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The Pleasure & Pain of Restaurant Week

March 15, 2012

Menus are the flame, and I am the moth. So it’s especially dangerous when one of our local business districts decides to run another restaurant week promotion. This time it’s Colonie, the immediate northern suburb to Albany, which is home to many of our best chain restaurants.

But there are also some great local places in Colonie too, like Garden Bistro 24, Emperor’s, Parivar, Ralph’s, and the Hong Kong Bakery at the Asian Supermarket.

Only one of those is participating in the March 18-24 event, although there are a few additional restaurants of promise. It’s the same old story, three courses for $20.12, and some of the establishments are really putting out great food while others may leave you scratching your head.

Here’s the rundown of the good, the bad and the ugly. And just remember, this is March in upstate New York. It may feel like spring, but if you check out the farmers markets it’s clear we are really in the last stages of winter.

The good news is that there are a bunch of menus that are appealing, some surprisingly so.

The classic regional institution The Purple Pub has found an interesting way of bending the Restaurant Week guidelines to its strengths. While you could get a three course meal of crab and artichoke dip with chicken parm and pie a la mode, they have a second option: a dozen wings, a large one-topping pizza, and a pitcher of soda for the same price. Brilliant. The only thing that would have been better is if they replaced the soda with beer.

Reel Seafood has never held any appeal for me. But for $20 I might be tempted to try it out, especially when I can start with ginger seared scallops drizzled with a soy sesame glaze, followed by crab stuffed shrimp finished with a lemon caper cream sauce, and chocolate brandy mousse for dessert.

It seems like The Century House gets it. Their menu starts with a winter vegetable bisque topped by a roasted garlic crouton. The best entrée would appear to be the cavatelli with porcini cream, a grana padano wafer, and mushroom ragout. I’m a sucker for bread pudding, and theirs is described as being, “made daily with fresh ingredients of the season.” It may be a little heavy for my new diet, but it sounds both delicious and hard to screw up.

This would also be a good time to try and head back to The Epicurean and see if there is something there to love. I want to love them, but right now I’m only in like with them. However I’ve never tried one of “Chef Dominique’s delightful daily soups.” Also the pork shank braised in beer and served with cabbage & cumin scented potatoes, sounds right up my alley. I know I’m not a big fan of their pot de crème or croustillant aux fruits, but I could try the Pets de Nonne – a warm pastry in a maple-caramel sauce.

Then there is The Parade of Farmed Atlantic Salmon & Other Crimes Against Food.

Shame on Milano, Reel Seafood, Holiday Inn Express & Suites, Wolf Road Marriott, and Wolf’s 1-11 for serving on their menu an ingredient that isn’t good enough to be carried on the shelves at Target.

The Holiday Inn must think it’s summer because they are running both a fresh buffalo mozzarella and tomato salad drizzled with olive oil, balsamic vinaigrette and fresh basil appetizer; along with a medley of fresh berries with fresh whipped cream dessert. That’s a lot of fresh. I guess something can be fresh without it being ripe.

I shouldn’t be one to comment on anyone’s spelling. But a menu is different, and the Chicken Roulade wouldn’t fill me with confidence even if the description spelled pancetta correctly. It reads, “Chicken Breast stuffed with Panchetta, Spinach, and Sun-dried Tomatoes. Baked to a Golden Brown and served over Alfredo Sauce and topped with Marinara Sauce. Served with your choice of side.” It would be foolish to think this was actually Alfredo sauce, but two sauces don’t make a dish twice as good.

Finally there is Old Reliable

Garden Bistro 24 may also be jumping the season a bit, but at least they are aiming for spring and not summer with their spring salad, which includes radishes and asparagus. That’s not for me, and I’d opt for their roasted tomato bisque instead (although I wonder where they are getting fresh basil pesto at this time of year). But this would be a good chance to try their chicken frites, which is roasted free range chicken with French green beans and pommes frites. Dessert skips to summer with a fresh berry crepe, but a dessert crepe really sounds good.

Mrs. Fussy thinks I’m too easy on my favorite places. She may be right.

Still, juxtaposing that menu against Grandma’s Pies & Restaurant’s offering of French onion soup, “applewalnut chicken” and a slice of pie, there isn’t a doubt in my mind as to which would be the better dining experience.

Next week is going to be busy for a host of reasons, so I may not be able to make it out. But hopefully someone out there will be able to take advantage of these menus.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. March 15, 2012 10:43 am

    I love Random Capitalization in menus. Because this sauce is Very Good and also these potatoes are Golden Brown.

  2. March 15, 2012 10:46 am

    eh I know they aren’t in season for a while but even out of season berries don’t taste half bad. So I’d give Garden Bistro a pass too since they are so wonderful most of the time.

    Bangkok Bistro also has a disappointing menu although its for lack of imagination instead of crimes against foodmanity. Restaurant week would be such a good time for them to offer some courses with specialties since so many people rarely stray from mainstays at Thai restaurants.

  3. March 15, 2012 11:21 am

    “Menus are the flame, and I am the moth” – nice allegory!
    In my case, it is “Menus are truffles, and I am a Pig”. Wait, Two Pigs!
    Cheers,
    Natasha @ Come Due Maiali

  4. March 15, 2012 2:17 pm

    I wish Saratoga County weren’t doing their restaurant week at the same time — there’s no way I’ll get to try everywhere I want to before the week’s out. (Also, I’d be curious to see which places you’d recommend from their list, too.)

  5. March 15, 2012 5:11 pm

    Thank you (again) for speaking up about farmed salmon. I am amazed at how many restaurants (and diners) still don’t get it – the inefficiencies of raising farmed salmon, the environmental damage to the surrounding waters, and the genetic damage posed to wild Atlantic salmon (from the inevitable escapees). Keep fighting the fight. The effort to save wild Atlantic salmon is starting to make progress. Returning wild fish runs last year in Quebec, Newfoundland, and Labrador were at levels not seen since the 70’s. You are correct to recommend Alaska salmon as a sustainable alternative. Or try the chicken (if it’s raised properly raised, of course).

  6. Jazzngas permalink
    March 15, 2012 6:07 pm

    Fresh basil is available from Shushan Valley Hydro Farm at some local Price Choppers and the winter Saratoga Farmers Market. I bought some 12 days ago and kept the root balls wet in a cup on the kitchen windowsill. Still healthy and delicious. Their hydro tomatoes are pretty good as well and are available at the mentioned SFM and the Hannaford in Saratoga. You can celebrate the best of summer in the dead of winter these days.

  7. March 15, 2012 7:37 pm

    Actually, Grandma’s menu sounds pretty good. And if you don’t like the pie selection, you can stroll next door to Parivar for some mango lassi.

    • March 16, 2012 12:00 am

      If I were going to Parivar for a bonus liquid dessert, it would be for a falooda and not a lassi. I rarely have room for one, but they are indeed a special treat. Although it takes advanced straw skills to deal with noodles and nuts in a beverage.

  8. March 16, 2012 7:11 am

    WordPress ate my comment and I am typing on an iPhone. I am annoyed.

    Anyway, Jazzmgas already touched on the hydroponic basil. I had also went on a manifesto about how I don’t really think Restaurant Weeks are worth it, but I’ll save that for the weekend, when I have time to go back and comment on all the blogs I missed this week! :)

  9. I.M.R. permalink
    March 16, 2012 4:57 pm

    Shame on whoever wrote this blog for being so hypocritical! Restaurant Week is to allow prospective clients who may have never stepped foot into their establishments to experience just a taste of what the restaurant has to offer. It also allows the local restaurants to participate in their chambers’ event! Dinner for two at McDonald’s can cost you upwards of $20.12 what do you or anyone else expect to get for that price in this day and age? Come on!!! I think most of the menus for the participating restaurants are par excellence when you figure THREE COURSES for $20.12. Stop Hating, and let local businesses do their thing!

    • March 18, 2012 10:34 am

      I.M.R., you’re clearly new to this blog. Read some back entries and Daniel’s open letter to area chefs to get a better understanding. Really, McDonald’s? Are you joking?

      Anyway, I came back here to finish the comment that WordPress ate (If you have an account with them, they make you log in before commenting first now, and no, they don’t give you a courtesy redirect, it just eats your comment. Be advised.), and was going to just reply to my own thread, but IMR has brought up a point that I think is worth addressing, because I disagree with it.

      First of all, it’s not dinner for 2 for $20.12. I can get dinner for 2 for around $20 before tax and tip at a LOT of places that ARE NOT McDonald’s. In fact, I did last night. This is $20.12 per person BEFORE tax and tip.

      Now, for three courses, this isn’t bad. It’s not. If you figure around $5-7 for an appetizer and dessert (each) (and, yes, I know, somewhat on the low end, but bear with me), that leaves less than $10 per entree. That’s not bad. Dinner for two for $40.24. Now, this is pre-tax, and you should probably leave *at least* a 30% tip on this meal as you should always tip on the market value, not the price during events like this.

      So, let’s say:
      $40.24
      + 8% tax ($3.22)
      + $13 (18% assuming $35pp rounded up to the next dollar)
      = $56.46

      So, for arguments sake, let’s say $60.

      Even still, it’s not a bad deal on the surface.

      However, here is my (personal) issue with Restaurant Weeks:
      I’m not a big dessert person. I’ll get it occasionally, if it is a special occasion, or if I see something that really strikes me. However, I usually fill up at dinner. Furthermore, unless I see something really striking or I’m quite hungry when I get to the restaurant, I tend to skip an appetizer as well. I’m less likely to skip the appetizer than the dessert (for example, at Ala Shanghai, I *always* get an appetizer, and more often than not it is their delicious pork soup dumplings), however in both cases, when dining out with my husband (which I would generally do for something like this), I would split the appetizer and dessert with him.

      The other night, we ate at Ala Shanghai, split an appetizer (soup dumplings, of course!) and skipped dessert. Our meal came to $40 including tax and tip. If I am going to spend an extra $20 on a meal, it is usually because I got some alcohol to go along with it. For example, it’s not uncommon for our check to reach that or a little above at Jose Malone’s, because I simply cannot resist their Margaritas. :)

      So, for me, the menu has to be REALLY WORTH IT to draw me in. Particularly when given that Restaurant Week is usually packed (you really need a reservation on most nights) and at certain establishments service is not what it usually is. This is unfair to paint a broad brush, I realize this, as not all restaurants have less-than-par service during Restaurant Weeks. However, I tend to expect it to not be as good as usual.

      However, this is me. A lot of people typically order 3 courses for dinner. Or, sometimes, they rarely dine out at “nicer” establishments and this gives them a good excuse to try something new. But I think, for the regular foodies, Restaurant Week tends to be anticlimactic at best.

      (Look at that – this comment ended up being longer than the original one!)

      • March 27, 2012 11:28 pm

        A belated thank you for this. You my dear, are fantastic.

    • tim permalink
      March 26, 2012 10:42 am

      I believe you actually mean hypercrytical. I’m not seeing where Daniel was was being a hypocrite in any of his musings.

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