This is the third “Yousta-Be” restaurant I have reviewed recently: the Union Inn Bar and Grill yousta-be the Union Inn.
The City Squire Ale House yousta-be the City Squire. And Malcolm’s yousta-be Café Nola.
Malcolm’s layout is similar to Nola’s: tables for dining downstairs, small bar, an L-shaped open kitchen and service area in the back half of the first floor, and three areas upstairs (dining area, private dining area, small lounge), all on a balcony surrounding the first-floor dining area below.
The bar seats four, the front edge of the kitchen accommodates five. Eight additional tables occupy the first floor and 13 are on the second. There is a patio outside in front (an apparent requirement for lower Union Street’s “restaurant row”) with only a dozen potted herbs currently in residence.
Effervescent staff members float back and forth, front and back, up and down. Hostess Liz took my coat and seated us at a lovely table in the front corner of the downstairs dining area where two large windows met. Server Michael handed us mini tablet menus and took our drink orders.
Michael explained that the emphasis on fresh and local produce and provisions generates changes in the restaurant’s daily offerings. With no fixed menu, regulars feel like newcomers, and I am guessing the staff rarely becomes bored.
Malcolm’s website explains that the goal of Malcolm’s is to become a “cohesive unit working together as a team to create an impressive dining experience … ” for the customer. Chefs were the only members of the team designated by a uniform. Servers and the hostess were casually dressed in street clothes.
Casual elegance was also obvious in the décor. Variations of beige, tan and brown were noted in the refined barn board on the walls, bar and kitchen. Tables were wood. Only nosegays provided color on each table while larger, strategically placed floral arrangements greeted customers near the entrance.
But what about the food, you ask impatiently. Malcolm’s cuisine was a seemingly endless parade of moderate portions of carefully prepared and eye-appealing courses. Malcolm’s offers a four-course meal for $45. The night we visited, the dinner consisted of root vegetable salad or bread and butter (which included Kilcoyne Farm bone marrow), apple bisque or pork belly, arctic char or rabbit ragu, and dessert.
Other than the prix fixe dinner, courses were a la carte. Gail ordered the pork chop ($29) and Cornell carrot salad ($12). RubyFrost apples, arugula and Cherry Belle radishes were tossed with a slightly tangy R&G goat milk yogurt dressing. It was the kind of salad one nibbles and savors. Michael delivered a complimentary small piece of house-made dark focaccia served with a pureed squash spread.
The Lovers Leap Farm double-cut pork chop ($29) was accompanied by salt and vinegar fingerling potatoes, turnip greens and bourbon maple soubise (sauce made with onions lightly sautéed in butter and pureed with cream). Meat and sauce were lovely, but I will have to train my taste buds to appreciate vinegar potatoes.
I’ve never eaten pork belly ($16) except as “Hungarian barbecue” (see Napkin Note below). The Malcolm’s take on the dish was quite different. A 2-inch cube of bacon was placed in the center of a white plate and adorned with apple chutney, upland cress, sunchoke and pickled ginger. The rather bland fatty belly was livened by the tang of the brighter components.
At some point during the meal, Michael delivered complimentary tiny cups of spring pea bisque with pickled watermelon and radish.
My spring pea risotto ($19) was rescued by crispy shaved parsnips, salty and ever so slightly sweet. I nibbled the slender 2-inch pieces one at a time, letting them melt on my tongue. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so greedy and instead stirred the parsnips into the risotto with the bits of roasted cauliflower and Lovin’ Mama Farm upland cress.
Although I yearned to ask Michael for salt and pepper, I felt it would be an insult to the chef.
After the dishes had been cleared, a server delivered a complimentary nano-piece of chocolate cake (with espresso, chai spice, blood orange sauce and coconut chocolate ice cream) at the end of our meals. This gesture of goodwill prompted Gail to order a Boozy Sorbet ($3) with a splash of limoncello poured at the table. RubyFrost apples with vanilla panna cotta and cider syrup ($8) was also available.
Pork belly is being served these days in upscale restaurants. But years ago, the meat was stuck on the end of a pointed stick by Hungarian cowboys and roasted on an open fire until the drippings saturated a piece of rye bread topped with sliced raw onion and devoured with gusto. Despite worries about cholesterol, modern Hungarians still begin a picnic with “sutni szalona” (pronounced “shoot-nee sul-o-nah”).
WHERE: 617 Union St., Schenectady, NY 12305; (518) 344-4599; [email protected]
WHEN: Mon.-Tues. closed, Wed.-Thurs. 5:30-10:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5:30-11 p.m., Sun 12-3 p.m. (brunch), 5:30-9-30 p.m. (dinner).
HOW MUCH: $89 with sparkling water and coffee but without tax and tip.
MORE INFO: Street
parking, major credit cards accepted, noise
level permits conversation, seasonal menu changes, first floor accessible
(stairs to second level), reservations recommended.