Light in Elnora
Main St., Clifton Park, 877-8202. Serving dinner Tue-Sat 5-9.
AE, D, MC, V.
* * * *
a bleak winter night, the stretch of lonely street where Crabapple
Farm is located looks forbidding, and even after I parked
in the restaurant’s well-lit lot I was startled when a locomotive
appeared beside me with a sudden burst of noise—the tracks
are that close.
The restaurant sits in the hamlet of Elnora, now a component
of sprawling Clifton Park, where once upon a time a gristmill
thrived. Karen and John Esposito took over the mill building
five years ago to run the gift shop that evolved into the
Fine-dining options in the Clifton Park area are few. As more
and more shopping areas have landed, so too have the chains
and franchises with their market-researched homogeneity. While
Karen Esposito is the first to pooh-pooh the idea that hers
is a fancy restaurant, it’s too friendly and comfortable—and
the food is too good—to regard it any other way.
Karen’s son Terry changed careers from over-the-road trucking
to onto-the-stove cooking to helm the kitchen, along with
his sister, Tina Van Buskirk, who brings her experience as
a cake designer for the French Confection.
The mystery of service is solved here with an enthusiasm that
bids fair to progress to an even higher, more accomplished
level. We saw a floor staff busily—even happily—ferrying items
between kitchen and customers. Servers were well-spoken, and
we never felt neglected. I’d like to see the staff work even
more closely together, covering all the tables (which they
may do on a busier night; I visited on a slower midweek evening).
The concise menu presents the usual meats and pasta, but each
of the eight entrées puts an original spin on the components.
A daily soup ($3) is one of four appetizers; we tried two
of the others and have nothing but good to report.
Crab cakes, available both as an appetizer ($8) and an entrée
($20), sport the highest proportion of crabmeat that I’ve
tasted in such a cake in recent memory (Karen guesses it to
be about 80 percent). Laced with a Dijon mustard sauce that
lends a hint of pungent spiciness, even the single cake served
as a starter makes for hearty eating.
I’ll confess that I ordered the baked artichoke dip ($8) to
quiet the restless appetites at the table, figuring it would
be the usual compote of cream cheese and spinach with a few
artichoke hearts floating within. Not so. For once, the artichoke
dip actually was about artichokes, and there were lots of
them—the hearts, that is—in a buttery, creamy sauce with the
flavor of parmesan cheese, served in a small casserole dish
surrounded by crackers. Good crackers, rich and wheaty.
A basket of warm rolls also hit the table right off the bat:
buttery, yeasty rolls that proved incredibly alluring. When
the post-appetizer salads arrived, we had to ask for more
rolls to maintain a desirable bread-to-lettuce ratio. Those
salads, too, have been thought out with care and arrive as
a reasonable portion of fresh mixed greens not at all overwhelmed
by the dressings (I sampled a good blue cheese).
Two of the most popular entrées are tenderloin en croute
($23), a personal-sized beef Wellington, and champagne-poached
salmon in a vanilla cream sauce ($20). Next time I visit,
I’ll sample both. In this case, I was drawn to the pork tenderloin
($19) because I liked the idea of the spicy plum sauce it’s
served with. And the flavor more than rewarded my choice:
It’s a great combo, maintaining pork’s traditional pair-me-with-fruit
identity while ratcheting up with heat a bit. And it didn’t
hurt that the meat was encrusted with crushed pistachios.
Sides of mashed potatoes and green beans were simple and effective.
Chicken marsala ($18) and rib-eye steak ($20) continue the
meatstuffs; grilled swordfish ($17) and seafood fettuccine
($20) net you more seafood, and the last-named proved to be
a large serving of pasta with a simple cream sauce and generous
servings of shrimp and scallops, with red pepper slices among
the added vegetables. Once again, simplicity worked to the
advantage of this dish.
Crabapple Farm is housed in a historic building nicely adapted
to its present use. Once Karen and her husband, John, decided
to buy the place and make the changes, they were forced to
close for 14 months to satisfy the various requirements while
still respecting the building’s heritage. It’s on its way
to a listing in the National Register.
Near the 50-seat dining room is a comfortable 22-seat bar
(you can dine there) where wine and beer are served, and they’re
not planning to go beyond that. It was a nice place to await
the rest of my party, and it’s especially nice on Friday and
Saturday nights, I’m told, when jazz performers entertain
with the standards.
We didn’t linger for coffee or dessert, but I was told that
what’s not made in-house comes from J & S Watkins, whose
cheesecakes have won deserved renown. But I’m also told that
Tina is a wizard with chocolate, so I’ll be looking forward
to some such on my next visit.
Dinner for two, with tax and tip and a couple of glasses of
wine, was $85.
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