George Mann Tory Tavern
Photo: B.A. Nillson
is it about a good restaurant meal that causes you, days or
even years later, to look back upon it with a sense of pleasure,
of accomplishment even? The meal itself, in the sense of food,
is demonstrably transitory; its physical effect already has
tolled. Challenged to choose my favorite 10 of the past 50
or so visited in 2004, I called upon a foolproof source of
information: my wife.
Without looking at the list, she quickly recalled several
places that stood out. The defining characteristics? “Hard
to say,” she said. “There was just something about them.”
There it is: It’s intangible. It’s the pleasant combustion
of hospitality and cookery, and it doesn’t require tuxedos
and fancy fare. We winnowed the following 10 from the year’s
list, and I’ll try to pin down at least a few of those hard-to-define
elements that distinguished them.
Appian Way Restaurant (1839 Van Vranken Ave., Schenectady)
reopened under its original ownership, which is to say that
sisters Anna and Gina Ferrera came out of retirement again
to present an insane array of homemade Italian fare that ranges
from the fresh bread to the Ferrera’s own ice cream. Try the
puttanesca and you’ll understand: olives and capers
and anchovies attack the sauce’s tomatoes and, as I noted
earlier, “force them into dark, savory crannies of the palate.”
Daniel’s at Ogdens (42 Howard St., Albany) was another reopening,
this time both of the old Ogden’s and of the Mediterranean
menu of brothers Gabriel (“Daniel”) and Alex Atsilov, who
gypsied around area restaurants for a while before settling
in here with co-owner Ruth Wallins. Although the menu includes
original twists on familiar favorites (sea bass with saffron
lemon cream sauce, spinach-stuffed veal with chanterelles),
I find the falafel and hummus and baba ganoush irresistible.
And the elegant surroundings are the crowning touch.
to Schenectady’s “Little Italy” project, Cornell’s Restaurant
moved to handsome quarters at 35 N. Jay St. It’s actually
the neighborhood in which Nicholas and Pasqualina Cornell
opened their first eatery in 1943. Like any good neighborhood
Italian bistro, it’s a welcoming, family- friendly place,
but it raises the cuisine bar with simple but excellent items
like chicken in the oven: The bird is baked with white wine,
herbs, potatoes and a hot cherry pepper along what emerge
as buttery, chicken-flavored potatoes.
Front-of-house and back-of-house talent need to meld like
a marriage, and two area restaurateurs—front guy Richard Rodriguez
and chef Dominic Colose—pooled their talents to revive a property
on the north inlet of Saratoga Lake. Chameleon on the Lake
(251 County Route 67, Saratoga Springs) now offers fine, original
dining in a welcoming space. This is a place where the servers
sing the praises of the menu items. It’s original, often exotic
stuff, ranging from a simple salade à la niçoise to
things like paella alla Valenciana and lime-seasoned bison
filet served over bok choy.
another Saratoga relocation brought chef Eric Masson of Ferrandi’s
to Brown’s Beach, where he presides over the Saratoga Lake
Bistro (511 Route 9P). The Brittany-born chef offers classical
French cooking, like chicken forestière, as well as
his own version of American fare, like a surf-and-turf combo
of duck breast and lamb rack. A seasonal deck, live music,
and lots of holiday specials (including, of course, Bastille
Day) help make this a fun place to dine—and how better to
cock a snoot at those anti-Gallic morons clogging the political
Steakhouse (11 N. Broadway, Schenectady) went through a quick
evolution to settle into its current character, and it got
everything right. I’m still salivating over a sirloin I enjoyed
there one night, and I’ve grilled several at home in fruitless
pursuit of duplication. Owners Michael and Lisa Parisi make
incredibly welcome in a space the decor of which I described
as a “mix of warehouse chic and Son of the Sheik,”
and they have chef Danny Petrosino in the kitchen, a master
of bold flavor combinations.
Photo: Martin Benjamin
Raindancer has defined fine dining for Amsterdamians for many
years. It’s good, but the real thing is just up Route 30:
Michael’s Restaurant (4465 Route 30), and Amsterdam truly
is closer than you think. Chef-owners Michael and Barbara
Russo have plenty of restaurant experience, and there’s an
emphasis on Italian fare that results in such items as the
seafood medley, layered with shrimp and crabmeat, calamari,
scallops and clams, in a white-wine butter sauce over a bed
of linguine. And you’ll make the journey worth it by paying
less than 20 bucks for sesame-encrusted yellowfin-tuna fry.
revisits reassured us that old favorites continue to prevail
year after year. Saso’s Noodle House (218 Central Ave., Albany)
has added a needed parking lot, and Kathy and Yasuo Saso continue
to offer excellent sushi, a varied dinner menu, and outstanding
bowls of noodle soup in their accommodating eatery. Watch
the movie Tampopo and then hurry to Saso’s for a bowl
of miso ramen.
The George Mann Tory Tavern (Routes 30 & 443, Central
Bridge) is the breathtaking combo of an 18th century house
lovingly restored by owners Ralph and Irmgard Buess and the
Colonial-era-inspired menu that chef Ralph offers. It’s served
in rooms dressed with antiques, and even the servers sport
period garb. Not that the food is slavish to the period: George
Mann’s Tavern Chicken gives you chunks of grilled chicken,
shrimp, artichoke hearts and mushrooms in a tarragon cream
sauce; my favorite was the classic osso buco, with slow-cooked
veal shanks in a rich, dark sauce.
Finally, the top. Trillium, the Sagamore’s dining experience
supreme (110 Sagamore Road, Bolton Landing). This was elegance
in the extreme, where service is as good as it gets and the
menu might offer something like the Argentinean-style mixed
grill: a trio of filet mignon, breast of poussin and
rabbit sausage garnished with chimichurri, a garlic
sauce native to Argentina. Chef Tony DeStratis uses seasonal
material and fashions it in a way that’s delicious and different.
It’s the place to go when dinner has to be the best.
And so it’s on to 2005. Please continue to let me know where
you like to dine, and have a good, safe and reasonably caloric
the Capital Region is not generally known as a foodie haven,
it does boast a handful of exquisite restaurants and chefs
who strive for excellence, not to mention an ever-increasing
interest—as witnessed in the growth in farmers’ markets and
the evolution of supermarkets—in fresh produce and a variety
of natural, organic and ethnic foods. It may well be that
“regular folk” are more interested than ever in obtaining
tasteful, healthy and, sometimes, exotic ingredients, and
in preparing them well. I mean, hey, I can’t be the only Gourmet/Bon
Appetit/Food Network addict out there, right?
Here are just a few of the highs and lows that we foodies
experienced in the past year:
The growth of farmers markets throughout the Capital Region.
During the summer months, there really isn’t a day wherein
devoted shoppers can’t find the freshest ingredients available
simply by availing themselves of the many farmers markets,
from the big ones in Troy and Saratoga to the smaller gems,
such as those found at a variety of churches throughout the
midweek. Fresh food is alive and well and available very near
trans-fat-free options at supermarkets. Some big producers
are paying heed to consumers’ growing realization that they
don’t want trans fats in their food.
More options at local supermarkets and cooperatives, including
greater varieties of grains, pastas, marinated vegetables,
etc., which make cooking—especially cooking on busy nights—much
easier and more rewarding.
Increased use of locally raised vegetables at restaurants,
which not only supports local economies and sustains longstanding
traditions, but provides diners with a taste of what fresh
food should be like. Having food that is of the minute, and
the place, awakens taste buds and opens up new possibilities
for both cooking and eating.
More options—beyond the dreaded Earl Gray—for tea lovers,
something that is increasingly apparent at coffee houses as
well as restaurants.
The continued excellence, (or in some cases, resurgence),
of local faves. My favorites this year: Nicole’s Bistro, Café
Capriccio, Parisi’s Steak house, Madison’s End cafe, the Wheat
Fields, Jack’s Oyster House, Aegean Breeze, DeJohn’s, Justin’s,
New World Home Cooking, Emperor’s, the China House, Xicohtencatl,
Bistro Zinc, Caffe Pomo D’oro, and the Ginger Man.
That’s the good stuff; sadly, not all is so rosy. Here are
the black marks:
The continued provision by restaurants of bland, pink tomatoes
that taste either like cardboard or cotton, depending on the
season. I mean, seriously, why is it that in August, when
the vines of city gardens are trembling from sheer weight
of the deep red bounty, that local restaurants (and I’m not
just talking low-end dining here) persist in serving nonlocal,
nonripe and certainly nontasty pseudo-tomatoes?
Providing inferior quality olive oil as a dip. If you’re going
to do this, put out the good stuff. Better yet, provide both
a sampling of oil as well as good quality, room-temperature
butter, to allow for the fact that preferences on this tend
to be split.
A subset of the above: inferior bread or rolls, whether served
stale or stone cold, or, as is sometimes the case, simply
a poor quality raft for complementing the sauces on your plate.
Dirty menus. Dirty walls. Dirty bathrooms. I don’t mean to
gross you out, but has it ever occurred to you that, for the
prices you’re paying to dine out, the establishments could
put a little effort into scrubbing the pictures that adorn
the walls? Giving patrons a splotchy, grease-stained menu,
or letting them view the same Jackson Pollack-inspired food
specks that have been staining the walls for years now, sends
a decidedly negative message.
Vegetable mélanges. Usually this means a trio of frozen vegetables
sautéed quickly into an unholy, untasty mess. A few restaurants
get this right, presumably by cooking each vegetable individually
before combining them, but far too many don’t.
Uneven wine lists. You know the kind: There’s nothing, other
than a cheap, dismal Merlot, under the $50 mark—and even those
that hover around that point are so-so. Or, the wines by the
glass listing are outrageously expensive, barring one from
the kind of experimentation that makes for interested consumption,
not to mention repeat business.
The continued dearth of good eats in the Lake George area.
Granted, A Taste of Poland on Canada Street does a really
good job with an unusual, hard-to-find cuisine, and Cate’s
Italian Garden in Bolton Landing offers consistent fare, but
trying to get fresh, tasty seafood, let alone locally grown
produce, seems nearly impossible.
The increased inability to obtain certain foods (foreign cheeses,
for example) due to international regulations, exemptions
and public paranoia.
The overreliance on tasteless farm-raised fish, e.g., salmon.
Consistently inferior service. Unedu cated, undertrained waitrons
who can’t answer questions translate to an unhappy restaurant
experience. I’m talking about waiters who can’t explain ingredients
or preparation methods, who have no knowledge of the wine
list, and who are too unconcerned with your dining experience
to advocate for you with the chef. Owners and managers, please
help your staff to better serve both your own and your diners’
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp, authors of The
Book Club Cookbook, will be at the Schenectady
County Public Library (Clinton and Liberty Streets,
Schenectady) from noon-5 PM Sunday, Oct. 17, to
discuss and sign their book. The event is a fund-raiser
for the Capital Campaign to expand the downtown
library to include a new children’s center, gallery
and performance space. Samples of food made by
area restaurants from The Book Club Cookbook
recipes will be offered for sale. Gelman and
Krupp interviewed book-club members all over the
country to see what they were reading and eating;
the result is a collection of 100 entries, each
focusing on a literary masterpiece. . . . The
Hudson Valley Council of Girl Scouts will
hold its third annual Cookie Cuisine event from
6-9 PM Tue, Oct. 26 at the Italian-American Community
Center (Washington Ave. Ext., Albany). Honorary
Chair Carmine Sprio, Ric Orlando and a host of
talented culinary teams take on the challenge
of preparing gourmet entrées and desserts using
Girl Scout cookies. This year’s participants include
the Arlington House, Aromi D’Italia, Capital District
EOC, Carmine’s, Crowne Plaza, Magnolia’s, New
World Home Cooking, Real Seafood, SUNY Cobleskill
and 333 Café. Tickets are $35; pony up $75 and
you’ll be part of the honorary committee. For
reservations, call Sharon Smith 489-8110, ext.
105. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland
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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.
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
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!
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..