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Photo by: Chris Shields

Heart on Lark
By B.A. Nilsson

DeJohn’s Restaurant & Pub
288 Lark St., Albany, 465-5275. Serving dinner Sun-Thu 4-11, Fri-Sat 4-midnight. Sunday brunch 11-3. AE, MC, V.
Cuisine: eclectic American
Entrée price range: $11 (Vegetable stir-fry) to $20 (blue cheese-crusted sirloin)
Ambiance: handsome and festive
Clientele: handsome and festive

"People can go anywhere to get a good steak, or pizza and wings, or to have a beer. So I have to give them a reason to come to DeJohn’s,” says John DeJohn. “The reason is hospitality. I make this restaurant an extension of my home, and that’s why I put my name on the building.”

A former waiter and restaurant manager for many years, DeJohn took the plunge into ownership when the former Lulu Café was offered for sale. After extensive remodeling, most of it designed by Monika DeJohn, John’s wife, the place opened last August.

Although the three-level design is unique enough to remind you of it former incarnation (not to mention its even older days as 288 Lark), the change is otherwise sweeping. The downstairs bar area feels comfortable and intimate even as the room sweeps back along windowless walls. Beyond it is an outdoor-dining patio.

Upstairs, the walls are red, interrupted by a giant mirror that gives an illusion of greater space. Even so, the tables are roomy, the room uncramped. What used to be the third-floor gallery is now a banquet and music room, with tall, dark green walls and a stage at one end. Coming soon is an outdoor dining deck that should offer a spectacular view.

The staff couldn’t have been friendlier on the two visits I paid. It’s got to be tough monitoring a two-floor operation, but we never felt neglected.

Chef Noel Goldberg offers two menus: one for the fine-dining patrons, the other offering lighter fare. The latter comprises burgers (veggie or beef, $8), a couple of fancy chicken preparations and even a hoagie of pulled pork, all in the $8-$10 range, fries a buck extra.

Fine-dining patrons, who typically choose the second-floor room, have a short list of items to consider, an excellent mix that ought to provide something stimulating to your palate. Two of the clear winners, assuming this can be viewed in a wholly unnecessary competitive fashion, are the shrimp and andouille sausage cakes ($10) and the brie bruschetta ($8).

A twist of the familiar crab cakes recipe, the shrimp-sausage cakes pack an unexpected and delightful flavor into the breaded patties, a generous enough portion to give you a take-home snack. Garlicky red pepper-laced mayonnaise fills out the flavor; a side of coleslaw adds crunch.

Baked brie usually strikes me as silly (and way too gooey), but this presentation adds a sprinkling of roasted garlic cloves, guaranteed to win my affection, and a not-too-sweet raspberry sauce. Best of all, the thick toast points stand up to the heft of the cheese while also supporting the flavor.

Ginger chicken egg roll ($8) gives another original spin on a popular Asian dish; the filling is much more dramatic than typical egg-roll ingredients, which is welcome, but the item struck me as being more greasy than necessary. Greens and beans ($6), another garlic-rich mainstay, has added roasted red peppers and, although the portion is small, the flavor is terrific.

French onion soup ($5) is a mainstay, while the soup of the day changes; we sampled tomato-basil ($3.50) and were very impressed with its freshness of flavor.

Salads aren’t offered as entrée adjuncts, but there’s a range of them available, beginning with a $3.75 house salad (field greens, tomatoes, cukes, you get the picture) and topping out with the large Oriental steak salad ($9), mixing sliced tenderloin with greens and veggies in a soy-ginger dressing. Caesar, spinach, and soba noodle salads also are available.

Seven entrées and five pasta dishes complete the menu. The lone beef item is a small sirloin crusted with blue cheese and black pepper ($20), which, if you’re restricting yourself, is probably the most toothsome cut of beef. And it pairs its flavor with the blue cheese and pepper so nicely that it’s hard to imagine enjoying a sirloin any other way. My only problem with the entrée was that it was cooked past medium, rather than the medium-rare I requested. I pointed this out to our server, who instantly offered to exchange it for a properly cooked cut, but I declined.

Here’s why: The offer itself was satisfying, and there wasn’t anything unpleasant about the meat. I was enjoying the dinner, and didn’t think it was worth the fuss. The meat sits on a serving of duchess potatoes (essentially mashed potatoes with a tremendous fat content that are then baked—in other words, they taste really good) and spears of fresh asparagus.

Pasta jambalaya ($17) isn’t my favorite combo—I’m a rice traditionalist—but my friend John approved, and the flavors were more authentic than many a rice-based version I’ve sampled. Fat shrimp, chunks of chicken and sausage and vegetables. More of the promised asparagus would have been nice, but the sauce was fabulous and the penne pasta picked it up nicely.

Farfalle, or bowtie pasta, features in the smoked chicken carbonara ($14), in which added bacon pieces and a sherry-based sauce round out the flavors. Another chicken approach is to roll it and stuff it, and the roulade ($16) has a spinach and red pepper filling, brilliantly complemented by a Thai green curry sauce.

For meat-free dining, a vegetable stir-fry ($11) might suit you, but the sesame encrusted tofu ($13) is more interesting, and certainly delighted my wife, who gloried in its sweet soy glaze and slab of excellent polenta.

Daily specials complement the menu, and the staff is eager to hear what you like and what you think. General manager Ryan Weber deserves much of the credit for the welcoming atmosphere, and DeJohn can’t praise him enough. Looks like Lark Street continues to thrive as the area’s only true restaurant row.


TABLE SCRAPS

Indulge your Italian food cravings at the eighth annual Cappiello Festa Italiana, which runs June 25-27 in Schenectady’s Central Park. The Festa will offer Italian music on two stages, including Benny Cannavo & the Accents and the Good Times, a dance revue by Ferrara Dance Studio, and much more. Cooking and food are vital components, and there will be cooking demonstrations throughout the weekend, a wine-tasting competition in the Pavilion on Sunday afternoon and an amazing array of food on hand throughout the three days. Look for Italian submarine sandwiches, pepper sandwiches, London broil, samples of Cappiello cheese products, fresh-squeezed lemonade, beans, lemon ice and more. The Festa runs from 4 to 10 PM Friday, noon to 10 PM Saturday and noon to 7 PM Sunday. Cappiello Dairy Products, Inc. a Schenectady-based manufacturer of hand-crafted cheese, is the primary sponsor. For more info, pick up a schedule at the Central Park office or call the Chamber of Schenectady County at 372-5656. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail to food@banilsson.com).

(Please fax info to 922-7090)

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.

We want your feedback

Have you eaten at DeJohn’s Restaurant & Pub 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 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

We loved it and will definitely go back.

Rosemarie Rafferty

Absolutely excellent. The quality and the flavor far surpasses that of other Indian restaurants in the area. I was a die-hard Shalimar fan and Tandoor Palace won my heart. It blows Ghandi out of the water. FInally a decent place in Albany where you can get a good dinner for less than $10 and not have tacos. The outdoor seating is also festive.

Brady G'sell

Indian is my favorite cuisine available in the area--I loved Tandoor Palace. We all agreed that the tandoori chicken was superior to other local restaraunts, and we also tried the ka-chori based on that intriguing description-delicious.

Kizzi Casale
Albany

Your comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants being as "standardized as McDonald's" shows either that you have eaten at only a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or that you have some prejudices to work out. That the physical appearances are not what you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing on the food. And after all, that is what the main focus of the reviews should be. Not the physical appearances, which is what most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on Central Avenue, may not look the greatest, but the food is excellent there. And the menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian, chicken, and more..

Barry Uznitsky
Guilderland



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