All That Jazz
Van Dyck Restaurant
Union St., Schenectady, 381-1111. Serving Tue-Wed 11:30-10,
Thu 11:30-11, Fri-Sat 11:30-midnight. AE, CB, D, DC, MC, V.
Food: * * * *
used to be the fine-dining dowager of the Capital Region,
back when you’d linger over a plate of pot roast or a turkey
dinner—wearing a borrowed jacket and tie if you’d neglected
to dress properly.
The Van Dyck opened as a restaurant on April 1, 1947, when
jazz fan Marvin Friedman moved from Harlem to Schenectady,
bringing a roster of friends like Earl Hines and Teddy Wilson
to perform at his new venue. The building itself dates from
1820 (a wing was added in 1880), and it functioned as a private
house until Friedman’s transformation.
It sits at the edge of Schenectady’s charming Stockade area
(where remnants of the original Dutch settlement remain),
and the gateway to the area, from Erie Boulevard, recently
underwent a half-
million-dollar facelift that added decorative pillars and
But that’s nothing compared to the renovation given the Van
Dyck. For nearly two years, it had a going-over that included
a new roof, new wiring, and the addition of central air and
a brewery. It re-opened on its own anniversary on April 1,
1997, and immediately ran into problems.
Most troubling was the celebrity chef hired to kick things
off. He went fancy in a big, costly way, and thus didn’t last
very long. Meanwhile, the front of the house never achieved
the cohesion needed to effectively serve a crowd scattered
among the many dining areas.
Nearly six years later, the ups and downs have smoothed. Service
is still a big variable, and the restaurant still needs to
find the right manager to oversee front-of-house needs. The
kitchen, however, has landed in the able hands of Anthony
Daughtry, who started 18 months ago as sous chef and has proven
himself more than skilled enough to deliver the Van Dyck’s
Comfort food remains, but it is way more refined than pot
roast. And you never would have found teriyaki tuna steak
on the menu in the old days. “It’s seasonally driven, eclectic
New American fare,” says proprietor Peter Olsen. “It’s an
evolving menu.” Which is in keeping with the restaurant. Even
as he continues to book a varied and talented roster of performers
in the upstairs music room, Olsen is working to improve the
Although we were placed in the formal dining room during a
recent visit, a couple of large, loud parties prompted us
to suffer the cigarette smoke in the tavern room. The smoke,
it turned out, wasn’t a problem, and we were seated by a fireplace
in a room that features a changing display of artwork by Van
Dyck performers—in this case, portraits of Cab Calloway, Dizzy
Gillespie, Billie Holiday and others by Commander Cody.
A bowl of French onion soup ($6) emerged quickly, hewing to
the classic style of a dark, meaty broth teeming with sweet
chunks of onion, topped with slithery cheese. Actually, cheeses,
as a peppering of grated parmesan, browned nicely, covered
the stringy gruyère.
Although it shouldn’t require emphasis, soups here are homemade,
which means they can be fine-tuned to please the clientele.
Certainly the onion soup has been a mainstay at the restaurant
in its old and new incarnations, and carries all the expected
Indicative of a more imaginative menu direction is the appetizer
of stir-fried mussels ($9), served sizzling, seasoned with
ginger and a modest amount of pepper heat. Accompanying vegetables—snow
pea pods, julienned carrots—pick up the teriyaki flavor that’s
The appetizer list in general runs the bar-food route, with
nachos and wings, fries and calamari among the $3-$8 offerings.
But the fries are made from waffle-cut potatoes, and the calamari
has a tangy sauce that’s different from the usual marinara—part
of this kitchen’s wish to remain a little apart from the mainstream.
They’re good for light dining, as are the salads on the adjacent
menu page. Each is available in two sizes, and range from
unadorned garden or Caesar salads to elaborate concoctions
with roasted vegetables, grilled chicken or the like; the
Van Dyck salad includes gorgonzola and roasted garlic, and
a fruit and cheese plate also is available.
Salads are served with entrées as well; ours were modest,
fresh and dressed with restraint, with a basket of bread as
We caught the kitchen short of several items. The seafood
special, stuffed scrod, already had sold out. Our next requests,
lamb and tuna, also weren’t available. (“We’ve got a lot of
stuff coming in tomorrow,” our waiter confided.)
Chicken scampi ($16) puts a generous amount of sautéed chicken
breast in a garlicky white wine sauce over pasta (fettuccine
is a good choice here) for a rich dish with an all-around
spread of satisfying flavors.
Chicken also appeared, grilled this time, in a hard-roll sandwich
($7) with lettuce, tomato and no dressing. With only a side
of potato chips, it seems a bit skimpy for the price. A selection
of a couple of dressings and a snazzier garnish would add
character to the dish.
The grilled New York strip steak ($20) was a beautiful thing.
The meat was tender, slightly spiced with a tasty seasoning
rub, cooked (at my request) just to the far side of rare.
Served on mashed potatoes with a side of sautéed squash, it
made my inner carnivore quite happy.
Service was good, if a little tentative, slowing slightly
as the evening wore on. With homemade ice cream one of the
Van Dyck’s strengths, we finished with a bit of vanilla.
Dinner for three, with sodas, tax and tip, was $81.
(Thursday) it’s a tutorial on duck. Next Thursday: knife
skills and other professional basics. Aubergine
restaurant chef-owner David Lawson has announced
a schedule of classes that run each Thursday from 10:30-2
and include a three-course lunch. They’re limited to
10 participants each, at $75 per person, and run a gamut
from hors d’oeuvres to pasta, from entrées through dessert,
with classes about wine and overviews of some of Lawson’s
favorite regions of France. Aubergine is located in
Hillsdale, and you can reserve space at any or all of
these classes by calling Lawson at 325-3412. . . . Lake
George still thrives in the off-season, which may be
your best time to get A Taste of Poland (375
Canada Street). According to my correspondent, this
is a unique chance to sample home-style traditional
Polish fare, including white borscht, pierogies, blintzes,
golambki and much more. They’re even open for breakfast.
Call 668-4386 for more info. . . . Remember to pass
your scraps to Metroland.
. .Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (firstname.lastname@example.org).
fax info to 922-7090)
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
restaurant reviews are based on one unannounced visit; your
experience may differ. Food Rating Key: * * * * * An exciting,
fulfilling experience; the food and service are everything they
set out to be. Brillat-Savarin would be proud. * * * * Way up
there with really good food, definitely worth your dining dollar.
Julia Child would be proud. * * * Average, with hints of excitement.
Your mother would be pleased. * * A dining-out bogey; food probably
isnt the first priority. Colonel Sanders would be disappointed.
* K-rations posing as comestibles. Your dog would be disgusted.