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Ellen Descisciolo

A Light in Elnora
By B.A. Nilsson

Crabapple Farm Restaurant
857 Main St., Clifton Park, 877-8202. Serving dinner Tue-Sat 5-9. AE, D, MC, V.

Food: * * * *
Service: Personable
Ambience: Charming

On 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 present restaurant.

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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