March 2007 -- Arlington House (dt)
6.72 - 7.5, 7.5, 7.25, 7, 6.5, 6.5, 6, 5.5
... we gathered at the Monteverd quarters for our usual pre-trip confab. A plate of veggies and pineapple, accompanied by a shrimp tray, and a chocolate and nut server, teased our appetites. A light round of drinks filled our 45 minutes as we caught up with news (...). At the five minute warning, we knew the Monteverds were going to test the hour limit.
... Fifty-five minutes took us into the countryside of Rensselaer County, on a day-lit, daylight-savings-time afternoon.
With the busy traffic of Route 43, it would have been easy to overlook the Arlington House. It is a pleasant enough looking structure, somewhat colonial, somewhat commercial. It advertises itself as American Grille cuisine. The welcoming desk greeted us upon the first step in, and a warm smile offered to take our coats, an offer we hemmed and hawed over.
The first area to the right looked modernish but we turned left and were seated at a rectangular table of eight (two tables set together), tucked in an alcove that also afforded a view of half of the restaurant. A couple tables around us were empty and only a couple others were within view so we enjoyed a semi-private ambience.
Our table, topped with white linen tablecloths under glass, set against two exterior windows. The table length, with the two ends (Tim and Ken), filled the alcove, with Tim having a view of the bar's TV and the NCAA semi-final games. A busy floral wallpaper design, blooming against a mustardy background, exuded a warmth, toning down the recessed overhead lighting. A white chair rail, topping the wainscoting, added to the colonial feeling. The only jarring note, slight, at that, were the clashing, busy-ish framed pictures on the busy walls.
On to the important stuff.
Zachary, our waiter for the evening, was prompt in filling water glasses and producing two loaves of crusty artisan bread, along with herbed olive oil. A request to refill the baskets was testimony to its tastiness.
Drink orders were taken: two bottles of 2005 Redwood Creek pinot noir (product of France, California tradition, which garnered our curiosity for a few minutes), glasses of white zinfandel, chardonnay (a rare choice for DK), pinot grigio, and a diet soda.
Orders for were taken within reasonable time. The special of mushroom, arugula, endive and Drunken goat cheese salad appealed to three; a shared Caesar salad for the Monteverds (Ken being the amenable one); and a warm spinach salad with mushroom, eggs, and bacon salad were all deemed appetizing with tasty seasonings and mix of ingredients and tastes. Tim hailed his appetizer of shrimp and asparagus, seasoned with an olive oil and tomato sauce, as one of the best appetizers in some time. The only abstainer was Don, who tried Deb's salad, but was saving room for dessert.
About ten minutes after salads were finished (an hour exactly after our entrance), entrees were served. Filet mignon enticed Kriss (very good, very close to the well done she ordered) and Chay (very good, and well done, as ordered; blue cheese -- horse radish not really crusty, just plopped on), an inch and a half, small plate-sized pork chop for Tim (excellent) and Ken (good enough to take home what he did not finish), scallops with a seared, almost burnt crisp for Deb T (as good as, if not better, than her favorite preparation at FCI), chicken scallopini for Deb K (good for chicken), veal with aspargus for Judy (very good, thin and tender, with a good sauce), and the Alaskan halibut for Don (good).
The only disappointment was the announcement, after the announcement of its availability, of the cioppino special being unavailable.
The accompaniments heartily complemented the entrees. Most entrees came with mashed potatoes with a center of sweet potatoes, with a round of vegetables -- a mix of grilled green and white zucchini, chunks of carrots, and broccoli heads. The fish came with jasmine rice, Thai stir fry and sauces, turning an ordinary fish into a variety of flavors, with a bit of spicy zing underneath. Judy's side was an order of potatoes au gratin with a subtle touch of blue cheese. We complimented the bouquet of flavors and colors mixed on the same plate.
Despite a few groans of satiety, dessert beckoned. Don had the chocolate pate with sauce Melba, thin slabs of a dense preparation, topped with a dollop of whipped cream and a sliced strawberry. Ken, surprised by our prediction he would order the apple crisp ala mode, ordered exactly that. The wild berry sorbet he had threatened to order went to Judy, who liked the creaminess. Deb K let herself get talked into the crepes a la bananas Foster, which she protested was too much but ate most of it (a bit tough, and just ordinary). Kriss deemed the cheesecake excellent. Chay sipped his customary Sambuca and Tim his Frangelica. ....
Zachary was prompt with the filling of water glasses, supplying Ken with coffee, clearing plates, in a very serviceable manner. He was occasionally helped by one other waitstaff. Service was good to excellent, helpful, no sign of overbearing. Although most of us felt Zachary's performance to be good, some cited a need for more friendliness.
The conversation flow started with our children, summer schedules, work, and the other ordinary stuff. ....
Eventually, the tab came to $118 per couple, including tip and alcohol, a little higher than average, but we reassured Kriss that was fine.
... off we drove into the late March darkness, with a lit Empire Convention Center nighttime view the highlight of the ride home.