They didn’t have to give me the red rose.
By the end of our meal at the recently renovated and updated Scrimshaw restaurant, they’d already won me over.
I’ve paid as much for dinner at other restaurants that I didn’t enjoy half as much. Maybe it was the attentive service by waiters at the top of their game, intent on making the entire evening memorable.
We made reservations on OpenTable, which notes that Scrimshaw has been recently voted “most romantic” and “best special occasion” restaurant. The restaurant’s makeover came during a six-week period last summer, and it reopened with a new menu that introduced some contemporary cuisine while keeping classics. Stephen Fratianni is the new chef de cuisine, Frank Rivera is the dining room manager.
It’s still Colonial style; it’s the Desmond, of course. Husband Eric says it has its roots in Philadelphia, and the decor wouldn’t be out of place there, with handsome carved cherry dining chairs, patterned wallpaper and matching drapery, lots of paintings of ships, and a gloomy portrait of a founding-father type glaring down at the piano.
Scrimshaw at The Desmond Hotel
WHERE: 660 Albany Shaker Road, Colonie. 869-8100, desmondhotelsalbany.com
WHEN: Dinner 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday
HOW MUCH: $118.91, with tax and tip, not including wine.
MORE INFO: Reservations recommended. Call restaurant or go to OpenTable.com. Plenty of parking. Wheelchair accessible. Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express. Accommodations made for children’s meals.
“Would you like to sit in the piano room?” our hostess asked. We were led to a table set for four in the corner opposite the stretch grand piano, and my white napkin was changed for a black one to match my dress. Long menus were presented, and extra glasses and dishes were removed. Seven tables are generously spaced here, with another room beyond this one.
They were having a clearance on wine — making space for the new list’s inventory — so we ordered a bottle of MezzaCorona Pinot Grigio ($21), after checking to make sure we could take it with us at the end of the evening. Such a bargain in such a delightful setting, we thought.
“Everyone is so well-trained,” said Eric. I agreed. The staff are career hospitality workers who obviously enjoy their work, performing tasks knowledgeably and efficiently.
I was delighted with the freshly made, tangy sourdough rolls that were so chewy and delicious that I saved half to bring home along with the hunk of heavily raisined, cinnamon dark yeast bread. A generous serving of butter came in a paper-topped ramekin displaying a three-masted sailing ship. They’ve thought of everything.
A chilled amuse-bouche of rocket, shiitake mushrooms, and fried onion started us off. Literally meaning “amuse the mouth,” it serves as an appetite stimulant and was graciously presented as a gift from the kitchen.
Eric started with the halibut dumplings ($11), spoon-shaped and bright white, “all fish” he said, and “quite nice,” in a clear, saffron seasoned fumet, with sliced scallions and bits of red pepper. I was glad to share my roasted heirloom tomato tart ($10) with New York cheddar in excellent short pastry, since he’d gobbled up the dumplings and I realized, with some regret, that the lovely tart was packed with calories. It was worth every one.
“Some restaurants could take a lesson from this,” said Eric, referring to the gentle tinkling of the piano, which accompanied but didn’t overwhelm conversation. We didn’t realize we needed our palates cleansed, but our server told us we did, as she presented a carrot-orange granita, tingling with fresh ginger. We were about an hour into our meal, and felt comfortable and pampered, the time passing pleasantly as you can imagine.
I enjoyed the delicate Point Judith fluke ($29) so much. I’d never had fluke before, and it looked for all the world like a poached chicken breast, but it was oh so tender and scented with lemon, tasting just a little bit like fish. Each flaky bit, soaked in the broth, was delightful. The potatoes were as well, generously piped onto a bit of pastry and caramelized onion, puffy and light, with golden valleys between browned ridges.
The only disappointment of the evening was that the promised fiddlehead ferns were swapped out for carrots and white asparagus, which I thought could have used a bit more cooking, although Eric proclaimed them perfect.
The entrees arrive under enormous silver acorn-topped domes lifted off to semi-dramatic effect at the table. Eric’s coquille St. Jaques ($26) was presented swaddled in dinner napkins, presumably because the baking dish was just pulled from the oven. There were four or five sea scallops — the large ones, in a reduced sauce topped with more of those lovely piped potatoes. Duchess potatoes, they’re called, although the ones I’ve seen are not nearly so light and fluffy. You don’t need a great volume of food when you’ve got a variety of textures and flavors, and Scrimshaw exemplifies this.
I don’t want to disappoint any readers by skipping dessert, so we each ordered one when we might have shared. On the dessert trolley were presented, to great effect, three kinds of fruit tarts, a chocolate polenta cake with chocolate ganache, New York style cheesecake, a trio of desserts, and their signature chocolate piano.
Eric enjoyed the trio ($7.95): the small, round cheesecake, a flavor-packed espresso gelato, and dainty creme brulee that made up in crunch and flavor for what it lacked in size. Large dollops of whipped cream were here and there; Eric protested he couldn’t possibly finish, though he did. The miniature chocolate piano ($8.95) made me happy with its strawberries Romanoff stuffed under the grand piano lid, the restaurant’s logo across the top. The keys were white chocolate, of course, and the whipped cream ever-so-lightly almond-flavored.
When the check arrived, we were pleasantly surprised — the bill came to $118.91 for two exceptional three-course dinners with tax and gratuity, but not wine. You could spend more, and when we go back, there’s a chateaubriand for two ($80) we’d love to try.
Before we left, the server pulled a red rose from the vase by the door and presented it to me.
But Eric wasn’t forgotten. As we collected our coats from the hostess, a small shopping bag was handed over “for the gentleman.” In it were two fresh bagels and packets of cream cheese, water bottles, and a weekend edition of a newspaper whose name I shall not mention, wrapped in a ribbon. Along with a thank-you note.
At Scrimshaw, they do all those extra things you don’t expect that make dining out special. Go and enjoy the whole evening, even the spaces in between the courses, as they are all part of a gratifying experience. Even if it’s not for a special occasion, it will feel like one.
Addendum: In New York you can now tote home an unfinished bottle of wine. The restaurant corks the bottle and seals it in a plastic bag for travel, to be enjoyed later.