Me a River
Ninety Nine Restaurant & Pub
Wolf Road, Colonie, 446-9909. Serving Mon-Wed 11:30-11, Thu-Sat
11:30-midnight, Sun 4:30-11. AE, D, MC, V.
bar food, fried stuff, beef
price range: $7 (burgers and sandwiches) to $13.49 (prime
rib, when available)
faux antiques and loud music
lovers of potato skins
at the Web site presented by Boston-based chain Ninety Nine
Restaurant & Pub and you’ll see that its restaurants have
spread like measles across a New England map. The Wolf Road
location marks its first incursion into New York, with more
What sets it apart from all the other chain outlets crowded
into a few square miles of prime Capital Region shopping land
is . . . nothing. It’s another high-
volume, sensory-assault eatery distinguishable from Applebee’s
or Ruby Tuesday’s only by the background music, which is louder.
TV screens surround you, tuned, of course, to sports channels;
faux antique gewgaws hang on the remaining wall space. It
took only a couple of minutes of trying to study the menu
while shutting out the noise for my wife and me to reach a
simultaneous conclusion: We’re too old for this place.
We’re the youngest tier of baby-boomers, which still makes
us relatively ancient. I leave it to you, kids, to decide
if this is your kind of place. I noticed clusters of young
single females at the bar as I passed, one of whom gave me
the lingering eye—so you may benefit from such obvious desperation.
Because there’s so little difference among most of the chain
places, let this notice serve as an all-in-one look at what’s
here and what’s to come. Market research has smoothed any
variables and maximized profits; chain restaurants promise
safety and mediocrity, twin salves to that nervous majority
of diners who rear back in horror at the threat of such exotica
as Dijon mustard.
The Ninety Nine Restaurant’s lemon-crusted salmon, for instance,
is “served with caramelized onions, garlic red-skin mashed
potatoes, vegetables and a sesame pineapple dipping sauce”
($10), but the menu quickly adds, “Want it plain? Just ask.”
To be sure, there are matters of degree among chain restaurants
in such things as decor and cuisine. Some of the places manufacture
their “antiques” (Ninety Nine is one of them); some, like
the Cracker Barrel, maintain warehouses of cutesy old sleds
and saws and such. Some restaurants actually cook their own
food; others are giant reheating stations.
Ninety Nine seems to have a for-real kitchen, but it’s not
at all challenged by the recipes the restaurant has evolved.
The grill and the fryolator do the bulk of the work: Even
such fare as chicken parmigiana, a classic sautée dish, is
deep-fried here. Buffalo-style chicken wings, a classic deep-fried
dish, turn into “boneless Buffalo wings” ($7)—chicken “tenders,”
in other words, those McDonald’s-inspired morsels of mincemeat
We sampled them in an All-Star Sampler ($8.49), which adds
selections from other stand-alone, $7 starters: Ultimate Nachos,
a stack of tortilla chips on which melted cheese is a subsidiary
label, the top given over to cold salsa and sour cream; and
Outrageous Potato Skins, which merit the adjective only insofar
as these little sacks of starchy cheese are palmed off as
Your best bet for a beginning (or perhaps the whole meal)
is the Southwestern Quesadilla ($7.79—there’s pricing to the
penny!), which, although smothered in cheese, at least isn’t
The salad list includes many salads to which chopped entrée
items have been added (chicken, sirloin tips, “Buffalo wings,”
and such). A Caesar salad ($5) is of the mass-produced variety,
a commercial-grade dressing dulling the original recipe’s
flavors, with commercial-grade croutons.
Seafood and butter are longtime culinary friends, but still
the amount of butter (and cream) worked into the New England
Scallop Pie ($10.49) is astonishing. It’s a pie only in the
sense that a handful of scallops are covered with buttery
breadcrumbs, in a sauce flavored with lobster. Among the other
seafood options are baked scrod ($9), Fisherman’s Feast ($12,
a mélange of fried scrod, fried calamari, scallops, shrimp),
fish and chips ($9) and a $13 lobster roll, a big sandwich
with fries and slaw.
Burgers and other sandwiches are in the $7 range for a plate
with fries and slaw, and the chicken dishes include several
preparations of those damned “tenders,” as well as more reasonable-sounding
items like Apple Bourbon Chicken Skillet and Teriyaki Chicken
(both $9). As noted above, chicken parmigiana ($10) is deep-fried,
a huge portion of three breasts over ziti, topped with an
acceptable marinara and plenty of cheese.
Among the steaks are top sirloin ($10.49) and London broil
($9), but I went for the best: Supreme Royal Sirloin ($13),
a 12-ounce cut that was about as good as a $13 steak will
be: I missed the flavors of a true, hot grilling, but appreciated
the generous side of garlicky mashed potatoes.
Picking on chain restaurants is too easy and ultimately unrewarding,
but they’re a major force in the food-service industry, drawing
money and attention away from more deserving local talent.
However, if you’re a family with noisy kids, by all means
dine here. Nobody will hear your progeny over the din.
Treat People Right,” the restaurant boasts, “by offering great
food at great prices.” No question that it’s a fairly economical
dining destination, but in the end you’re getting rich fatty
food for poor fatty people. And that’s no way to treat them.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
Van Dyck Restaurant (237 Union St.) enters
a new era as Peter Olsen drops the “co-” from
his former co-ownership status. Having finally
dissolved an untenable partnership, he’s freer
to address the problems in both financing and
the actual running of the place. And the first
thing he did was install new chefs: Gavin Mahoney,
who comes from the Glen Sanders Mansion, and Neil
Battista, formerly with Carmine’s and Mallozzi’s.
There’s also a new pastry chef in the kitchen:
Megan Battista, from the Villa Italia. “I’m scared
for my waistline,” says Olsen, describing the
new menu that’s in place. “There’s a pecan-encrusted
chicken breast that’s just to die for.” The nearly
60-year-old restaurant has been a jazz mainstay
for most of its years, and Olsen continues to
offer a schedule of worthy performances. The Van
Dyke is open Tuesday through Saturday from 4 PM,
but Olsen plans to add lunches in a week or two
and Mondays by November. For more information,
call the restaurant at 381-1111. Remember to pass
your scraps to Metroland (firstname.lastname@example.org).
fax info to 922-7090)