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Photo by: B.A. Nilsson

Amsterdam Rising
By B.A. Nilsson

Michael’s Restaurant
4465 Route 30, Amsterdam, 842-7399. Serving Mon-Tue 4-close, Wed-Sun 11:30-close. AE, D, MC, V.
Cuisine: continental with a touch of Italian
Entrée price range: $16 (chicken parmesan) to $27 (blue-cheese-encrusted filet mignon)
Ambiance: warm and pleasant
Clientele: upscale Amsterdamians

I’m told that you have to go back to the early 19th century to understand the gulf that separates Schenectady County from its western neighbors. The Capital Region heads in that direction only when it’s traveling some distance: “Let’s go shopping in Amsterdam” is a phrase that probably never has crossed an Albanian’s lips.

Yet the highway that runs north out of Amsterdam—Route 30—has sprouted a series of strip malls over the past few years, supplanting thousands of acres of farmland with the macadam-fronted sprawl of big-box stores and their little satellites. On a clear night you can see the lights of this development from many miles away.

Route 30 wanders north, and the sprawl diminishes into noncontiguous businesses and the occasional residence. Cross the town line into Perth and you’ll soon see Michael’s Restaurant on the right, where it has flourished for five years.

Before Michael and Barbara Russo bought the place and took over, it was the kind of cocktail lounge that didn’t even bother to offer food. But the Raindancer, a well-known area steakhouse, is just down the street, and this is the direction in which the area is expanding. And the Russos have brought together the elements both scientific and intangible that make a fine-dining operation appealing.

Michael grew up in the business. His family owns and operates Russo’s Bar and Grill in downtown Amsterdam, one of the best and friendliest pizza venues in the area, and he pursued his dream of offering fancier dining by studying at the Culinary Institute.

Sometimes I feel like I’m visiting restaurants just to trip them up, to catch them offering bad service or lousy food. Those are the easier experiences to write about, because, as any Rush Limbaugh listener knows, it’s easier to mock and tear down a subject than it is to come up with constructive criticism.

My first visit to Michael’s was so unexpectedly pleasant that I elected to return on a busy Saturday night. Despite a busy bar and crowded tables, the staff—most of whom have been with the restaurant since it opened—was just as attentive. Green wallpaper, dark paneling and dried flowers contribute to the dining room’s elegant farmhouse look, a very comfortable place in which to sit.

Let’s look over the appetizers. They’re priced at about $8 apiece, and you’ve got a dozen to choose from (fewer at lunch). Yes, the loathsome chicken tenders are there, as are the redoubtable mozzarella sticks, but you also can get fresh mozzarella with roasted red peppers. Deep-fried artichokes stuffed with Boursin cheese also are a regular menu item. During one of our visits, we were treated to a special of salmon lollipops ($7), a clever construction of smoked salmon wrapped around Boursin and impaled on a skinny breadstick, presented atop an excellent green salad with slices of grilled eggplant.

Given the chef’s background, it’s not surprising to find a listing of greens and beans. It seems a pricey starter at $8, but it also sports a generous addition of spicy sausage, and the overall flavor is robust enough for an entrée, enhanced by lots of tasty garlic. The portion is huge: What I brought home needed two soup containers.

I’ll confess that I ordered the escargot appetizer to gross out my daughter—isn’t it fun to find a 7-year-old’s buttons?—who nevertheless examined the critter with care before issuing sounds of disgust at my enjoyment of the beast. Not that they burst with dramatic flavor. It’s more about the texture of the thing as your teeth close over the . . . but you don’t need me to go on. Michael sautées them with tomatoes and artichoke hearts and plenty of garlic.

Both soups we sampled—seafood bisque ($3.50) and French onion ($4)—were more than usually good, the sign of good soup stocks.

Entrée selections present beef, veal, chicken and seafood in a variety of guises, with breaded pork tenderloins ($17) as well. And you’re directed to ask your server for vegetarian suggestions.

Not surprisingly, Russo knows his way around the Italian aspects of the menu, and has crafted an excellent sauce for the chicken parmesan ($16) that I usually can persuade my daughter to eat in lieu of the dreaded chicken fingers.

But you have to start with good supplies. The cut of sirloin used for the garlic lemon steak ($24) was excellent; the flavorings, while almost superfluous, were well suited to the grilled meat. And the sides—garlic mashed potatoes and a vegetable medley, with spears of fresh asparagus and sweet potato crisps as decorations—were excellently done.

We weren’t prepared for the expanse of the seafood medley ($22), on which an outer layer of shrimp and crabmeat guards a filling of calamari, scallops and clams, all of which gets a white-wine butter sauce touched with tomato over a bed of linguine. We got two more meals out of that portion.

The colorful eggplant ravioli ($16), a special, had grilled chicken and a spinach cream sauce alongside the asparagus, an unusual array that set this dish apart. Another special, sesame-encrusted yellowfin tuna ($19), was cooked rare, as I prefer it, and was enriched with teriyaki seasonings and a vegetable stir-fry.

Service, as noted, is attentive and friendly. There’s not much to complain about here, unless it’s the distance you may have to travel to get here. But we’re talking about Amsterdam, so it’s closer than you think.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.

We want your feedback

Have you eaten at Michael’s Restaurant, or other recently reviewed restaurants? Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...

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* E-mail address not required to submit your feedback, but required to be placed in running for Nicole's Bistro Gift Certificate.

What you're saying...

It's me again B.A. The Chain Restaurant loving fat guy who loves big, heaping helpings of prepared, marketed fried things. Even Chicken Fingers.

I could care less about Daniel's at Ogdens to be perfectly honest. I read the review mostly because my office stares right at it's front door and we all watched as the refurbishing was done. My problem here today is with your first two paragraphs.

The kind of news article that bugs you is what percentage of Americans spend 30 minutes or less preparing food!?!? You know what kind of news article bothers me? "Remains of a woman found stuffed in a barrel......" or "....Albany Police Lt. dies from injuries sustained in shootout with suspect." I realize food and it's service and preparation may be the all consuming obsession in your life, but please tell me you have a bigger heart than that.

Maybe the reason "44 percent of weekday meals in the U.S. are prepared in 30 minutes or less.." is that some people work 2 or 3 jobs. Some people may be a single parent with young children, who may only have less than 30 minutes to spare.

But I promise you this, the next time I get 35 minutes or so.........I'll order some Kobe Beef, puff pastry, shitake mushrooms and the ingredients to make a proper buerre blanc....dim the lights, put on a bowtie, apron and plenty of snotty attitude and invite you over for dinner.

Are Chicken Fingers ok for an appetizer?

Mark Eriole
East Greenbush

I really love this guys knack for picking "the best kept secrets" in the Capital District. Way to go B.A.! Keep up the good work!

Mike Aldrich

Laura Leon's review was wonderful. Her descriptions of the various selections made me hungry. I am saving the review and putting it on my refrigerator to remind me to take a busman's holiday to Great Barrington for melitzana.

Joanne Lue

Having eaten here twice- I agree with all said by Nillson- HOWEVER- No authentic Mexican place should be totally rated without mention of their Margarita quality -which is superior-very limey with just the right ingredients- and their selection of Mexican Beers-Tecata-Negro Modello and Dos Equis Dark and Amber. Excellent Selection. Another mark of good Mexican cuisine is the freshness of their pico di gallo-the true MEXICAN salsa- again excellent. If it were not for the diner atmosphere I would have rated it 4 stars- and yes- please bring back the star rating system which I relied on heavily.

William Hyde

A surprisingly nice effort for a city which seems to only allow Italian restaurants to thrive.

Bill Graper

I very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's at Ogdens. You review described my dining experience perfectly. This wasn't the case with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree that a restaurant can have an off night so I'll give the second unit on Central Avenue a try.

Mary Kurtz

First, yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back. Second, I haven't had a chance to visit Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading the reviews.

Pat Russo
East Greenbush

I would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant - it's not that far away. People traveled from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam. From his background, I'm sure the chef's sauce is excellent and that is the most important aspect of an Italian restaurant. Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm looking forward to trying this restaurant - I look forward to Metroland every Thursday especially for the restaurant review. And by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam location and is opening a new bistro on Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake Bistro. It should be great!

Peggy Van Deloo

So happy to see you finally made out!! Our experiences have always been wonderful, the staff is extremely professional, the food subperb, and the atmosphere very warm and comfortable. Let us not forget to mention "Maria" the pianist on Friday and Saturday nights.

Charlie and Marie
Michaels Restaurant

I have been to Michael's several times and each time I have enjoyed it very much. The food is delicious and the staff is great. Also, Maria Riccio Bryce plays piano there every Friday and Saturday evening, a nice touch to add to the already wonderful atmosphere. It is also easy to find, exit 27 off the thruway to 30 north for about 5 miles.

N. Moore

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