillade of questions.
It was like watching a car crash in slow motion. I thought
of my own years as a waiter, and could feel the point at which
I would have been yelled at. She went way beyond that, settin’
and chattin’ and giggling and such. To her small credit, a
couple of times she said, “Listen, I gotta go,” but these
geezers weren’t about to let their cute quarry get away so
easily. On rolled the questions. Back the giggly answers came.
Finally, finally, she wrenched free and picked up and served
our plates. My “sausage stuff [sic] ravioli” was supposed
to be in a mushroom cream sauce ($12), but instead swam in
butter. I’m talking Johnstown flood—the pasta was drowning.
Oyster mushrooms made a splendid accompaniment, but it had
been under the heat lamp long enough to rubberize the things.
It had taken some convincing for Lily to order the chicken
parmesan ($16), because it was grilled, not fried. Her misgivings
proved sound: The chicken breast was leathery, dressed with
the aforementioned asparagus. “Potato du jur” [sic] was a
buttery dish of roasted red-bliss quarters; shaved yellow
squash made for a pleasant vegetable.
Soon enough we had our entrée remainders wrapped. We had just
time enough to buy a container of those wonderful cookies,
which we smuggled into the movie theater and enjoyed with
Dinner for two, with tax and a wholly undeserved tip, was
the first sure bet I can pass along anent the track: The
Springwater Bistro (which is just across Union Ave. from
the racetrack in Saratoga Springs) is hosting, each Wednesday
through Sunday at 10:30 AM during the meet, a Bet ’n Breakfast
seminar that features a talk by handicapping expert John Pricci,
who’ll discuss the day’s picks and past performances. For
$24, you also get a fancy continental breakfast and free afternoon
parking at the bistro. And that breakfast includes such specialities
as chocolate croissants, salmon frittatas, fresh-baked muffins
and more. Call the bistro at 584-6440 for more info. . . .
The Springwater Bistro is one of many prestigious area restaurants
that will participate in the sixth annual Farm Fresh and
Fabulous harvest dinner sponsored by the Regional Farm
& Food Project, to be held 6-9 PM Monday, Sept. 23, at
the Canfield Casino in downtown Saratoga. Other participants
include Chez Sophie Bistro, the Wine Bar, Graham’s, Eartha’s
Kitchen, dine, the Cambridge Hotel, Lake Ridge, One Caroline
Bistro and (just above) Sargo’s. Chefs will team up with local
farmers to create dishes featuring home-grown products, and
all of the fruit, vegetables, herbs, cheese, eggs and meat
used at the festival will have local provenance. New York
State wine and beer will complement the event. Cost per person
is $40 for members, $55 for non-members. The Regional Farm
& Food Project is a nonprofit organization covering 10
counties and promoting sustainable local agriculture. For
more info, call 427-6537. . . . Remember to pass your scraps
fax info to 922-7090)