The staff at the new Filet 7 West restaurant on Troy-Schenectady Road recommends reservations well in advance, and I had them, in companion Mary’s name. But when we arrived at 6 o’clock sharp to a nearly empty dining room, we were steered to the table by the kitchen door.
Mary beat me to it: “We’re not sitting here,” she said. It wasn’t because other folks made reservations before we did. Between 6 and 8 p.m., the restaurant’s busiest time, the dining room was never more than half full. So, although the foyer with its wall of water and handsome appointments made a good first impression, it disappeared quickly.
Filet 7 West
WHERE: 611 Troy-Schenectady Road (Route 7), Latham. Phone 785-7215 or www.filet7west.com
WHEN: Lunch from 11 a. m. to 3 p. m. Monday to Friday; dinner 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
HOW MUCH: $180.52
MORE INFO: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover, Carte Blanche. Accommodations made for children’s meals. Wheelchair accessible.
Our server, Kristen, saved the day. She chose a fancy pedestal table with comfortable armchairs in the center of the dining room, and gave us a choice of black or white napkins, settled us in and brought an excellent amuse-bouche to get us started. Under her care, our indignation dissolved.
Filet 7 West is very fancy. It serves American cuisine, although it also positions itself as a steak house. You can order an entree that comes with potato and vegetable, or order steak and sides a la carte. The steak option is considerably more expensive, as you would expect.
The restaurant, owned by Bhartendu Desai, opened in April, and any new-restaurant glitches have been worked out. The dining room ran smoothly, the result of hiring experienced servers and scheduling plenty of well-trained backup staff. We liked their neat black uniforms and long aprons.
Chef Keough comes to Filet 7 from the governor’s mansion, where he cooked for both George Pataki and Eliot Spitzer. He prefers to use locally sourced ingredients, which comes at a good time, as everything delivered from a distance is going to cost more. Speaking of cost, it seems an odd time to open a high-end restaurant, but it has been in the planning stages for more than two years, according to the manager.
The amuse-bouche, a pre-dinner treat, was a maple-leaf shaped savory shortbread cookie seasoned with thyme that had a small dollop of citrus-maple topping. At first, the morsel was firm and cold, then it softened, changing one texture for another, releasing flavor. The cookie was salty, the topping sweet. One small bite gave me a lot to think about. I was impressed.
Mary highly recommends the fried oyster appetizer ($12), a dozen crisply breaded oysters served with a mild sauce. “They are so soft and delicious,” she said, putting some aside for my husband, Eric, who later would agree with her completely. “They would make an excellent meal,” she told Kristen, who offered to make an entree of them next time. It’s a big portion, enough to share.
I enjoyed the day’s soup ($8), a corn curry chowder, with its crisp vegetables and light creamy base, but didn’t detect much curry flavor. It was a pretty soup, colorful with corn and carrot and topped with fresh, bright green sprouts, but I couldn’t help wishing there was a salt shaker on the table. Filet 7 uses stylish sleek white tableware and fancy garnishes.
The bread basket held sliced white bread, salted breadsticks and a sweet dough roll. We tried them all and thought they were good but none tempted us to fill up. Filet 7 makes everything from scratch, an ambitious and difficult undertaking.
Iceberg lettuce is coming back in style, and Mary enjoyed the wedge salad ($10) with crisp pancetta, roasted tomatoes, and Roquefort dressing that was loaded with cheese. She only had a few petite iceberg wedges, and when the plates were cleared, declined to take it home. “I can pack it with some extra dressing,” coaxed the server. How thoughtful. Mary gave in.
Filet 7 suggests you share salads, and my garden salad ($9) was certainly enough for two. The mixed greens were perfectly fresh and dressed so they just glistened, although the heirloom tomato was a little pale and lacked flavor. The white balsamic vinaigrette is light and tangy, just right for the tender leaves.
My favorite special-occasion meal is steak. So I was eagerly anticipating the arrival of my $38 10-ounce filet mignon. Perhaps it sat under the heat lamp while Mary’s dinner was finishing because it looked dry, like a baked Idaho potato, albeit one with grill marks. The presentation was beautiful, a perfect plump oval of beef, balanced out on the oblong plate by a swirl of whipped potatoes stuck with a sprig of rosemary. It was then I remembered there were sauces (at no charge), and the Filet 7 steak sauce was brought right away.
The steak was medium rare in its thick center, but all around, on the bottom, the top, and around the sides, it was well-done, almost hard, and it yielded no juice.
I knew they would have replaced it with another, but the middle was perfectly done — so I didn’t want to complain. The problem, I think, had more to do with the marbling of the meat. Other cuts on the menu are prime, the highest quality, juiciest meat there is, but the filet is not.
Meanwhile, Mary was enjoying her duck entree ($28), a pan-roasted sliced boneless breast served with a blueberry reduction, potatoes gratin, sauteed spinach, and fried parsnip. The meat was perfectly prepared, but the whole entree had a lot going on, not all of it in sync. The blueberry sauce was just the right sweetness, but it did not like the potatoes gratin, and then there was the spinach and the fried sweet parsnip to consider. It was all good, but we didn’t think it came together harmoniously. Mary finished the serving of meat, pronounced the potatoes very good, and set down her fork.
Sides to share
The a la carte sides are meant to share, and so we did. We had asparagus ($9) and onion rings ($9). You can’t get better asparagus than they serve at Filet 7; their slender spears are tender and buttery and wonderful. The onion rings could be mistaken for doughnuts even at close range, and they are also very good, if a bit oily. Regardless, I ate three.
Here’s another thoughtful thing our server Kristen did: When the meal arrived, she politely asked if she could serve the vegetables. Carefully, with spoon and fork, she placed the asparagus and onion rings on our plates. We felt pampered.
Mary’s excellent iced tea ($3) was topped off, and when our meals were done, the leftovers were spirited away and wrapped up. If you dine at Filet 7, leave room for their outstanding homemade desserts.
The bittersweet chocolate mousse cake ($7) is layered like a torte, and you get two slices in one order, which raises the question: why not serve one and cut the price? Answer: they are sliced thin to show off the layers. The cake is displayed at one end of a narrow plate with fresh berries and sauce leading up to them from the other end.
I’d forgotten that my mother ever made fresh strawberry ice cream until I tasted it again in the profiteroles ($7). The texture is extra-smooth, and the memory of the metal hand-crank machine came back, along with the box of salt and the spectre of my older sisters supervising. The choux pastry was just right, as was the restrained drizzle of bittersweet chocolate. They could charge more for their desserts — they’re worth it.
The courses were perfectly timed and the staff moved efficiently and unobtrusively around the dining room. Excellent service was maintained throughout the meal.
Staking a claim
Filet 7 West is positioning itself alongside the best restaurants in the region, and the prices are comparable. While our meal was clearly above average, there wasn’t as much of the “wow” factor that night that I’ve felt at other downtown restaurants, and the people-watching was disappointing: I longed to see people better-dressed than me looking like they were having more fun than me.
The tab for dinner, with tip and a cappuccino ($5) and two signature shopping bags full of leftovers, came to $180.52.