SCHENECTADY — Schenectady has a new French restaurant to rival any in the Capital Region. Chez Nous, the labor of love of Heather and Andy Chestnut, grew out of a love for traditional food acquired while living in France. They’ve taken a vacant Victorian building with interesting spaces, added a professional kitchen and created a welcoming, elegant restaurant.
On a quiet night we got a friendly tour, past the cheerful main dining room, up to the snug, wood-paneled library, through the upstairs lounge with blazing fireplace and comfortable armchairs, back down to the bar with its curvy zinc counter and to the light-filled garden room. There is space for tables outside; Chez Nous has extended the row of charming restaurants on Union Street.
WHERE: 707 Union St., Schenectady, 344-6393, www.cheznousschenectady.com
WHEN: 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday
HOW MUCH: $100 for food, before tax and tip
MORE INFO: Credit cards Master Card, Visa, American Express, Discover. Wheelchair accessible. Parking on street. Reservations recommended, accepted via phone, website or www.opentable.com
Husband Eric wanted to dine in the library, with its framed maps of Paris and rows of books. We were pleased with the handsome surroundings, the Utica-made Tiffany light fixture, comfortable dining chairs and to have it all to ourselves.
We were attended to right away, and our server set the tone for the evening: privacy for us, alone in the book-filled room, and professionalism on his part. Chez Nous is to be commended for excellent training; the server had tasted everything we asked about and had encyclopedic knowledge of the wine and food menus.
I love the mushroom vol-au-vent ($14) starter in melt-in-your mouth real butter puff pastry, deeply browned and crackly and worth every calorie.
The meaty cremini mushrooms are transformed into something formidable as a result of cooking in a rich creamy, sherry-flavored sauce, and overflowed the meal-sized puff pastry shell. This alone, with a cold glass of wine and seat at the bar, would make my perfect meal.
Chez Nous’ Coquilles St. Jaques starter ($18) is a minimalist riff on the classic scallops gratinee with its best parts accentuated, a gem of a dish. Two perfect diver scallops were “Silky smooth and light,” in their wine sauce, according to Eric, enamored. He added, “They’re velvety and firm. You can cut them with a fork.”
My first bite of fricassee de poulet a l’angevine ($24) was aromatic with rosemary, pleasantly affirming my view that long-cooked, simple foods can be the most complex and satisfying. A chicken leg quarter seasoned with fresh thyme and rosemary is cooked with onion and mushrooms in marvelous sauce of cognac and double cream, the skin above the cooking liquid crisped. The preparation is exacting.
The accompanying baby carrots of every color disintegrated at a bite, their flavor intensified by slow cooking. Eric coveted the aligot, made from mashed potatoes and garlic with mild melted cheese on top, and said it was the hit of the evening.
The scent of truffle oil on deliciously oily and salty skinny frites preceded Eric’s plate to the table. He had ordered the 10-ounce chateaubriand ($35) cooked medium-rare and charred almost black outside. Sliced and fanned simply over a demiglace, the ghost of marinade left behind, it was perfect, he said.
The tenderloin had character, it was meaty and substantial. Its char, almost charcoal, was a bitter complement to the sweet meat.
Something to think about: a similar piece of beef on an a la carte menu at a premier steakhouse would cost more than what Chez Nous charged for Eric’s meal.
Desserts are simply spectacular. Eric’s maple pot de creme ($8) was a delight. The traditional French soft and silky custard had a gentle, almost caramel flavor and was served in a fine porcelain cup along with a spoonful of whipped cream and a crumbly lemon shortbread cookie. He didn’t care to share.
The tab for our food came to $100 before tax and tip. The perfect martini, a generous size, was $9.50, the recommended crisp and pleasing Sancerre $13.
The Chestnuts say it’s simply French. I say it’s simply wonderful.