“Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world. Like a Colossus … ”
A king, a queen and two princesses arrived for dinner one Saturday evening at the double-towered red brick Amsterdam Castle. Standing protectively at the end of Bridge Street atop a hill on Florida Avenue, the former armory was designed by Isaac Perry in 1895. Real estate investor Nigel Ghotbi transformed the massive building into a boutique hotel about a year and a half ago, adding the restaurant just a couple of months ago.
The magnificent first floor of the castle took our breath away. The ceiling rose to the roof of the building in the Castle’s Great Hall. Ghotbi constructed inner walls, adorning them with his personal art collection of more than 200 pieces. A section of the polished floor was cordoned off with banquettes to accommodate about a dozen cloth-covered tables for dining. Another less formal area held cocktail tables and an antique bar. Suits of armor stood against the wall overseeing the guests.
There were four of us, but only one princess and I participated in the review. We were shown a table along the periphery with banquette seats on one side. We ordered beverages (besides nonalcoholic drinks, the Castle serves wine and beer) and enjoyed the short but creative menu.
Instead of the ubiquitous bread basket, we were offered a small plate of warm cheese puffs arranged among parallel squiggles of sweet and sour sauce. We politely took one apiece and generously awarded the fifth to our loyal chauffeur.
Two salads, eight entrees and one dessert graced the single-page menu. Official guest (whom I will designate OG) and I decided to order different salads so we could experience each. The Castle Beet Salad ($8) ordered by my guest was a palette of colors. Roasted gold beets were molded into a small inverted cake and layered with feta. The space on the rest of the plate was artistically decorated with pecans and some red beets atop leaf lettuce. Although the menu suggested mint and a honey-champagne dressing would finish the salad, my tongue detected no mint. The dressing, following a wiggly path on the plate, appeared to be closer to a balsamic reduction than to a lighter champagne vinaigrette.
My Castle Roma Crunch ($7), accurately described as grilled Romaine with blistered tomatoes, parmesan and a Tuscan dressing, was strewn with crunchy croutons. The longitudinally bisected small head of Romaine was arranged on the plate in a letter T formation. Flavors and textures of the ingredients added excitement to each bite, and the salad was large enough to comprise a more than adequate lunch.
But this was dinner, and we were eager to enjoy our entrees. My guest chose Orecchiette Chicken Pesto ($19.75), described on the menu as “small oval pasta, basil, olive oil, garlic, parmesan and pine nuts.” OG added that peas and mushrooms were included in the mild white sauce; did not detect pine nuts; and thought the tarragon she tasted may actually have been the basil described on the menu. But she noted the seasoning was “perfect,” which may have explained why there was no salt or pepper on the table.
My Peking Duck Royale ($23) was fit for a king — or queen. Seasoned with a citrus glaze and orange ginger reduction, two duck legs with thighs (and a breast?) were balanced on each other atop a flavorful bed of rice. Flecked with bits of orange carrots, sweet red pepper, kernels of yellow corn and green peas, the rice took on a life of its own. The miracle of the duck itself was the fact that Chef Nigel rendered (no pun intended) the skin coppery and crispy but not fatty while protecting the mellow juiciness of the meat. A tiny rosemary tree was planted between the two leg quarters, and orange glaze decorated the rim of the white plate.
Other entrees were given medieval names related to the castle: King’s Striped Bass, Castle Ahi Tuna and Queen’s Scallops. A New York strip steak and a filet were also offered for beef lovers.
The Pastry Chef’s Choice ($7) for dessert was pumpkin cheesecake made by the chef’s mother-in-law. A graham cracker crust was filled with a light pumpkin-flavored cheesecake, crowned with a small swirl of whipped cream and a veil of caramel sauce. It was not overly sweet and perfect to share at the end of a perfect meal.
Pasta is made in many shapes. “Orecchiette” (pronounced oh-reck-ee-ET-tay) means little ears and originated in Apulia, the heel and ankle portion of southern Italy. The name describes the shape, “little ear.”
The real king of the castle is owner/developer/host/chef Nigel Ghotbi, who proved to be more exciting than his Great Hall and food. After dinner, he chatted at length with us. I look forward to returning to the Castle, as much for the cuisine as for another conversation with the chef.
Great Hall Restaurant at the Amsterdam Castle
WHERE: 49 Florida Ave., Amsterdam, 12010; 518-212-2607; www.amsterdamcastle.com/; more information on Facebook
WHEN: Thursday-Saturday 5-8:45 p.m. (last seating); Monday, Tuesday and/or Wednesday when needed
HOW MUCH: $73 without tax and tip
MORE INFO: Lot parking, major credit cards accepted, noise level permits conversation, accessible, beer and wine served, private parties.