March 2008 -- Casey's Restaurant (dt)
6.07 - 7.5, 6.5, 6.5, 6, 5.5, 5.5, 5 (1 absent)

A chilly, but sun-strong, spring afternoon at the Monteverds awaited DP7’s version of March Madness (Wah! Deb K is in Fredonia). We caught up on news after a seven week interlude, caused by dates in early February and late March. Ken had just turned a nice, big round number, and holding up well as the second-most senior member of our group (more company in August). The Monteverds had prepared a small feast of fruit, cheese and crackers, nuts and candy – and paired with sauvignon blanc, merlot, beer, and soda. The kitchen glowed with sunlight so very typical of a late March, lowering afternoon sun. We caught up on news – .... And, daughter Jen bounced in reminding of us what it is like to be twenty or thirty years younger. (Wasn’t that yesterday?)
             Departing at 6, we guessed an hour’s drive, and with Kriss’ admonition about tight parking, Jen’s comment we were going to her favorite place, and the note of casual dress, we guessed downtown Albany or Troy. We pulled off the first I-90 exit after the river and found a parking spot (Kriss was right about the parking) at Casey’s Restaurant on Washington Avenue in Rensselaer.
             Casey’s looks like a classic neighborhood tavern and is a worthy one. An ordinary entrance opens to a small waiting area, with an 1861 map of Rensselaer County consuming half the wall. A few feet around the corner and to the right is a comfortable, cozy bar area, seating about ten, with three or four tables in the one corner and several smaller, two person tables on the other end. As we waited for twenty minutes for a table to free up, a short round of drinks kept most of the men lubricated. A steady patter of chatter of the diners, mostly middle-aged and up, filled the room, not loudly, but definitely a sign of neighborhood popularity and of diners coming from afar. Bartenders in white shirts and ties flavored the aura of an establishment that has been a home place for a long time.  The wait staff, all women, wore black pants and black tops.
            We were ushered into the dining area, a dozen-tabled area, with dark brown beams bridging the ceiling, with pastel yellow walls, with lighting provided by the recessed lighting behind the border trim, the entire perimeter of which was festooned with a strand of the mini-lights, maintaining a cozy room, not too bright and yet dim enough for a mood. A large tapestry faces diners as they enter the room from the waiting area, with a fireplace, a dozen wall posters and reproductions of flowers and country scenes, a few sconces with alarm clocks, etc., filling in the walls.
            We were seated at a squared table, with two on each side, with polished finished wood, sturdy chairs, a linen napkin, and ordinary silverware. The table wasn’t round but proved to be equally effective for conversation. We bid appropriate greetings for Deb K’s empty spot, mostly quite respectful. A phone call later kept her in voice and spirit.
            Two small loaves of bread, with butter and with dipping olive oil, came promptly. Tim sized up the menu, and ordered two bottles of 2004 Artesa Carneros pinot noir, a little pricier than most bottles we have ordered, since the entrees looked less expensive than usual. The winery notes this wine is “complimented by aromas and hints of vanilla, cinnamon, roasting coffee, chocolate and cedar. Good mid-palate weight and a silky finish make this wine a tactile joy as it melts away like chocolate in your mouth.” We noted a tang, bordering on smoke or must or oak that smoothed out nicely, especially during the second bottle, which seemed to lack the first bottle’s distinctive taste. (My online hunt later indicated a very low markup by the restaurant.) The other imbibers had a pinot grigio or a diet soda.
            The menu is a classic, full-length tavern menu, with about ten appetizers and 30-40 entrées. Seafood gets top billing but is balanced with steak and pasta, and we had been advised about the generous portions. The inclusion of soup or salad kept us from ordering appetizers. Five large salads of iceberg, spinach and spring mix, with a few shreds of carrot, slices of tomato, and tang of onion shreds, with plastic cup holders of dressing on the side, were complemented by two orders of the soup – a vegetable medley with small chunks of tomato and perhaps a tint of promised sausage; all were quite satisfactorily ordinary.
            The menu selection drew a gamut of orders. Included were the baked divers scallops (Deb; good, and nicely crisp); the seafood Byron (Don; haddock & shrimp & scallops laden with a bread-crumbed cheese topping; satisfactory but cheesier than expected); a Black Angus steak, topped with gravy (Tim; satisfactory); the seafood Pappardelle (Judy; a large bowl of a variety of seafood – minus the mussels, this evening – with Pappardelle pasta; good); the filet mignon (Kriss, well done as ordered, very good); the pork tenderloin chop (Ken; so-so; breaded, thin and dry; shake & bake quality; should have ordered Italian like usual!); and the lobster filled ravioli with shrimp scampi (Chay; very good, not a usual choice). All came with a scalloped-style potato, with cheese and tomato layers, accompanied by less than al dente yellow and green beans and cooked carrot strip lengths. Casey’s gives a hearty feed for all, and is a tribute to its type of restaurant.
             Waiting for dessert stretched just long enough to start wondering almost to the point of impatience. Sambuca, black, beckoned for Chay, but Tim passed. A flourless chocolate cake for two was enjoyed by Don and Deb – layers of cake and rich chocolate icing, one of the better chocolate cakes we have had in quite a while; an apple crisp for two was “shared” on separate plates by Judy and Ken, and proclaimed good by both; a Grand Marnier chocolate mousse (for one) satisfied Kriss.
             Service was, well, serviceable. The pacing was mostly reasonable but felt a little slow, even though just over two hours passed for the evening. The waiter did everything that has to be done but some of us felt she was not quite confident or polished enough. A pushed-in cork compromised the second bottle of wine but, after some discussion, we accepted the bottle. The pepper mill under the armpit may be a space saver but not a service savorer. She was helpful, wanted to please, got everything to the table, checked regularly on us, kept Ken’s mug filled with coffee, but was just average for presentation. It kinda fit the typical image for a neighborhood eatery.
             The bill (food, tax, tip) came to $90 per couple, a figure that is becoming low average. We could see why Casey’s is a neighborhood favorite, with its light night menu, full selection menu and reasonable prices. It seemed it could be your Cheers place.
             And Kriss had an easy night keeping the level of talk above lowbrow. Either she invisibly kept us on track, or, probably, Deb K was not available to instigate, accentuate, aggravate, or otherwise conflagrate the suitable situation.
             At night’s end, one car reconnoitered the rest of Washington Avenue past the railroad station, with the lights of downtown Albany an arresting sight, and off to Rt 32 back to Greene County and home with Chay. Thus, with this trip to Rensselaer, the Monteverds account for not only the first, but also our second, Rensselaer County foray.
             You missed a good one, Deb.