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Comfort Zone
By B.A. Nilsson

The Hungry Horseman Grill
610 Central Ave., Colonie, 464-5050. Serving Mon-Thu 11:30-10, Fri-Sat 11:30-11; Sunday brunch 11:30-2, then dinner 3-10. AE, D, DC, MC, V.

Food: * * * * ½
Service: Variable Ambience:
Pleasant

The concept of comfort food has long been with us—I suspect it’s been recently codified as such only because we’ve grown so obsessed with labeling. We dine out for social interaction, for business deals, for family celebrations—but always for some degree of comfort.

It’s a childhood thing. We were comforted (or so we hope) by a parent who offered food. The genre of comfort food seems to be based on items that don’t tax the chef too much, reflecting the simplicity of what was prepared by mom or dad or grandma or whomever.

The Hungry Horseman seeks to combine the comfort of food with whatever comfort is derived from sports memorabilia; as one who never has been moved by sporting events, I don’t pay much attention to it. (But don’t get me wrong, sports fans: I admire a universe in which one team always wins thanks to perseverance and fair play. How unlike life.)

Still, the photos and objets d’art that line the walls of the Hungry Horseman do spell, in their own way, welcome, and it was pleasant to dine in the restaurant’s casual setting. A good thing, too, because the meal went on far longer than it should have.

Co-owners Ben Record and John Everett were involved with the Ripe Tomato, where Record also had been a co-owner; here they’ve taken some menu ideas from that restaurant and combined them with the happy-go-lucky spirit of Bruno’s, whose Albany branch formerly occupied this space.

Although some of the Bruno’s pizza recipes were featured during the early stage of the Horseman, Everett says, “We realized we’re not a pizza place. We’ve changed the menu since we opened, added some steak and pasta dishes, and put more sandwiches on the lunch menu.”

Ever see those circus performers who keep several plates spinning on balanced sticks? That’s the kind of skill required to keep a busy restaurant going successfully, and the Hungry Horseman showed an amiable level of accomplishment. The plates that failed to spin during my recent visit included aspects of the food and service, however, suggesting that all the aspects aren’t being as carefully monitored as necessary.

This is the kind of place where one server is going to see you through the meal. Ours had a couple of friends dining at a nearby table, and so she entered into long conversations with them. Long. Very long. We heard about kids and college and car troubles . . . and our entrées languished under the heat lamps. And then it took another 10 minutes for this server to disengage herself once we’d finished eating. My party slipped out, one by one, abandoning all hope of dessert, leaving me to pay.

“That’s not good,” Everett remarked. “We pride ourselves on service, and obviously we slipped up.”

The menu features an amazing variety of food items, both in terms of the items themselves and the preparation. I ordered a spinach and artichoke dip ($7), which usually looks like it was prepared elsewhere. Here it’s the real thing, made obvious by the large chunks of artichoke in the mix, accompanied by the usual array of tortilla chips.

A special appetizer, dubbed the “Secretariat” ($6) to keep with the horseracing theme, was a modest-sized cube of fresh mozzarella cheese in alternating layers with prosciutto and tomato slices. While the tomatoes sported typical off-season toughness, the other ingredients blended their flavors nicely.

Buffalo-style chicken wings are the boneless variety ($6), which seems like cheating. Just as you expect, with bleu (sic) cheese and celery sticks; be warned that even the medium-heat level packs a little punch.

A hot loaf of bread is accompanied by butter, both regular and garlic flavored. This turned out to be a good thing, because the “mushroom lover’s pasta” ($14), in which portobello, shiitake and oyster mushrooms are tossed with penne, lacked evidence of the promised seasoning of garlic, thyme and parsley. Fortunately, we were able to mix the garlic butter in and develop a flavor for it.

Chef David Quillinan has been with the restaurant for eight months, and keeps the signature dishes as good as they were reported to be. Yankee pot roast ($13) is a generous helping of tenderized beef in a thick, dark sauce with chunks of carrots and onions, served alongside a respectable helping of respectable mashed potatoes. Pork schnitzel ($13) starts with a thin cutlet that’s breaded and sautéed, served with capers dancing on top and big potato pancakes on the side. The braised cabbage seems to be right out of a can, which is unnecessary—but you do have to work fresh cabbage a little to make it seem otherwise.

You can dine inexpensively with soup and/or salad—the house soup, shrimp and scallop bisque ($2.50 for a cup) is a hearty and very tasty brew that has meal-in-itself written all over it. Several pasta dishes ($10-$17) combine various meats or vegetables with the macaroni; steaks ($14-$16) include sirloin, filet mignon and flank steak done London-broil style. Seafood, chicken and ribs are available, as are less-common entrées like calf’s liver and roast turkey.

Although dessert seemed an appealing option, it just wasn’t in the cards for us; dinner for four, with tax and beverages and a not-very-generous tip, was $81.

TABLE SCRAPS


The Springwater Bistro pre- sents an evening of Mexican delights on Mon, Nov. 18, from 5:30 to 8:30 PM. Chef David Britten will create Mexican tapas petite plates including such favorites as tacos and quesadillas; this will be complemented by optional tableside tequila tasting. Joshua Hiebel, owner of the Saratoga Wine Exchange, will present flights of tequila. To complete the experience, the Bistro has arranged for an authentic Mexican jewelry showcase, and a flamenco guitarist will perform. For info and reservations, call the restaurant at 584-6440. . . . The AIDS Council of Northeastern New York presents the Eighth Annual Beaujolais Nouveau Wine Celebration from 6 to 9 PM Thursday, Nov. 21, at Franklin Plaza/Michael’s Catering in Troy. This celebration is held annually on the day that this new wine is released to the world. Cadalso Wine & Liquor of Latham is air-shipping the wine from France for this benefit, and guests will sample fine cuisine from more than 20 area restaurants. Participating restaurants include the Albany Pump Station, Arlington House, Beverly’s, BFS Catering, Big House Grill, Café Capriccio, Daisy Baker’s, Dakota Steak House, Debbie’s Kitchen, DiviniTea, Franklin Plaza/Michael’s Catering, Jack’s Oyster House, Justin’s, Mama Rosa’s Pasta Café, Milano, Montana Mills Bread Co., Monument Square Café, New World Home Cooking, Olde 499 House, Professor Java’s Coffee Sanctuary, Provence, Scrimshaw, Stephanie’s on the Park, the Irish Mist and the Old Daley Inn Catering Co. Tickets are $50 per person, and all proceeds will be applied directly toward the AIDS Council’s client services and education programs. For more information, check out co-sponsor Time Warner Cable’s website at www.cable sites.com/whatsnew; for tickets, call the AIDS Council at 434-4686. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland; you can e-mail them to food@banilsson.com

—B.A.N.

(Please fax info to 922-7090)

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