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Shannon DeCelle

Strip Smart
By Laura Leon

D’Raymonds
269 Osborne Road, Loudonville, 459-6364
Serving Mon-Fri 11:30-2:15 and 5-10, Sat 4-10. AE, CB, DC, MC, V
Cuisine: Italian-American
Entrée price range: $11.95 (spaghetti with meatballs or hot Italian sausage) to $24.95 (filet mignon with grilled lobster tail)
Ambience: Rat Pack retro
Clientele: business, family, neighborhood, you-name-it

A few years ago, Caroline Bates, writing for Gourmet, did a really neat piece that extolled the many gourmandial delights—particularly for sushi fans—to be found in strip malls off the L.A. freeways. Strip malls! Around these parts, we tend to think of “good” restaurants as having a certain geographical cache: a stately, stand-alone mansion in a more rural locale, or a venerable brownstone located on a handsome city street. Times have changed these perceptions somewhat—both Milano and Carmine’s, two well-regarded local independent restaurants, are located in strip malls. Still, savvy—or is that snobby?—diners tend to veer away from eateries located next to a video store.

In the case of D’Raymonds, I have to admit that I’ve made that transition from the snob I was a few years ago when a coworker took me here, to a fan of this neat restaurant nestled next to a tanning salon and, yes, a video store. The first thing you’ll notice is that it’s always packed, and McDonald’s notwithstanding, all these people can’t be wrong. The next thing is the atmosphere, which is very reminiscent of the kind of place at which Gregory Peck might have entertained associates in The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit. It’s on the dark side, with faux windows painted on the paneled walls and leather banquettes corralling the perimeter. A front bar, populated at midday by a quirky mix of suits, mid-management, retirees and contractor types, is separated from the dining room proper by a sort of wall topped with wooden bars—enough to differentiate the two areas but nothing that blocks what little overall light the place has.

You can eat at the bar, which I recommend for lunch. The bartenders (and most of the staff) are always friendly and efficient, and since this is a place where you can get a damn tasty lunch and a glass of Chianti for under $10, the experience is all the more pleasurable. Word of warning: Ordering the mammoth Caesar’s Insalate will take over an entire section of bar, and will easily feed two or three. It’s a refreshing mix of crisp romaine lettuce dressed with a very garlicky vinaigrette, grated cheese and exceptionally crunchy, perfectly toasted croutons. Anchovies are negotiable.

Another success is the antipasto, which can be ordered for one, two or four. As with the Caesar, expect a lot of food, and expect to eat more than you might usually. The platter’s components vary, depending on what’s available and, perhaps, the chef’s whimsy, but typically, you can count on mildly smoky provolone, roasted peppers that taste fresh and not like they’ve been swimming in jarred fluids, pepperoncini, artichoke hearts, greens, onions, hearty black and green olives, and a mix of Italian meats such as Genoa salami and a delicious, slightly salty ham.

D’Raymonds features many of those items that one would associate with a parent’s bridge party—you know, clams casino, shrimp cocktail and the like. But there’s nothing retro about the consistently fresh, solid fare for diners who don’t want to debate the finer points of whether Babbo is really a better restaurant than its owner’s other offspring, Lupa. Stuffed roasted peppers are topped with fresh, milky mozzarella, prosciutto, seasoned bread crumbs, olive oil and garlic, and baked to retain the pepper’s firmness but accentuate it with a crusty finish. What’s not to like?

On a recent visit I splurged by ordering d’aragosta, gamberi and pollame; in other words, fresh lobster tails, jumbo shrimp and chicken lightly battered and sautéed and placed on a meaty tomato sauce and finished with roasted garlic caper butter. The seafood was buttery under its thin breading, which I could have done without, but which didn’t have that cloying, pasty quality that often accompanies, say, spring rolls. The chicken was extremely tender. That sauce was simply outrageous, a glorious, chunky concoction of really good tomatoes and seasonings. This is not the kind of food I usually eat, let alone cook, but I would order this again in a heartbeat. D’Raymonds usually features a fish special, and often offers many different variations of presentation for that fish. Normally, at least one of these offerings will be slightly more “gourmet.”

My husband ordered lightly battered chicken and shrimp in a Chardonnay lemon butter with capers, mushrooms and fresh tomatoes, another thoroughly satisfying combination. Again, most of the chicken and shrimp dishes feature a light breading, but the tenderness of the poultry, in my mind, more than makes up for this little raincoat of fat. Another excellent dish features chicken baked in a tomato herb wine sauce with roasted peppers (again!), cappicola ham, spinach and mozzarella. This is homey stuff that finds you forgetting your New Year’s resolution, or the fact that you sweated away two hours at the gym today.

Pasta dishes are equally good and just as hefty, and run the gamut from American- Italian-restaurant traditional (tortellini alfredo) to Genovese traditional (fettucine with snails, anisette, basil and crumbled hot sausage). Veal, meatballs and sausage are featured in many dishes, but then again, so are sun-dried tomatoes, fresh clams and, again, basil. A lunch pasta, such as angel hair with fresh spinach and shrimp in a white clam sauce, is a steal at $7.50, and demonstrates the kitchen’s ability to temper old-fashioned (the clam sauce) with freshness and ingenuity.

Whenever I’ve eaten at D’Raymonds, I’ve never been able to even entertain the notion of dessert. However, my family recently ordered a chocolate cake that was luscious and decadent, and appropriately devoured in seconds. The restaurant gets most of their desserts—mostly a love-handle-inducing variety of cakes and pies—from Sysco and J.S. Wadkins, while the crème brulée and tiramisu are done on the premises. And although the desserts’ richness only augments the already abundant nature of what you’ve eaten before, it’s probably fitting that a place like D’Raymonds doesn’t try to sell you, say, sorbet. While D’Raymonds may look like a place your dad might have gone to with his business associates—and to be sure, you’re likely to see many a legislator or legal eagle whetting his or her whistle and/or strapping on the old feed bag—the atmosphere is one of warmth and the stereotypical Italian mom’s kitchen. The food is plentiful, and the flavors are comforting yet enticing, and you can easily forget that you’re next door to a tanning salon.

TABLE SCRAPS

We’re still looking for those restaurant experiences that drive you up the wall. Not just poky service and a long wait for the check (although those can be killers): we want to know about the really spectacularly maddening as well. Pack it into a fax, or e-mail it to food@banilsson.com...Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.

—B.A.N.

(Please fax info to 922-7090)

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