HALFMOON — Emma Jayne’s restaurant is a good fit for this suburban community. It’s a little upscale yet family-friendly, with a menu of wide-ranging favorites that aren’t too pricey.
The gray-and-white, one-story building on Route 9 is surrounded by parking lot, so the dining rooms look inward, with neat custom blinds on the windows.
It’s divided into bar/lounge and two dining rooms, one with high-backed roomy booths, which were all spoken for. We headed into the back dining room with its assorted-size wood tables and comfy padded chairs.
Carpeting and acoustic tile ceiling go a long way toward keeping the noise down. My pal Amy and I had no trouble hearing each other across the table, despite a hum from the HVAC system and some soft music.
The walls are gray, the decor subdued. We admired a framed picture of the Cohoes Falls and several studio portraits of an adorable little girl. “The eponymous Emma Jayne?” suggested Amy.
Emma Jayne’s is owned by Mike Fortin, who bought the former Joe’s Tavern in Cohoes and ran it for 11 years. It was an unassuming place with excellent food. He also owns the restaurant Max 410 at the Van Schaick Island Country Club in Cohoes, which is in our regular rotation. I’d tell you more about it, but I really want to keep it to myself.
So we expected good things from Emma’s given the history of respectable food at Joe’s. Max 410 also gives a little extra in the plating department, which results in some visually stunning dishes.
The Emma Jayne’s menu is wide-ranging — not fancy, but big on what they expect patrons enjoy. Emma’s opens for lunch, so there’s burgers, salads, sandwiches and snacks. The dinner menu starts at 4 p.m.
There are Italian entrees, with a kind of parm trifecta: eggplant, chicken and veal. Chicken parm, served with penne pasta, is $21. Then a few selections each of surf and turf. In the comfort food department, I like Aunt Renee’s chicken and galettes, a French-Canadian version of chicken and dumplings with carrots and potatoes ($20), though the mac-and-cheese-filled meatloaf didn’t appeal.
Prices are reasonable enough, with most entrees in the $20 range, topping out in the low $30s for seafood specialties and a fancy Tuscan filet mignon dish.
Dinners come with just-baked bread and compound butter. There’s a lively list of small plates for the bar that would be nice to try in the dining room.
It took a while to get a server and some water, so we suspect they were short-staffed like everyone else. But once we put in our orders things appeared quickly.
We were at a roomy four-top in the middle of the room. Amy commented on the abundance of space between the tables and at the table itself. You could relax, spread out a bit.
We each chose a white wine from the list, Julia James Chardonnay for Amy ($9), Blanchard & Lurton Sauvignon Blanc ($10) for me. Both were above-average sips.
We started with a special, black-and-bleu flatbread ($13), excellent and easy to share. The plank of tender dough is sturdy enough so you can pick up a piece, but it’s not heavy or chewy. The marinated steak was quite tender, the bleu cheese all melty. It was topped with bitter, tasty arugula and drizzled with reduced balsamic vinaigrette.
“It’s a nice combination of flavors,” remarked Amy. The sweet balsamic and the bitter greens made for a terrific combination. We liked it very much.
Here we noticed a few hiccups, or growing pains. Our appetizer wasn’t removed before the runner brought our meals; empty plates were uncleared and the dinners came out soon after the appetizer.
These things will work themselves out. Staff will be hired and everyone will get used to the workings of the kitchen and the size of the crowds.
Emma’s pesto chicken ($22), or rather, my chicken, was piping hot, a serving that filled an enormous white bowl. I’d just been trimming basil that day and was a bit disappointed not to see a leaf, even a chiffonade of the stuff. It was made with fresh pesto, according to the menu, though I thought it lacked a big basil kick.
The sliced grilled chicken breast laid over the top was very good quality, tender meat. It almost fell apart, a bonus since it’s hard to use a fork and knife when your meal is in a bowl.
The first steaming, tentative bites of penne had me reaching for the salt shaker. There wasn’t a lot going on, flavor-wise. There was excellent shaved Parmesan that melted beautifully but did not add the zip I was looking for.
The dish really came into its own after it had cooled some and I tossed things around. The sauce, which was residing on the bottom, now clung to the pasta, and the garlic, onions and pignolis joined the party.
Emma Jayne’s does magical things with small tomatoes, roasting them until blistered, infusing them with flavor. We both commented on how good they were. It was when I got a bite of tender, sauce-covered chicken and some crisped prosciutto that the dish hit its mark. Delicious.
Wait until the dish cools a bit, then toss it around to get the best of it.
Or order the shrimp and grits ($26), which Amy said was terrific right out of the gate. “Lovely scallion,” she observed, “Everything looks so pretty.”
“There’s so much flavor going on,” Amy said, clearly pleased. “The bacon is perfect, really delicious” and “it’s very rich.” She decided it was one of the best meals she’d had, maybe, ever.
She pointed out the five fat shrimp arranged attractively across the top of the dish. “Not the sort of thing you eat every day, but it’s wonderful. Really well done.”
She took her time, “savoring all the flavor,” she said, and had half wrapped up to take home.
Amy ordered decaf ($3), hot and fresh, and we shared a piece of homemade turtle cheesecake ($7). The kitchen had fun plating it, with two kinds of sauce drizzled in different directions and dollops of whipped cream around, a fat slice of cake the center of attention.
It’s good, New York-style cream cheesecake, smooth and rich. We enjoyed the toasted pecans and caramel flavor with more nuts and caramel in the center.
Emma Jayne’s servers have handheld credit card processors that run your card and get you out quickly. The tab for our meal, not counting a slice of cheesecake for husband Eric, came to $90 before tax and tip.
Emma Jayne, who just turned 2, and her brother, Max, are both pleased to have restaurants named for them. I hope the neighborhood will take notice that the restaurant is owned by a local family.
I think the southern Saratoga communities will be very pleased that executive chef and owner Mike Fortin has brought his talent and hospitality across the river.
Caroline Lee is a freelance writer who lives in Troy. Reach her at [email protected].
WHERE: 1475 US 9, Halfmoon; (518) 982-1526; emmajaynesrestaurant.com
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday
HOW MUCH: $90, before tax and tip
MORE INFO: Credit cards: Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover. Children’s menu. ADA compliant. Parking lot.