ROTTERDAM JUNCTION -- It was Schenectady Restaurant Week and, of the handful of venues I had never visited, I chose The River Road House to review.
Dinner guest backed out unexpectedly, but I decided I would still be able to provide both the restaurant and the Gazette reader with a fair assessment of the Road House.
Situated on Route 5S just before the railroad tracks, the building was identified by its mossy green siding and mahogany-colored shutters. A modest sign stands on the small front lawn, while an ample parking lot is to the right.
A considerate young man held the door open for me, and I was greeted immediately by Server/Owner Shannon. An open wood-paneled room was divided by half walls into a bar area and two dining areas. Although conversation occasionally evolving into noise reached my little table in the corner, it was not annoying -- just sounds of happy people.
Effervescent Shannon delivered both the Restaurant Week special menu, as well as the restaurant’s standard menu. The special menu was limited -- three selections under each of three courses. Absent was a vegan entree from the list of Chicken Sorrento, Herb Encrusted Haddock and Steak Stroganoff.
Choosing the Tomato Basil Bisque over the Caesar Salad and Winter Bruschetta (garlic toast with apples, cranberries, walnuts, basil, bleu cheese crumbles and balsamic glaze) was a good move. Visible leaves of fresh basil enlivened the pureed, creamy tomato base. I could have made a meal on the bisque alone.
My choice of haddock over “Clams Casino Risotto topped with a lemon beurre blanc,” did not live up to its description. The triangular piece of haddock was tender and mildly seasoned by the bread crumbs sprinkled on it, but if beurre blanc was present, it was in such a small quantity that it was apparent on neither the fish nor the dish. The accompanying risotto had been cooked to a near-solid clump, not creamy and velvety as its preparation requires. Some experts even suggest authentic risotto is impossible to serve in a restaurant because it takes 40 minutes to prepare. I am guessing the tiny flecks in in the rice may have been bits of clams casino.
The young green beans on the side, however, were perfect -- tender with a slight crunch, a manageable length requiring no cutting, seasoned with a hint of garlic, adding color to an otherwise neutral palate. A wedge of lemon contributed a final pop of yellow to brighten a largely beige dish.
Dessert was an easy choice. Besides Chocolate Mousse, there were Cannoli and a Crème de Menthe Parfait. I already have a local source for the best cannoli in the Northeast and, for me, Chocolate Mousse is fluffy chocolate pudding. But I have loved crème de menthe parfaits since I was a kid. The emerald pools of liqueur at the bottom of the parfait glass forming miniature whirlpools with the melting vanilla ice cream dazzle me.
At some point during the meal, I had ordered a Virgin Mary ($5) spiked with horseradish and garnished with celery, olives, fried pickles, a lemon and a lime wedge, and a crisp strip of bacon. Yes, bacon! The River Road House does not serve espresso, so I substituted regular coffee ($2) which was served fresh, black and hot.
The Garlic Ginger Chicken Salad ($12) which I delivered to absent dinner mate was a disappointment. Ample strips of grilled chicken were sprinkled with sesame seeds and laid across a bed of romaine, Swiss cheese, pickled banana peppers, sliced black olives, roasted red peppers, carrot shreds, bits of bacon and sautéed onions. The salad could have been great, but the bottom layers were soggy from standing in a puddle of liquid.
In an effort to present a fair evaluation of the salad, I returned a few days later, ordered the Garlic Ginger Chicken Salad to eat in-house and experienced the same water-logging problem. I tried pouring off the water and soak it up with napkins. Did the onions cause the liquid? Did the warm chicken cause condensation? Had the lettuce been rinsed but not drained?
Assuming the purpose of Restaurant Week is to introduce diners to new venues, the River Road House succeeded. But if the purpose was to present a full-course dinner at a lower price than what one would have ordinarily paid for a similar meal, the River Road House was less successful -- understandable, since it bills itself as a bar and grill -- not a fine dining venue. We will go again, seeking pizza, soups, salads, sandwiches and wraps, sturdy drinks and a welcoming atmosphere -- areas in which the River Road House excels.
A roadhouse (U.S.) or stopping house (Canada) is a commercial establishment built on or near a major road or highway that services passing travelers. Historically, it was known as a coaching inn, providing food, drink, and rest to people and horses.
River Road House Bar and Grill
WHERE: 989 River Road, Schenectady; 518-214-4136, riverroadhouse.business.site
WHEN: Tuesday to Thursday 11:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Sunday noon to 9 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $44.52 for two entrees (1 Restaurant Week special, 1 takeout), and beverages, but without tax and tip
MORE INFO: Family-owned, kids’ menu, two stairs in front, parking lot, reservations accepted, takeout, all major credit cards accepted except American Express, large room open in summer