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.Joe Putrock

By B.A. Nilsson

The Vanilla Bean
521 Troy Schenectady Road, Latham, 782-2326. Serving Sun-Thu 7 AM-9 PM, Fri-Sat 7 AM-10 PM. AE, MC, V.

Food: **½
Service: Distracted

Ambiance: Cheerful

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 draws near.

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 the show.

Dinner for two, with tax and a wholly undeserved tip, was $41.


Here’s 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 to Metroland.


(Please fax info to 922-7090)

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