At the Table: Nuanced flavors highlight dining experience at the new Chez Nous in Schenectady

Pictured at Chez Nous in Schenectady: Shrimp Diane, left, and Capellini a la Margherita. Inset bottom, Apple Cider Beignets, left, and Chocolate Marzipan Chambord Torte.

Pictured at Chez Nous in Schenectady: Shrimp Diane, left, and Capellini a la Margherita. Inset bottom, Apple Cider Beignets, left, and Chocolate Marzipan Chambord Torte.

SCHENECTADY — It was a classic case of déjà vous … or should I say déjà Nous? Despite the lack of rain, the herb garden was flourishing on the left of the short walkway to the few steps leading to the restaurant’s front door.

Friend Lois and I entered Chez Nous (translated “with us” or “the place where we live”) and encountered a nearly life-sized statue of a grumpy old waiter hiding a flask behind his back — a left-over from the last occupants. His sour demeanor was unwelcoming, but the promise of a good dinner served at a reasonable price was inviting.

The restaurant looked much the same as before — same furniture, same sparkly chandeliers, same bar location. But the venue felt different. While the original Chez Nous served French cuisine, according to a recent Daily Gazette article, the goal of owner Peter Nichols is to serve dishes that are more familiar to local diners and to offer the food at reasonable prices.

Although I admire creativity, I tend toward culinary classics when I’m dining for a review. I prefer not to judge a dish by my own personal preferences, but rather how it measures up to a standard.

The “Classic Steak House Wedge” ($8) is described as “crispy iceberg topped with blue cheese dressing and crumbles, tomatoes, red onions and bacon bits.” A child of the ’50s, I was raised on iceberg lettuce, and I still appreciate its crunchy texture. The house-made dressing was housed in a small mason-type jar so the diner had the option of using as much as (s)he wanted. The crumbles, tomatoes, bacon bits and onions (both thinly sliced and curly fried) were artfully arranged across the apex of the lettuce wedge.

(A word about the thinly-sliced red onions: they were prepared so carefully that the translucent red circles resembled concentric panes in a contemporary stained glass window. Impressive!)

We were unaware that side dishes were included with our entrees, so we over-ordered.

The half dozen pasta offerings were varied and all made in-house. They ranged from “twirly” pasta like Fettuccini Alfredo and Broccoli ($12-$18 with chicken cutlet) and filled pasta like Lobster Ravioli ($20). Once again, choosing what I considered to be a classic, I ordered the Capellini a la Margherita — thin strands of home-made pasta tossed with roasted garlic, tomatoes, fresh basil and parmesan “blessed” (Chez Nous’s word) with sherry ($10).

A lucky 13 items graced the list of entrees — more if I counted the add-ons for several of the dishes. They ranged from meat like House Wood Fired BBQ Brawl ($24), to Fried Chicken fueled with teriyaki and hot and sour sauce ($18), to seafood represented by blackened and Spiced Brandied Salmon ($26).

I settled again on a classic — a 12oz. New York strip sirloin. Chef Pete grilled the steak to a perfect medium rare as requested. Browned on the outside, warm red all the way through and fork-tender, the steak was as fine as I’ve ever had.

Lois’ entrée showed off Chez Nous’ creative side: Her Shrimp Diane was composed of eight large shrimp sauteed in butter, spices, mushrooms, green onions, sherry & Dijon over house-made capellini ($24). Haricot verts were arranged spoke-like around a dish which had been constructed with a large central depression for the pasta. Confetti of green parsley and red pimiento had fluttered onto the edge of the large white dish, displaying the Chef’s artistry.

Eight desserts and I’m in sugar-loaded heaven. Prices for all were seven or eight dollars. I chose the Chocolate Marzipan Chambord Torte ($8). Chocolate and almost any fruit — especially berries — are perfect partners. So a chocolate ganache topping with a thin marzipan layer was heavenly, though I brought most of my torte home.

Generous by nature, Lois ordered the Apple Cider Beignets ($7) to share. The nine baby donut holes arrived hot and crispy on the outside, soft in the middle and nestled in a metal cone lined with a red and white checkered napkin. I savored one at the table, and Lois split the rest for each of us to take home.

My guest noted that in the beginning of our visit to Chez-Nous the servers “did not quite have their act together.” Frequent returns to our small table were required to straighten out our orders, but in the end all was well and Lois remarked thoughtfully:

“What impressed me [the most about the new Chez Nous] was that there were no strong flavors, just several nuanced ones that evolved during the experience. I was impressed that no one flavor overtook another, but rather [they] served to enhance each other.”

Chez Nous

WHERE: 707 Union St., Schenectady, 518-344-6393
WHEN: Sun-Mon closed, Tues-Thurs 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 4 p.m.-9 p.m.; Fri 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 4 p.m.-10 p.m.; Sat 4 p.m.-10-p.m.
HOW MUCH: $89 without tax or tip
MORE INFO: Street parking, handicapped accessible, vegan and kids’ menus, debit and most credit cards accepted, take out, no delivery, free wi-fi, reservations accepted

Categories: Food, Life and Arts, Life and Arts, Schenectady

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