By B.A. Nilsson
It’s easy to see my prejudices at work when looking over the
best of the past 12 months’ worth of restaurant visits. I
like them plain; I like them fancy. Less obvious is that I
like them to be original, to offer something nobody else provides.
Or, if it’s the same old fare, to offer it in an appealing
Consider first the fancy joints. What are they offering that’s
so unique? In the case of the absolute best—Chez Sophie Bistro
and the Cambridge Hotel—it’s a combination of food, service
and ambience that makes dining a transcendent experience.
And that’s usually the result of the personalities involved.
In the case of Chez Sophie Bistro (2853 Route 9, Malta), it’s
the confluence of the skills of chef Tonya Mahar and owners
Paul Parker and Cheryl Clark. As I noted in an earlier review,
Mahar has captured the spirit of Sophie Parker’s food and
eased it into a direction that I think would please Sophie,
who was not an easy-to-please person. The food is inspired
by classic French cooking, and the setting—a classic silver
diner—adds a note of delightful incongruity to the picture.
And the newsletter, e-mailed weekly, is always joyous, as
anything to do with food should be.
Chef John LaPosta brings a hearty personality to the Cambridge
Hotel (4 W. Main St., Cambridge), where he offers the complete
hospitality of tastefully restored rooms in this 1885-vintage
building and a menu that features familiar ingredients in
zestfully original variations—like the green tea soba noodle
primavera we sampled during our review visit. Preparation
and presentation are top-notch, but he’s a host who understands
that the business is not about serving food, but serving people.
Sargo’s, at the Saratoga National Golf Club (485 Union Ave.,
Saratoga Springs) was built to be fancy. It succeeds by excess.
If, as I wrote earlier, the foie gras looks too intimidating
(or too expensive), there are chicken wings. But they’re outstanding
chicken wings. Chef Larry Schepici offers entrées that
include a dry aged sirloin, the veal chop Michelangelo (with
porcini mushrooms, eggplant, garlic and gnocchi) and chicken
Lemonardo (with lemon zest, spinach and chanterelles), all
served in a nicely appointed dining room with excellent service.
Having made a considerable reputation at the Olde Dater Tavern,
chef Scott Ringwood found his own new venue at Lake Ridge
(35 Burlington Ave., Round Lake), where he pursues an atmosphere
of friendly elegance and where the terrific service rounds
out a meal where terrific food is the norm. And the prices
are accessible, with most entrées less than $20. Try the pork
rack chop, in which the meat is dredged in buttermilk and
coated with crushed pecans and served with a not-too-sweet
cherry sauce; seafood and pasta are also nicely done.
need to travel a bit for the next two. The Prospect Restaurant
at Scribner Hollow Lodge (Route 23A, Hunter) is only an hour
south of Albany, in sight of a popular ski mountain. So settle
into one of the rooms and enjoy the food and wine. Owner Guy
Chirico knows how to bring together the necessary talent to
make it all work. Austrian-born chef Eduard Lanzinger is one
of those kitchen masters who can be both true to his heritage
and also take any other culture’s cuisine and make it his
own, like the stuffed tenderloin of beef, in which the marinated
meat is wrapped around sliced ham and spinach.
In another direction, out west in the reviving resort town
of Sharon Springs, is the American Hotel, a classic old building
with a wide veranda for those who’ve just taken in the healing
waters (mine tend to be grape-derived). Owners Doug Plummer
and Garth Roberts quit the New York City rat race to open
the Rockville Café and Bakery before buying the hotel six
years ago. They’ve overseen an amazing restoration job. Plummer’s
description of the food is best: “We’re offering something
simpler, more in the line of comfort food. To the locals,
it’s still fancy; to people from New York, it seems refreshingly
let’s consider the more casual venues. O’Leary’s Pub &
Grill (153 Mohawk Ave., Scotia) is a family-run operation
where you can get a beer and a burger—but it’s a family-friendly
place where the emphasis is on dining and the fare includes
salads and vegetarian entrées and even a tasty bison burger.
Family is also the watchword at Ferrari’s Ristorante (1254
Congress St., Schenectady), a neighborhood mainstay since
1974 when Francisco Ferrari abandoned his job as a GE steamfitter
and, with his wife and four sons, went into this business.
Now it’s run by two of those sons, Joey and Anthony, while
Mama Rose is still very much a presence in the place.
Jake’s Round-Up (23 Main St., South Glens Falls) is a corny
mishmash of a place in which it all works. Southwestern is
the theme, reflected in the wild decor, as in the room with
the moose head on the wall and the Guernsey-patterned chairs.
Artist Jake Lehman co-owns the place with Elliott Heyman,
who is chiefly responsible for the eclectic menu. Start with
Elliott’s Electric Garlic-Roasted Eggplant and journey from
Finally, the place I can’t get enough of. The Hidden Café
lives up to its name by being tucked in a corner of Delmar’s
Delaware Plaza. Mediterranean fare is featured: deliciously,
inexpensively. It’s an unprepossessing place, but wait’ll
you try chef-owner Joseph Soliman’s falafel, kebabs, pasticcio—even
the house omelette gets a treatment of garlic and mozzarella,
seasoned with cumin and cilantro. It’s the kind of food that
wakes up your palate and reminds you how much fun a good meal
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.