GUILDERLAND — What a lovely experience we had from beginning to end, husband Eric and me, for a Saturday date-night dinner at Provence in Stuyvesant Plaza.
Everything was perfect: well-paced timing of the meal that left a bit of time between courses to allow one to digest (in both senses) what one ate; the understated but superb service; and of course, the wonderful food.
Husband Eric reviewed it shortly after it opened in 1999 and we were both favorably impressed. That it is still going strong speaks for the hard work and dedication of the chef-owner and staff in such a competitive industry.
It began with a friendly greeting at the door. Did we want to check our coats? We were led past the baby grand piano, the bar and its casual seating area, to a raised section with long striped banquette and two-tops, and a view into the surprisingly low-key, tidy, tiled kitchen.
The atmosphere is tranquil and relaxing, with leather-padded, sturdy and comfortable chairs at white-linen covered tables. Handsome, hefty brass lamps hid a real flame behind a linen shade.
Provence serves traditional and contemporary Mediterranean and French cuisine, and boasts a wine menu of more than 150 selections. Executive chef-owner Daniel Darves-Bornoz, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, continued his training in France, New York and San Francisco. Darves-Bornoz started Unique Catering and in 1991 opened the popular Milano, in Latham.
He must know what he’s doing.
Francophiles will enjoy classics such as escargot a la Bourguignon, preparations of fois gras that change daily, coquilles St. Jacques and bouillabiasse, the traditional seafood stew of the south of France. The menu hits contemporary notes with lobster mac and cheese, Kurobuta pork tenderloin and sizzling chili shrimp.
The menu is priced right, with entrees starting at $22 for chicken roti, up to $39 for two kinds of steaks, and they offer two versions of both the steak frites ($18 small, $27 regular) and salmon pistou ($16 small, $25 regular). The smaller options leave you with plenty of room to explore an appetizer or salad and dessert.
There’s a reasonably price bottle (between $25 and $35) in each section of the wine menu, with plenty of other more luxurious options.
Provence serves warm ciabatta, with fresh-flavored greenish olive oil that gets a flavor punch from finely chopped basil. The bread and desserts are made by a pastry chef at Milano.
Live music, from a duo at the front of the house, enlivened without being intrusive.
I started with a wintry cup of truffled mushroom soup ($7) that had the distinct color and flavor of mushroom mingled agreeably with the aroma of truffle, under a shiny surface. A nice start; it wasn’t too heavy or filling, velvety but not creamy.
Eric thought the smoky flavor of the seafood chowder ($8) enhanced its components: pieces of tender shrimp, whitefish or lobster, potato and carrot. He liked the thick, reddish broth and said the bite-sized pieces made it easy to eat.
Our entrees arrived at just the right time, after we’d each had some bread and finished examining our surroundings, including the steady, drama-free rhythm of the kitchen. Eric’s choice was a special, butter-poached lobster with winter vegetable risotto ($24) that was as pleasing to the eye as the palate. The tidy mound of rice came topped with a vermilion half-lobster tail, sunflower microgreens sticking out every which way, decorated with deeply colored balsamic reduction.
Our server brought a seafood fork, in case all the lobster had not been extracted from the shell (it had), an example of the thoughtfulness of the service.
Eric loved the chunks of buttery lobster, the vinegar tang of the balsamic reduction, the creaminess of the rice and the crunch of the fresh greens. It’s a lovely, balanced dish.
The canard au cerises ($28) brought back pleasant memories of trips to Paris, where I learned to enjoy duck confit. This boneless breast with Frenched wing bone was flawless, sauteed medium-well as requested, with plenty of pink meat and juiciness left. The sour cherries were a nice contrast to the slightly fatty skin, which had a bit of crispness to it — the best part. The winter vegetable was kale sautéed with mirepoix, the greens still brightly colored and crisp.
Served alongside was a small cast-iron pan of cassoulet, a rustic stew of white beans, duck confit, smoked ham and small-cut vegetables. Best of all, it had been topped with fine, buttery breadcrumbs and broiled, to give a satisfying crispness to the long-cooked, rich and deeply-flavored dish. Gorgeous.
Eric sipped the last of his satisfying Beefeater martini ($11) with his dessert, molten chocolate cake with dulce de leche gelato ($8). The warm chocolate swirled out at the touch of his spoon, coaxing the gelato into melting. It was such a nice ending to the evening, he said, as he scraped the last of the chocolate sauce off the plate.
The best foods evoke memories, and the real, ripe strawberries in the fruit tart amande ($7.50) brought back long summer days and fresh pints of berries in juice-stained boxes. The super-sweet sauce was tamed by the vanilla-bean-flecked, unsweetened whipped cream, perched atop warm, almond-scented scalloped shortbread cookies.
The tab for our food, before tax and tip, came to $82.50. We sighed when we added Provence to the fantasy list of restaurants we’d love to have within walking distance of our home.
Our server presented me with a tidy bag of leftovers along with the check, and thanked us for coming, as did the hostess, when she handed us our coats. So, beginning to end, a pleasant experience with wonderful food.
WHERE: 1475 Western Ave. (Stuyvesant Plaza), Guilderland, 689-7777, provence-restaurant.net
WHEN: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday and Monday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
HOW MUCH: $82.50 for food, before tax and tip
MORE INFO: Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express Discover. Children’s menu. ADA compliant. Parking in Stuyvesant Plaza lot.