Although the name is different, the internal changes are as indistinct as the name on the sign is outside. Marotta’s has morphed into Rare, but only faintly.
Even the menu has a section entitled Ghosts of Dishes Past, which features a dozen of, I’m guessing, the more popular entrées from the last incarnation. The sales receipt still identifies the restaurant as Marotta’s Bar-Risto.
Veteran dinner guest and faithful Gazette reader Lois surveyed the long narrow dining room with a bar along the right, the open kitchen at the far end and approximately 20 tables closely spaced in between. I chose a table for four at the rear of the restaurant near the open prep area because I am fascinated by professional kitchens. This time I wish I had not. Without meaning to spy, I noticed a server handling bread without sanitary gloves.
Our server delivered a basket of warm crusty rustic bread accompanied by both butter pats and olive oil and balsamic vinegar to the table. We had ordered cheddar pesto ravioli ($20), house-made dry tomato pesto ravioli stuffed with white cheddar, ricotta and parmesan cheeses, tossed with sausage, eggplant and broccoli in a marsala pesto cream sauce. We split it as an appetizer, but accompanied by my arugula salad with citrus white balsamic dressing ($6.50/small), it would have made a lovely meal.
I am leaning toward simplicity these days, and found the menu with its 10 headings and multitudinous symbols confusing. A former husband used to remind me that the essence of freedom is choice, and yet I found the number of choices of additions such as pork belly and eggplant, steak cuts, sides, sauces, toppings and drizzles overwhelming and therefore restraining. To her credit, server Fallon was patient, but by her third lap around to our table I felt obligated to make a decision. While it is empowering to bestow upon the diner so many choices, I would have preferred to abrogate those decisions to the chef, expecting he/she would know which sauces complemented which foods.
In the end, my boggled brain pushed me in the direction of Steak Craft which, after all, is what Rare is all about. From an assortment of five cuts with three sizes each (that’s 15 choices right there if anyone is keeping track), I decided the regular 16-ounce portion ($29) would be more than adequate for me. It was. I took half of it home. I chose the cowboy cut because it had the bone in, but this one sported only about a 3-inch bone. The beef was grilled to the requested medium rare and reasonably tender. Note to self: Order a larger cut next time.
More choices: I could have opted for vegetables, risotto or pasta sides. I chose the wild mushroom risotto and found it incredibly rich and delicious. Less so the broccoli rabe. It was deep green and flavorful, but the stems were tough and even serious mastication did not render them tender enough to eat.
Lois’s vodka rigatoni with chicken ($19) fared better than my cowboy steak. Al dente rigatoni in a slightly spicy marinara cream sauce with seasoned tender chunks of white meat chicken was exactly what she had hoped for.
I work hard to save room for dessert, believing I owe the favor to our readers (I said, tongue firmly lodged in my cheek). We chose flourless chocolate torte and New York style cheesecake ($6 each) from a list that also included the ubiquitous tiramisu to share. The cheesecake was properly creamy, while the chocolate torte was properly chocolate-y, and the portions were small enough to satisfy but not cause an overstuffed feeling.
We ordered coffee and an espresso to finish the meal. I was pleased to receive a lemon twist without asking, but surprised to receive a plastic stirrer instead of a real miniature spoon for stirring in sugar.
Ambiance, that “je ne sais quois” of dining, is often omitted in a review, but I’d like to mention three variables here: color, table amenities and background noise. I’m not sure whether or not the walls were actually painted gray and/or tan, but in low light, that’s what the colors looked like. They added to the gentle atmosphere required for dining.
A minor problem: Cocktail napkins were omitted with bar drinks, causing the water vapor in the humid air to condense on the cold glass of the beverages and form pesky puddles on the table.
Sound reverberated from the ceiling and walls. I don’t know whether or not there was any music in the background. But the loud conversation punctuated by periodic cackling from the two females at an adjacent table pierced the air like barbed arrows. The quartet was clearly enjoying itself, but the noise from closely spaced tables interfered with our enjoyment. Perhaps we were just too well-done for Rare.
Rare Craft Steak and Cocktail House
WHERE: 611 Union St., Schenectady, NY 12305, (518) 377-5100
WHEN: Mon., Tue., Sun. 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Wed.-Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $95.95 for two people with coffee but without alcohol, tax and tip
MORE INFO: Accessible (ramp), brunch Sat. and Sun., express lunches, take-out, delivery via GrubHub, street parking, small lot at end of block, catering, patio, live music.