It’s been a great year for eating. I feel lucky that I had the chance to experience many wonderful meals, and tell you about them.
From delicious fruit-flavored lemonade in Ball canning jars on a hot summer day at Ambition Cafe on Jay Street in Schenectady to sublime Korean pork on a gorgeous autumn evening spent watching the sun set over the Hudson River in Troy, there were many happy moments that made me glad to be doing this job, and hopefully shining some light on worthy restaurants that serve delicious food. Here are my favorite places of 2013.
Johnny’s Restaurant, 433 State St., Schenectady, 982-5657, www.johnnysdowntown.com
You can read Proctors’ marquee from the dining room, but chances are you’ll be looking at your plate. Another Mallozzi restaurant, another hit. It’s Italian as can be. You want clams casino? Calamari? Veal dishes to spare? Fresh pasta? Johnny’s got ’em. It’s stylish, but not stuffy, and the prices are down-to-Earth, with most entrees under $20. Desserts are astonishingly good, and the Italian nachos are crazy good. Service is solid and Johnny’s will get you to the theater on time.
River Street Cafe, 429 River St., Troy, 273-2740, www.riverstreetcafe.troy.com
It’s not often I use the word extraordinary in a review, but I used it three times to describe the food at this Troy institution. The dining room with exposed brick walls and French windows overlooking the Hudson River feels sophisticated and urbane. The menu is spare, but trust owner/chef George Schroeter to choose the best representation of beef, chicken, duck, pork and fish. The roasted potatoes drizzled with butter, or goose fat if it’s handy, are to die for. Entree prices include pasta, salad, and bread. Be sure to make a reservation.
Charles F. Lucas Confectionery, 12 Second St., Troy, 326-3450, lucasconfectionery.wordpress.com
Here’s something different, an urban gem in a restored confectionery building. There’s not a lot of cooking going on, mostly assembling, because the food consists mostly of locally sourced cheeses and other provisions.
They’ve chosen the best examples of meat, cheeses, and baked goods produced around the Capital Region and surrounding area for their abbreviated menu. The sweets are outstanding, like the authentic European macarons. The decor is Restoration Hardware Industrial Chic, the atmosphere is hopping. Vic Christopher and Heather LaVine have done an outstanding job of dragging Troy into the 21st Century via the 19th.
Antipasto’s Vegetarian Friendly Bistro and Wine and Beer Bar, 1028 Route 146, Clifton Park, 383-1209, www.antipastos.com
If you can smell the garlic before you get out of the car, you know it’s going to be good. Antipasto’s channels cozy Italian restaurants from downstate and Boston. It’s date-perfect and charming. They really care about the quality of what they serve, and they’ll find exactly the right wine for you. The three-cheese pizza is dizzying, fattening, salty, entrancing, wonderful and at the top of my last-meal list. The people are nice and treat their customers generously and with respect. Let Antipasto’s transport you to Brooklyn. You might not want to come back.
La Serre, 14 Green St., Albany. 463-6056, www.laserrealbany.com
After 35 years, this Albany institution has acquired a genteel patina and plenty of gravitas. The dining rooms are clubby, cozy, mahogany paneled, with coffered ceilings and leather-upholstered furniture. It’s old-school dining, something we don’t have enough of around here.
La Serre hosts foreign-language classes from local high schools to show the kids what fine dining is all about. Trust La Serre to show you how elegant dining is done. The food manages to be light and rich at the same time. Dress nice when you go, La Serre makes an evening special.
Ambition Cafe, 154 Jay St., Schenectady. 382-9277, ambitionny.com
This bohemian gem defies description, but you’ll have an excellent lunch. Ambition served me one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had — and the fruit-flavored lemonade was really, really good. It’s got burgers, sandwiches, homemade soup, and a wry, self-deprecating sense of humor. Ignore the sign that reads “Clothing Optional Beyond This Point.” They don’t really mean it. I think.
The Carrot Barn, 5606 State Route 30, Schoharie. 295-7139, www.schoharievalleyfarms.com
There are so many reasons to feel good about going to the Carrot Barn. They’ve got the freshest fruits and vegetables, right from the farm, there’s gift shopping, and locally sourced provisions like cheeses and meat. The food in the small cafe is downright healthy, in a delicious kind of way. The cold cuts are Boar’s Head, the breads and soup are homemade. The cider doughnuts are to die for. And it’s set in one of the most beautiful places on the planet.
— Restaurant reviewer Caroline Lee