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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Hate Mail

I enjoy sharing time with kids in a casual setting, but I have little patience with the parents who schlep their tykes to public events where quiet, reasonable behavior is expected. Which I wrote about here. That piece put in mind of something I wrote twenty years ago, something that netted me the most hate mail I’ve ever received for anything. The restaurant is still around, but it now serves only breakfast and lunch, and I haven’t been there since I wrote the piece. And the belowmentioned Ashley’s has been replaced by Chats Lounge, the name of which sounds pleasantly child-unfriendly.


The Market at the Marriott, Albany, NY
IT ALWAYS SEEMS TO HAPPEN after we've made a tough-to-reverse commitment to staying for dinner. The appetizers are served, we're enjoying them, we're catching up on news and gossip, we're enjoying a relaxing bottle of wine . . . and that high-pitched whine sounds across the room, like nails on a blackboard. “But, Mommy, I don't wanna sit there!” “Okay, honey, we’ll sit over here.”

Right next to my table.

Something weird happens to the sensibility of my coevals when they become parents. Where the company of tykes was once regarded as a temporary distraction, they now remain surgically attached long after mother and child were umbilically parted. And they invade concert halls and restaurants, the infant spreading mayhem once its eight-millisecond attention span has been surpassed.

So it was with last week’s visit to the Market, one of two restaurants maintained at the Marriott on Wolf Road. We were lucky in one respect: because Ashley’s, the fancier of the two restaurants, is closed on Sunday nights, we were seated and served in Ashley’s elegant area. Everything is a pastel shade of purple or pink, with nice lighting accents provided by the judicious use of lamps and mirrors. Soft classical music plays in the background. It’s a room conducive to quiet conversation.

But we were given the Market menu, which is more casual and less expensive without skimping on creativity. Appetizers range from a daily soup ($2) to mussel stew or quesadillas ($5 each). The entrees, priced from $6 to $17, include salads, pasta dishes, burgers and the usual steaks.

Although no daily specials were offered, the selections were satisfying enough. I started with French onion soup, no better or worse than what you’re likely to find in a place like this – salty, of course, but with the appeal of all that baked cheese, provolone adding another dimension of saltiness.

Susan started with a plate of grilled vegetables served with an artichoke dip. Green and yellow squash and eggplant were among the vegetables, with scallions and mushrooms all seared by the mesquite grill. The dip boasted an unusual choice of flavors – bland and slightly stringy, it may have been more good-for-you in design than simply good.

Rolls are served warm. Water is refilled promptly. But poor Keith, our waiter, was forced to hustle like a madman as business picked up and people were seated in his section. The restaurant is run without busboys and I never saw one server help another. I’m mystified by this approach. Do executive-office types ever dine in their own places?

Of course, Keith’s life wasn’t helped by the children who were brought in to whine and carry on. There are other restaurants in which to practice dining out. Let the brats learn to conduct themselves with manners, or at least in silence, in a Ponderosa first. Then again, it takes an extraordinarily selfish parent to drag unhappy kids to a nice restaurant, so that parent is probably hardly fit to judge what’s best for the children.

Certainly not a six-dollar hamburger, which was what these tots were treated to.

Our own entrees turned out to be very good, yet somehow different from their menu descriptions. Mine was preceded by a salad, a forgettable bowl of iceberg lettuce with a few flavorful appointments; then I was served Chicken Quattro Formaggio (sic), in which only uno of the cheeses – ricotta – stood out. What’s needed is something with a robust flavor, like gorgonzola, to give some sparkle to the dish. Otherwise, it’s a good preparation that includes a slice of prosciutto and a sauce with chopped porcini mushrooms.

Continuing the Italian flavor was Susan’s “Mama Mia,” the name given to a large antipasto. And it is large, although too much iceberg contributes to the size. The promised basil vinaigrette wasn’t available, Keith told us as he delivered the salad, and a nicely acceptable creamy fruit dressing was substituted.

We didn’t learn why the promised tuna wasn’t part of the dish, nor were there any artichokes (possibly all of the latter went into the dip). But sliced tomatoes, chunks of cheese, tortellini, onions, pepperoncini – the other expected ingredients.

The children had quieted some by entree’s end and we could hear each other and the background music again. Having seen our nobly-attempted diets go to hell over the holidays, we pretended it was nothing out of the ordinary to contemplate dessert, especially since Keith asked us so nicely.

Coffee for me; Susan was pleased to discover a selection of tea. Four desserts were displayed for us, and we chose a chocolate cheesecake with raspberry topping (made in-house) and a Heathbar crunch pie (imported). Both were good. Both were excessive. Neither was necessary, and the holiday-inspired madness has got to stop.

When Susan and I end up in a hotel in another city, we usually breakfast in the house dining room but make sure that we find an evening eatery that reflects something of the city’s character. The Market, being a hotel restaurant, attempts to try to please all – but it does break away from the usual boring hotel menu of chops and shrimp by offering items that might even make it worthwhile to dine in, if you’re a traveller – or to discover this place if you live nearby.

Just don’t believe everything the menu says. And leave your kids home.

The Market at the Marriott, 189 Wolf Road, Colonie, 458-8444. Serving breakfast and lunch Monday-Friday 6:30 AM-2 PM, Saturday-Sunday 7 AM-2 PM, dinner Monday-Saturday 5-11 PM, Sunday 4:30-10 PM; Sunday brunch 10 AM-2 PM. All major credit cards.

Metroland Magazine, Jan. 16, 1992

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