Reasonably priced dinners at new Renaissance

Restaurant continuing to evolve
Prime rib at Renaissance Restaurant in Schenectady.
Prime rib at Renaissance Restaurant in Schenectady.

Categories: Food, Life & Arts

The intent of a restaurant review is to present more than just an evaluation of the food. It should represent the sum of the parts. Because the whole is often more than the sum of its parts, a restaurant’s components might point to a trend, a future destination.

Renaissance Restaurant is located in the basement of the previously abandoned St. Mary’s Church on Schenectady’s Eastern Avenue. The 100-plus-year-old church building was in disrepair but had potential.

RELATED: Renaissance Hall puts emphasis on culture, community

Fortunately, the formidable front steps leading to the sanctuary were unnecessary for entering the restaurant. Discreetly to the right was a lower door with a sign over the top announcing the entrance to Renaissance.

Seven steps down with a single railing on the right led to a large open space — undoubtedly the church hall where Polish suppers, wedding receptions and other social events had been held.

Little had been done to section off the cavernous area. The 12-seat bar was stationed on the right with several high top tables, a pool table and three automated dartboards situated on the left. Behind this lounge area were twenty tables covered with black linens.

Performance area

At the far end, a performance area had been designated by giant musical notes painted in black on the wall. A salad bar was positioned on the left with sets of oak church pews separating it from the tables.

Tables were softened by large artificial daisies sitting on small lights. Hostess/bartender/server Amanda greeted us pleasantly and suggested we choose a table in the otherwise unoccupied dining area. We chose a location away from the bar to avoid potential Happy Hour noise. Menus and water were delivered and our drink order was taken. Placing the black napkin in his lap, John noted it was “big enough to sleep under.”

We perused the unexpectedly long menu: appetizers, burgers and dogs, salads, dinners, kids’ meals ($4) and a hot and cold salad bar ($15). John chose the salad bar while I opted for a dinner. “Which do you recommend,” I asked Amanda, “the prime rib or the Delmonico steak [both $18]?” Amanda suggested the prime rib because “it was seasoned better.”
I requested the rib medium rare and was told it came with carrots, peas and potatoes. I substituted Amanda’s offer of a fresh salad from the bar, which boasted not only cold items, but also hot entrees like stuffed chicken breast.

Making salads

We made small salads for ourselves with ordinary but fresh ingredients: romaine lettuce, carrots, cucumbers and croutons. We chose from about a half dozen unmarked salad dressings. Creamy and white, the two I tried were virtually indistinguishable from each other. Noticing a large pot of soup on the bar, John requested a bowl. The preparation was a sturdy and agreeable blend of vegetables and pastina.

In the low light of the restaurant my prime rib arrived looking brown and not the least bit rare. Amanda waited until I cut the center of the boneless rib and found it to be nearly rare. Unlike her description, the meat was not well seasoned, but the salt and pepper on the table were adequate to reveal the flavor of the tender piece of beef.

A small stainless steel cup of au jus gravy poured over the rib moistened it to acceptability. The rib was also enhanced by an excellent nippy horseradish sauce in a sour cream base.

Meanwhile, back at the salad bar, John reported that the hot side of the salad bar offered a number of tempting choices: a half roasted chicken, a double stuffed chicken breast, kielbasa and cabbage, a stew and real mashed potatoes. He chose the chicken breast which was topped with cream gravy and mashed potatoes, both of which he enjoyed.

Our moral obligation dictated that we have dessert. House-made rice pudding on the salad bar was an auspicious start. The short-grained rice was tender but chewy, and the pudding was sweet and creamy. We added small portions of cheesecake and carrot cake, neither of which were house made but were enjoyable. Fresh cups of coffee washed away the calories.

Coffee house ambiance

Reminiscent of James Taylor, guitarist Eric Erickson’s voice filled the restaurant’s large space. His appearance evoked the atmosphere of a coffee house — albeit a very large one with none of the intimacy that is usually associated with a coffee house.

The reasonably priced dinners, including the modest buffet, qualified Renaissance as a full-service restaurant. Burgers and appetizers, as well as bar service allowed Renaissance to cater to an evening crowd seeking darts and pool, conversation and laughter.

We sensed that because Renaissance is still in its “soft opening” it is continuing to evolve, and we look forward to its final destination.

Renaissance Restaurant

WHERE: 820 Eastern Ave., Schenectady, 344-6384,
WHEN: Mon.-Thur. 4-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 4-12 a.m., Sun. closed
HOW MUCH: $37 for two people without tax and tip (dessert samples complimentary)
MORE INFO: 7 stairs, elevator available, parking on street, all major credit cards accepted, reservations currently unnecessary, live music nightly, weddings and parties up to 500 people

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