Category Archives: Schenectady

City Squire Ale House


Friday night, after far too long of a separation, my friend Will and I reunited for an evening of fun and food. Initially I thought we were going to hang in Albany for First Friday, but he felt the need to check out a friend’s new spot on Union Street in Schenectady since he been away when they celebrated the grand opening. Our night could not have been better.

The space, from what I understand, is a complete new build on what had previously been a tavern sort of place, the original City Squire. From the charming front porch, which blurs the line between indoors and outdoors with its floor to ceiling doors which open wide, to the upstairs deck, the building was simply beautiful. The color palette, the floors, the attention to detail, everything about the place combined to make a really pretty setting for what became an indulgent and prolonged meal.

We started at the bar with 3 items from the menu and drinks. Making selections was a challenge because so much sounded good, but we went with the Mexican cauliflower (a recommendation from the owner), a dozen steamers and the fish tacos which were made with fried shrimp on that particular day. Our bartender, Kevin, was great making sure we were comfortable and well taken care of, and went as far as to have other guests at the bar shift over to provide us with seating. Nice.

The cauliflower, served in a cast iron casserole dish, was fantastic. Florets of cauliflower, corn kernels, scallions and queso fresco came together perfectly in a flavorful array of textures. Ordered with a salad, it would make a dynamite and satisfying meatless meal. The clams were lovely – fresh and clean lacking only a vessel in which to place the quickly emptied shells. The tacos were a tremendous portion – 3 soft shelled beauties bursting with shrimp and assorted shredded vegetables served in a perfectly designed holder. We probably could have stopped there, but were joined by our third guest and moved to a table to sample a few more items.

Mexican cauliflower heaven

Clams, butter, crostini simplicity

Fish tacos – outstanding!

Will opted for a salad and a beef entree, while Raj selected two more small plate options – the Korean wings (spicy with a Korean chili garlic sauce) and the grilled flatbread a bruschetta-y sort of prep of naan, tomatoes, chicken and mozzarella. I sampled everything at the table and found it all to be well prepared and nicely seasoned. It is a casual place with paper napkins, yet the dishes and glasses were thoughtfully selected and our server was attentive to our needs.

As we wrapped things up to take home, we were joined by the chef, who actually oversees all four of the restaurants the family owns. While we didn’t order dessert, his enthusiasm and joy in being part of this project, as well as the others, was a super sweet way to end a meal. There is a real sense of family and teamwork that I really appreciated seeing. So many industry folks struggle with cynicism, but without exception, everyone we encountered was positive and upbeat. I was a guest of my friends and don’t know our total for the night, but can’t imagine it was out of line for the quality of the experience. Can’t wait to go back!

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Filed under Dinner, drinking, Eating, favorites, Food, friends, Happy Hour, Local, Recommendations, Restaurants, Schenectady, Spring, Uncategorized, upstate New York

Tara Kitchen

olive tapenade with artichoke hearts and sundried tomatoes

olive tapenade with artichoke hearts and sundried tomatoes

Sunday, more than ever, has become my “Me” day. Yesterday I had hours to myself to do whatever I felt like – once the waffles and bacon had been cooked, served and cleaned up and payroll had been done and the sheets had been changed and I had met with Linda Kindlon at Bake for You about adding her cookies to Lark + Lily’s dessert options…hours, I tell you.

Following an afternoon run (down one lunar b*tch, missed you, Chrissy!), I decided to follow through on my intention to eat at Tara Kitchen. I’ve been wanting to get to this spot in Schenectady forever and this post  in All Over Albany’s weekly roundup of what’s going on in the neighborhood, forced my hand.

I’m not very familiar with Schenectady, but I have spent some time in the area where Tara Kitchen is. Parking was readily available in the lot directly across the street from the restaurant. I arrived at about 5:30 and the place was hopping with nearly all the tables seated. Bar seating was plentiful. I sat at a table in front of the window and was completely comfortable even with the door opening and closing. The upstairs seating was definitely toasty warm due to, I imagine, the heat rising off of the big range in the open kitchen.

spinach with potatoes and poached eggs

spinach with potatoes and poached eggs

As I browsed the menu, I sipped a delightful tea from a small glass.  It was a magical elixir, I swear, stimulating my taste buds and giving me a boost.  I eventually ordered three courses – opening with the olive tapenade served with warm triangles of pita. It was delicious, wonderfully salty and earthy with a hint of heat. For my entrée, which was served blazingly hot, I had the spinach, potatoes and eggs, the kind of meal which would be perfect at any time of the day. There was more pita and rice served along side the tagine, I imagine just to give a diner something to pick on while they’re waiting not so patiently for their main course to cool off. The flavors were fantastic – I especially loved the cardamom, and the vegetables were beautifully cooked retaining just a touch of firmness.  I  requested some harissa to add a little zip, since I felt a cold threatening and I loved the smoky quality it lent to the dish.

warm delicious baklava

warm delicious baklava

I finished with the baklava, because, why not? Unlike some renditions of this dish, it was not overly sweet or buttery and it actually was perfect with my remaining half glass of Moroccan Pinot Grigio  (Ouled Thaleb White).  Service throughout was comfortably casual and I wouldn’t hesitate to return to this terrific little spot.  Total for my meal including tip: $43.  Pretty reasonable for a trip to Morocco, don’t you think?

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Filed under Dinner, Food, Local, Recommendations, Restaurants, Schenectady, sunday, Uncategorized

The Van Dyck

Last night, I met a couple of friends in Schenectady at The Van Dyck for beers and a bite to eat.  I’ve been to the Van Dyck, in its various incarnations, a couple of times over the years and have always thought of it as a cool space not living up to its potential.  After last evening’s meal, I’d have to say I still feel the same way.  

A couple of positive things should be noted.  The place was busy which is really nice to see.  There is a lovely looking patio in the back which had a significant wait for a table – good for them.  The service was very pleasant and the beer was damn good.  I completely enjoyed the two hefeweizens I ordered, although oddly enough the first was garnished with lemon, the 2nd was not.  There was the distinctive clove-y taste present that I will always associate with spending time in Munich with my brother in the summer of ’92, a very good memory.  I didn’t see the check last night so I can’t tell you how much the beers cost or how large they were other than “tall.”   And, unfortunately for a place trying to build a name as a brew pub, there is no information on their website about the beers – at all. After a little more digging around (or research as we librarians call it), I did come up with this webpage describing their beer selections.  The brewery is new so I guess I can cut them some slack, but don’t you think the Van Dyck homepage should have some mention of the brewery’s activities and offerings?

I ordered the Van Dyck signature burger asking for it to be cooked no more than medium rare.  As you can see, the plate was prettily presented with fries and a pickle and big burger.  I immediately went for the fries which were…not hot.  I’m sorry, but I don’t eat fries all that often and when I have potatoes which have been completely submerged in nearly boiling oil on my plate, I want them HOT.  So, I flagged over the server and asked for some hot fries, a request which seemed to puzzle her a little, but one which she was more than willing to accommodate.  It was only after she left the table that I cut into my too-big-to-manage-without-cutting-in-half burger and realized that it was cooked way more than medium rare.  In fact, it was well done.  I just didn’t have the heart to send it back and since it did still manage to be flavorful, I ate it. The balsamic onions added some moistness to the meat and it was a pretty good burger – actually it was as good as a well done burger could be, I bet. The pancetta was a nice salty addition and went well with the char on the burger.  I couldn’t eat the entire burger/roll, so I did my best with the beef and sadly left most of the lightly toasted roll on the plate, opting instead to indulge in the hot fries.
So – would I go back?  Sure.  I realized, as I was racing to meet my friends after a delightful Friday afternoon spent at home, that Schenectady really isn’t that far and I should make more of an effort to explore the scene there.  The beer was really good, the space was comfortable and I think I could probably get my burger and fries cooked to my liking with really explicit directions, an effort I don’t mind making.  I’d definitely be happy to give The Van Dyck another opportunity to achieve their potential – and give myself a chance to try more of the beer offerings.

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Filed under beer, drinking, Eating, Food, friends, Recommendations, Restaurants, Schenectady

Cella Bistro lunch

One of my favorite parts of a week off from school is the opportunity to sample dining options at other times left unexplored.  There are so many places that I’m interested in trying, all within 25 or 30 miles, that I could probably schedule a Dining Staycation quarterly without exhausting anything other than my American Express card. The recent February break provided the perfect chance to try something new – and talk about perfect timing, Cella Bistro is now serving lunch.  Next stop: Schenectady! 
I’ve been to Cella Bistro once before, back in December when they were doing a limited Sunday service for the holidays.  We got in on their Italian night which was fantastic, as well as a great value. If this place was a bit closer, believe me, I’d  definitely be here with greater frequency.  The lunch menu hadn’t been available to peruse prior to our visit because the chef-owner, Michael Cella hadn’t made his “final” decisions until that very morning.  No worries – when you’re dealing with a chef as inspired and creative as Michael Cella, the hardest choice was making a choice.  Here’s what we went with: 
Roasted Red Pepper soup – bursting with color and flavor – piping hot, light and satisfying.
Bibb lettuce salad with lemon vinaigrette – tender and crisp simultaneously

An order of delicious fries dunked in aioli naturally

A sliced duck sandwich with aioli, sauteed mushrooms,  cheese,  caramelized onions
Reuben of housemade pastrami, cole slaw, cheese, 1000 island dressing on grilled rye bread. 
Bonus: A housemade pickle!!

Check out this mound of pastrami!!  Housemade Corned Beef was also available

Housemade Apricot cello
A couple of additional items worth mentioning; they have a very pleasing selection of beverages.  In addition to their homemade cellos, there was a nice variety of beers from which to choose.  We went with the Ommegang Rare Vos and couldn’t have been happier.  Desserts were kind of weak, particularly for their first day’s service, but we had a delicious bowl of Haagen Daz vanilla ice cream which was perfect with my glass of cello.  Lunch was somewhere in the $70 range, but you could certainly be more than satisfied for less than we spent.  It was vacation, though and Cella Bistro was the perfect spot to get away without really going away. 

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Filed under drinking, Eating, Food, Local, Recommendations, Restaurants, Schenectady, soup, vacation

Cella Bistro

I’ve been wanting to get to Cella Bistro for a long, long time.  A recent post on Table Hopping finally made it impossible to not go – open Sunday + 3 courses for $30 = I’m there.  We made a 5:30 reservations and relied on Google maps to get us there, which fortunately worked.  When we arrived, we loitered by the bar area for a few minutes until we were warmly greeted by the apparently sole front of the house employee, Hanna.  She invited us to sit where ever we wanted and brought us menus and water in no time.  The Sunday menu options are limited: only 3 starters, 2 entrees and 2 desserts from which to choose.  Good, I say.  I’m tired of overwhelmingly long menus with far too many choices.  Remember?  I’m suffering from an inability to make choices these days. 
Artichoke deliciousness

We went with a garlicky bean and greens soup and a gorgeous herb and bread crumb stuffed artichoke.  The soup was light, filled with intense garlic flavor and still firm greens – delicious.  The artichoke is something I’ve always wanted to make but have been too lazy to deal with – tamping the breadcrumb mixture between the leaves just seems to me like something I don’t have the time or patience to deal with – kind of like making pie crust or working with phyllo dough.  The artichoke was wonderful – it really set the tone for a homemade tasting Italian meal.  The leaves were tender and there was a small puddle of butter to drag each one through prior to scraping the yummy flesh off between my teeth.

Cavatelli with broccolini
We selected one of each of the two entree options – the eggplant served with pasta on the side and the Sunday gravy with bucatini on the side.  I am a fan of eggplant and the towering portion I received did not disappoint.  The proportion of eggplant to cheese to sauce was spot on and I also really appreciated that eggplant was cooked with respect – it wasn’t mushy or crunchy, just perfection.  The cavatelli was lightly coated with garlic and olive oil and accompanied by broccolini.  My only complaint is that I wished for more broccolini – not a huge problem because the portion was literally enough for 3 meals and I was able to add some of my own greens to the leftover pasta during a subsequent meal. 
The Sunday gravy was ridiculous – it totally reminded me of when I dated that (fairly)nice Italian guy many, many years ago and we were expected at Sunday dinner every week where a very similar meal was served.  As was the case with my entree, this meal demanded 2 bowls to contain its goodness.  The first bowl was a couple of meatballs, a couple of sausages, a beef rib (still on the bone) and braciole.  On the side, in its own bowl, was a mound of bucatini, which, if you’re not familiar, is a thick, long pasta, kind of a fat spaghetti.  Or, what I’d look like if I had attempted to eat even half of what had been placed in front of me, without the long part, of course.  Sundays, for me, are a day of enjoying family, slowing down, relaxing, and this meal epitomized those desired feelings perfectly in a bowl.  The beef was tenderly falling off the bone, the meatballs were tender, the sausage flavorful and firm.  The braciole was a little different than the one I get regularly at Lupa, but that is by no means a complaint, merely an observation.  There were no criticisms at all about these meals – fantastic flavor, abundant portions, quality ingredients, thoughtful service – the full package.
For dessert we had a trifle and a hunk of tiramisu.  Both were fairly light since the foundational ingredients to both were feather weight sponge-type cake, one being an angel food and the other lady’s fingers.  There was a certainty density from the marscapone and cream, but still, these were lovely finales to a worth-waiting-for dining experience.  And – what a value.  Dinner for 2, which essentially translated to 6 meals, with a perfect bottle of Italian red and a fat tip came to $125. 

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Filed under Dinner, Eating, Food, Recommendations, Restaurants, Schenectady, sunday