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Photo by: Shannon DeCelle

Just Add Movie
By B.A. Nilsson

The Barefoot Gypsy Bistro
342 Delaware Ave., Albany, 462-7876. Serving lunch Tue-Fri 11-2, dinner Tue-Thu 5-9, Fri-Sat 5-9:30. AE, D, MC, V.
Cuisine: eclectic American
Entrée price range: $13.75 (Mediterranean pasta toss) to $20 (prime rib)
Ambiance: true bistro
Clientele: moviegoers and venturesome families

She greets you silently, as you enter, the titular gypsy, with her head thrown back as if she herself might be in the throes of grooving to Van Morrison’s “Caravan.” She’s a visual quote; literal inscriptions also decorate the walls, amid the trompe l’oeil distress and comfortable earth tones.

Located a couple of blocks from the Spectrum 8 Theatres on Delaware Avenue, the Barefoot Gypsy is helping turn that neighborhood into something more like Lark Street. Its offerings—gourmet sandwiches, homemade soups, eclectic appetizers, salads, full dinners and fantastic desserts—give enough variety to satisfy just about any meal (or between-meals) desire.

Eleven tables fill the modest dining room. At one end you can look out at the avenue; the other sports a display case of pastries and preserves. It’s a room you wouldn’t mind being trapped in for a while, especially if one of the eager-to-please servers and chef-owner Maria Leonard were there to ply you with her specialties.

We took a measure of the place with a generous array of appetizers during a lunchtime visit. The menu (which I have to regard at arm’s length, thanks to encroaching presbyopia and the menu’s fussy Riviera typeface) lists seven appetizers and a couple of soups, one of which is French onion ($3.25 for a cup, $4.50 for a bowl). Right away we were in good culinary shape, the soup as fine a rendering of this classic recipe as I’ve tasted, its tastiness founded upon big-flavored stock.

The olive boat ($10) is more of a long ceramic canoe, generously filled not only with three types of olive but also artichoke hearts and strips of roasted red peppers, all of it moistened with good olive oil. The olives themselves are varied (I’m no good at identifying them, but some kalamata olives were there) but uniformly strong in flavor, salty and earthy. It’s a large for-two serving, but you should consider it more of an appetizer element.

Bruschetta ($6.25) would add some sweetness to the array, provided the tomatoes are fresh and ripe. Now isn’t the time of year to look for that, and we as consumers have been so content to settle for the bricklike, flavor-free doorstops the supermarkets provide that there’s no incentive for anything else to be supplied.

In any event, it’s the basic garlicky grilled bread topped with an easy-to-spill compote of chopped, seasoned tomatoes. Mix the chopped tomatoes with the field greens served beneath the grilled shrimp ($9), and you’ve got something. The shrimp can stand on their own: They’re rubbed with a house-special spice blend before they hit the grill, and I used the bruschetta bread (cleared of tomatoes) for mini shrimp sandwiches.

Moisten the cracked wheat known as bulghur for a while, add lemon and mint, tomatoes and parsley and whatever secret ingredients you like, and you get tabbouleh ($7.25), a refreshing salad that the Gypsy serves in another of their handsome vessels, with slices of pita bread alongside. It’s a natural complement to hummus ($7.25), although that’s something I ordered during a dinner visit. The hummus is very smooth and almost sweet, although the required tang of garlic shines through.

This doesn’t even begin to touch on the many lunch sandwiches, both deli style ($7.50 is the top price) and specialties, like the $9 Reuben or the cheese-rich farmer’s-market sandwich ($7.50).

Dinner is a four-item listing, complemented by blackboard specials. On Fridays and Saturdays, the nights when you need a reservation, prime rib is offered, and I was all set to ignore that until my friend Brian complained that it’s a popular item, that he’s on the Atkins diet, and who made me the emperor of entrée selection anyway, blah blah.

Good thing he bullied me into it. His order ($20) was a plate-filling slab of beef that bore grill marks. Which turns out to be Leonard’s unique preparation: After applying a dry rub of her own seasoning blend, she roasts the rib rare. Each slice is then re-rubbed and grilled to order. Brian deemed it among the finest. Naturally, I scored his baked potato.

Rubbed shrimp and rice ($15) and lemon chicken ($14) are two of the other entrées, although the listing will expand soon when the menu gets a complete overhaul, timed to coincide with the opening of an outdoor dining deck.

The Mediterranean pasta toss is $13.75 when unadorned by meat; add chicken for a dollar, shrimp for two. My order (with a tasty sliced breast of chicken added) was a bowl of bow-tie pasta enhanced with artichokes, capers, sun-dried tomatoes and olive slices, all of the extras getting a toss in white wine and garlic before hitting the pasta. Although the flavor of olive oil was present, the entrée had only enough for a good flavor enhancement.

Desserts, also crafted by Leonard, include a can’t-miss upside-down pineapple cake that might revive this old classic, a creamy cheesecake and peanut butter mousse cake that uses the peanut butter-chocolate combo in the best way since Reese’s got hold of it.

Leonard has been an area caterer for many years, even before she went through Schenectady County Community College’s distinguished culinary program. As her mother, Rita Good, observes, “This restaurant has been a lifelong dream for her and it’s doing extremely well.” Open for just over a year, it’s a warm, accommodating space with a family feel to it that makes a meal here a must-have. Add a movie at the nearby Spectrum and you’re set for the evening.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.

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Have you eaten at The Barefoot Gypsy Bistro or any other recently reviewed restaurants? Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...

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What you're saying...

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
Rensselaer

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
Albany

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
Pancho's

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

Bill Graper
Scotia

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
Castleton

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
Schenectady

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
Albany

Wonderful!

Elaine Snowdon
Albany



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