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Photo by: B.A. Nilsson

Charming Colonial
By B.A. Nilsson

George Mann Tory Tavern
Routes 30 and 443, Schoharie, 295-7128. Serving dinner Wed-Sat 5-9, Sun 1-7. AE, D, DC, MC, V

Cuisine: American heritage
Entrée price range: $19.50 (all entrées); $35 for a five-course table d’hôte
Ambiance: American colonial
Clientele: American gourmet

Ralph Buess wasn’t crazy about the idea of this write-up. “I like things the way they are,” he told me. “Quiet. Peaceful.” He’s a modest person who gets a little embarrassed by the acclaim, but I believe he’s sincere in his wish to keep the business on its even keel.

To say he’s a hands-on chef-owner is to put it mildly. Twenty years ago I visited the 18th-century building he was restoring and witnessed Buess at work, finishing room after room with a level of craftsmanship you’d be hard-pressed to find in new construction. With walls and woodwork, furnishings and fixtures all handcrafted, it’s no surprise to find food that gets similar attention.

George Mann lived there in the late 18th century, at a time when the Mohawk Valley became an important factor in the Revolutionary War. Initially sympathetic with the war, Mann switched sides and paid for his Tory sympathies with a jail term in Albany. Thus the restaurant’s name.

Its heritage is reflected both in the building, an imposing brick structure just north of Schoharie, and on the floor, where the servers sport Colonial garb and the menu rethinks traditional American fare.

I dread to think what we’d be eating if the menu actually were based on 18th-century dining practices; even Colonial Williamsburg cheats. Buess makes no apologies about his menu, which uses local foodstuffs where possible and takes a conservatively creative approach to how those ingredients are prepared.

Conservative also in the sense of avoiding waste. That’s why you’ll often find sausage listed on the menu. Bockwurst, for example, was offered as an appetizer during one of the visits I paid, a just-right portion of grilled sausage that didn’t even need the tomato relish served alongside. It was in the company of kielbasa and a smoky country sausage during another visit, this time served with a cream sauce spiced ever so slightly with mustard.

Four appetizers, two soups and eight entrées is a standard number of items, and there’s no pricing guesswork: they cost $4.50, $3.25 and $19.50 respectively. A complete dinner, which adds salad, coffee and dessert, is $35, which saves a couple of bucks.

It’s tempting to go the complete dinner route, but it’s a lot of food. . . . On the other hand, it extends the amount of time you’ll sit in one of the lovely rooms. . . . so we got complete dinners. The emphasis is on domestic wines, which befits the heritage, and they’re well chosen whether you’re ordering by the glass or bottle.

The beer-drinking, poker-playing part of me digs the spinach-artichoke dip that shows up in a hollowed-out bread loaf; what’s served at the Tory Tavern is a richer brew with far more complex flavors, including the influence of chilies and parmesan cheese. Four buttery croutons aren’t enough, especially when your daughter surreptitiously swipes them, but the basket of warm rolls then comes in handy.

Buess does his own smoking as well as everything else, and the trout that is so prepared has the added hints of the blue cheese and pepper used in the curing. It’s still a fairly mild flavor, paired with a horseradish cream for added accent.

My wife was reluctant to share the compote of wild mushrooms, which I suspect was due to the presence of thyme, her favorite herb, adding its own personality to the vinegar-scented earthiness of the dish.

The four soups I’ve sampled were uniformly superior to what, as we say in our house, “comes off the truck.” It’s nice, for instance, to sample a cream of potato that rounds out the flavor without excesses of flour and salt. Especially nice was a smoked-chicken-and-corn chowder, in which the smokiness blended seamlessly into the rest of the brew.

A dish like George Mann’s Tavern Chicken is a colossal no-no on any reasonable diet. The tarragon cream sauce hugs the chunks of grilled chicken, shrimp, artichoke hearts and mushrooms like an old friend, escorting them across the palate with a happy hello. Chicken also features in a saltimbocca preparation, this time as sautéed breast medallions topped with prosciutto and mozzarella in a splendid Marsala sauce.

Marsala also flavors the osso bucco sauce, accompanying a classic veal-shanks recipe that slow-cooks the meat into tender submission, accompanied by a mirepoix to intensify the flavor.

Sauces show the measure of a chef, and the demi-glaze on which the grilled rack of lamb was served was another excellent example of Buess’ work. Ginger and peppercorns add sparkling hints of their own personalities, but it’s difficult to tell where one flavor ends and the next one begins. The lamb itself was presented just as we ordered, on the rare side of medium rare, holding its own against the sauce.

Of all the entrées we sampled, the only disappointment was in the pork tenderloin diablo, where the sauce—a dijon- and horseradish-flavored cream—was delicious, but the meat itself proved a little too chewy.

Tossed salad and a sweet intermezzo are features of the table d’hôte dinner, which also requires you to order homemade desserts. How to choose among a triple-layer mousse cake, a tea-flavored flan, a hot fudge sundae or an ice cream-free sundae built of various types of chocolate mousse? Or the other items we didn’t order? It’s best simply to make sure you’re part of a large party so you can try them all.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

The Saratoga Lake Bistro (Route 9P, on Saratoga Lake) will hold its first fall wine tasting dinner from tonight (Thursday) through Sunday (Sept. 26). The event starts at 5 PM, with a 3 PM start on Sunday. The four-course meal with three glasses of wine is $49 (minus tax and tip), and lets you select among such items as Coquilles St. Jacques au Safran, Casserole d’Escargots aux Champignons des bois, Coq au Vin Maison, Saumon poché au Beurre d’Anis and Jarret d’Agneau à l’ail et Romarin (which are, respectively, wonderful preparations of scallops, escargot, chicken, salmon and lamb). Rooms at the Inn will be able available at a reduced rate starting at $65. For dinner, reserve seats by calling 587-8280; you can reserve rooms at the inn by phoning 495-7408. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail: food@
banilsson.com)


We want your feedback

Have you eaten at any 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 a Van Dyck Gift Certificate.

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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