For the dining-out crowd, 2009 was a year marked by hopeful new beginnings and rejuvenated old friends.
Among the promising newcomers were Angelo’s Tavolo at the Glen Sanders Mansion in Scotia and More Perreca’s, an already bustling little trattoria next door to Perreca’s acclaimed bread bakery in Schenectady.
Rejoining the fray were the fabled Van Dyck restaurant and jazz club in Schenectady and Quintessence, the popular diner on New Scotland Avenue in Albany.
Year in Review 2011
The Gazette’s restaurant reviewers offer up this retrospective on their favorite dining experiences of 2009, with the places listed in no particular order.
IRV DEAN’S LIST
I seem to have spent a lot of time in ethnic restaurants this past year, and my favorite meal experiences were almost all in such places, though there was one memorable road trip for barbecue and, of course, a couple of Italian ristorantes, which I don’t really consider ethnic in these parts.
Ferrari’s Ristorante, 1254 Congress St., Schenectady. The popular Mont Pleasant neighborhood institution is in its 35th year of operation, and I came away from dinner there not at all surprised that they’ve endured so long. The traditional Italian cuisine — from the opening minestra or pasta e fagioli to the breaded veal cutlets swimming in marinara with a heaping side dish of spaghetti — is well executed and served in abundant quantities. Ferrari’s says the Veal Parmigiano is its most popular dish, but regulars will tell you it’s the Steak Mafioso that gets them salivating.
Hickory Barbecue and Smokehouse, 743 Route 28, Kingston. The restaurant is a little more than an hour from Schenectady on the Thruway and worth the trip. If you love smoked meats, you’ll think you’re in heaven. Besides the St. Louis-style ribs, barbecued chicken, turkey thighs, sausages, pulled pork and beef brisket, there are all those wonderful sides: potato and macaroni salads, barbecued baked beans, garlic mashed potatoes and baked sweet potatoes. Even if you don’t eat meat, you’ll be tempted. There’s a grilled portobello burger on a focaccia roll with cheese, french fries with skins on, swet pickles and “Ma Hickory’s Slaw.”
Kabul Night, 402 Union St., Schenectady. Authentic Afghan cuisine is the focus of Shafi and Karima Rasoully’s restaurant, where you can feast on such delightful dishes as Lamb Qormi, a stew of meat, fruit and vegetables, inlcuding lots of onions, and exotic spices. There is also flatbread, turmeric-flavored noodle soups and, of course, kabobs. If you go, be sure to try the Afghan meatballs, the fresh yogurt with chopped cucumber and dill, the samosas and the steamed dumplings.
CCK, 229 Central Ave., Albany. This is where you go when you want real Chinese food, where the pork dishes start with a whole pig roasting in the kitchen and the soups include Subgum Winter Melon and Sliced Pork and Bean Curd with Sour Cabbage. It’s also where, depending on how adventurous your palate, you can get Chicken Feet in Black Bean Sauce from the dim sum menu, pickled duck eggs and salt and pepper squid. This might not be what they eat in Beijing, but it’s certainly what’s on the menu in Chinatown.
Mari’s, 2049 Van Vranken Ave., Schenectady. The gyoza (pork-filled dumplings) and the soup of flavorful broth and abundant udon noodles are reason enough to dine at Mari’s Japanese restaurant, but there’s also the Pork Katsu, panko-breaded cutlets sautéed to a golden hue with delicious Tonkatsu sauce and Beef Teriyaki with sticky rice. Mari’s rarely disappoints.
More Perreca’s, 31 N. Jay St., Schenectady. Newly opened and already humming with business is this little cafe next door to the famous Perreca’s Bakery, which makes arguably the region’s most popular Italian bread. The owner, Maria Perreca Papa, is also co-owner of the bakery founded by her grandparents in the early 20th century. The cafe, which serves breakfast and lunch every day, is worth a visit for the daily specials — like the roasted lamb crusted with fennel seeds, garlic and olive oil, braciola stuffed with pine nuts, raisins, egg and grated cheese and a roasted half-chicken with Italian roasted potatoes. Even this early on, it seems Schenectady will find More Perreca’s is a keeper.
CAROLINE LEE’S PICKS
Another year, another struggle between my appetite and my weight. I think I’ve figured out how to eat and not gain, though: I just stick to the good stuff. Below, you will find my favorite restaurants of 2009, the ones with the food worth eating.
My fine-dining favorites of the year:
Blu Stone Bistro at the Hotel Indigo, Route 155 and Wolf Road extension, Colonie. Let’s start with the one that blew me away. The freshly made caramel sauce seasoned with the unexpected chipotle pepper made me sit up and take notice of the fascinating stuff coming out of the kitchen, and the decor made me want to update my own wardrobe to the 21st century. Blu Stone will bring you up to date with surprisingly successful, delicious juxtapostions of disparate cuisines.
Dolce Vita, 2035 State St., Schenectady. Owner Randy Loren says his restaurant is “a place one can go to receive joy and total fulfillment” and he means it. I wasn’t looking for fulfillment, but I was impressed with the reasonably priced, delicious food and good service. Entrees include salad, vegetable, choice of potato or pasta, and Perreca’s bread, and the early bird special is even a better deal. You can stay and dance off the calories to hot ’70s disco music. Dolce Vita is the best deal in town, with seriously good food and comprehensive meals at inexpensive prices, and homemade, delicious, impressive desserts.
Angelo’s Tavolo, at the Glen Sanders Mansion, Scotia. If anyone could update the Glen Sanders Mansion with taste and grace, it’s Angelo Mazzone and his excellent staff. The main restaurant is beautifully restored and brought up to date with some mod fabrics, and the service is of the same standard as the others, which means top-notch. The cuisine is not limited to Italian-Mediterranean; you can get a steak, and the signature seven-hour cherry pepper pork. It’s a great place for a special dinner, and don’t forget to leave room for desserts made by their pastry chef.
The Van Dyck, 237 Union St., Schenectady. Excellent music aside, the Van Dyck is worth a visit for its new casual menu and gorgeous comprehensive makeover. Terrific ingredients on excellent bread make outstanding sandwiches, and the new brick-oven cooked pizzas with perfectly cooked crusts are totally excellent. Get a seat near the fireplace in the winter, or dine al fresco in the warm weather on their gorgeous patio. Try the signature truffle fries.
Quintessence, 11 New Scotland Ave., Albany. It’s back, it’s better than ever, and it’s still a great place to get an inexpensive, tasty meal at all hours. It’s less expensive, but no less satisfying than my other favorites this year. The smartly made-over diner still rocks, but runs a little more smoothly than in the old days. The grilled kabobs come with the same spinach pasta and side of salad and they’re all stuffed onto a plate one size too small, just as you remember. If you haven’t been, go and see why a generation of Albanians fell in love with this restaurant in the first place.
Philly Pretzel Factory, 5 Southside Drive, Clifton Park. It’s been almost a year since I sat on a stool in the store and scarfed delicious hot dogs, the best new inexpensive lunch in the Clifton Park area. My mouth is watering thinking of their dogs with melted cheese rolled in excellent pretzel dough. Their soft, tasty pretzels come in multiples, and that’s how it should be. Really, this is a great new inexpensive lunch spot. And the people are nice, too.
The Original Two Cousins Fish Market and Restaurant, 594 New Loudon Road, Latham. I had my fish epiphany here. Their baked sole changed my whole outlook on fish. Husband Eric says that they have the best cooked catfish anywhere, and gourmets can bring home something worth cooking. Two Cousins’ freezers hold everything you’d want: smoked fish, parts of the lobster in any combination you can imagine, seafood ravioli, and escargot ready to cook. So take out delicious cooked meals, or bring home something fresh for dinner. You should go because it’s locally owned and it’s got great fish.
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Categories: Food, Life and Arts