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Friday, January 17, 2014

The Family Table

What’s on the Menu? Dept.: As a restaurant critic, I’m required to taste many things. In this case, an excellent dinner with a helping of crow.


HAVING ENJOYED A TERRIFIC DINNER with a group of neighbors in a restaurant doing a lively Thursday-night business, I must now eat my words. Two weeks ago, in a review of Aladdin, which offers Middle Eastern fare in Amsterdam, I complained that Montgomery County lives in fear of its food. I offered as support of this observation my 20-plus years as a resident here.

Seafood mousseline | Photo by B. A. Nilsson
“But you rarely go out to eat in the county,” a neighbor complained. “You’re always in Albany or Troy or Saratoga.” She then proposed that we visit The Table at Fort Plain. It’s a drive of some 30 minutes from my house; 60 minutes from downtown Albany. It’s a community at the county’s western end best known for the flood devastation it suffered last summer—a flood that took its toll on The Table, which at that point had been open for only a year.

The restaurant’s basement flooded; wiring was destroyed and the wine collection was lost, among other damages. Many neighboring business threw in the towel, but the Katovitch family worked around the clock to get the place open again and were able to do so after only a month.

Chef-owner Aaron Katovitch was a graduate of Fort Plains High School, but he left the area to attend culinary school at Johnson and Wales, and to get a degree at Cornell. He ran a fine-dining restaurant on Cape Cod, managed an Applebee’s, owned a successful deli and catering business—but he wanted to come home. “He’s reached the age where he’s thinking about settling down, starting a family,” says his father, Jim.

Which means he knows his community. “You don’t see any white tablecloths here,” says Aaron, pointing to the polished-wood tabletops. “I want people to feel at home. Sure, there will be unfamiliar things on the menu, but there’s always going to be customer favorites.”

Summer sees a boost from people heading to the opera and other attractions in the Cooperstown area, and Aaron says he also gets a surprising amount of business from the bicycle trail. But now it’s winter, with few tourists passing through. With businesses still struggling to keep a foothold, the village is darker than I expected—but that makes The Table all the more of a beacon.

Chef Aaron changes the menu as often as possible, particularly when he can feature fresh, farm-sourced ingredients. That’s more difficult in winter, of course, and the menu features what I think of as hibernation food—braised pork shank ($16!) being a centerpiece.

It was a big portion in a big bowl with a big bed of collard greens beneath, decorated with large still-crisp carrot chunks, all of it exhaling the aroma of the slightly vinegary braising liquid. Flavors were rich, meat was tender—in other words, superb. A perfect January dinner.

I started with a seafood mousseline ($7), a wonderfully light concoction of egg whites and a variety of seafood flavors, chilled and served in cylindrical slices, with a side of tender mâche (also known as lamb’s lettuce). And I tried not to consume the lion’s share of pommes gaufrette ($4), which are house-made waffled potato chips served with an impressively spicy chipotle aioli, giving you both heat and crunch in one satisfying bite.

We were a party of six, all Montgomery County-ites, yet there was no hesitation in placing two orders of the red curried-carrot soup ($5). It, too, had a bite, but one well integrated with the other flavors and still giving the carrots their due.

Entrées also included haddock—beer-battered and fried or crumb-topped and baked, with appropriate sides ($16). Seared tuna is topped with caper butter, nicely matched with mashed sweet potatoes ($17). I got a taste of the seared black bass, ridiculously priced at $16, in a spicy dashi (seafood broth) with daikon radish and bok choy, which is an excellent context for that particular fish. The horseradish that tops the grilled sirloin ($19) is part of a more complicated array that seemed to include butter and parsley, which meant that the steak made the initial flavor statement before a cascade of other notes.

Two cutlets in the veal piccata? I’m afraid so, but not because it’s priced at a measly $17. It’s because the slices are enormous. The sauce is a traditional lemon-caper mix, but there’s a handful of cloves of roasted garlic there as well, adding sweetness.

One of my companions wasn’t in the mood for any of the suggested entrées, and a quick conversation with the chef netted him a salad and a portion of mashed potatoes with two types of asparagus on top (white and green). And Aaron wants to assure you that this service is available to all.

I don’t want you to think I lacked the discipline to turn down dessert, but I couldn’t imagine that a $5 portion of something described as Chocolate Caramel Candy Cake could be all that large and filling. It proved to be a reasonable-sized single-portion of cake laced with caramel buttercream with extra fudge and, yes, an ornate translucent wedge of caramel candy. Other desserts—all homemade—included ricotta cheesecake, pear and almond tart and baked custard with pomegranate sauce, each $5.

There’s a good selection of wine by the glass and by the bottle, and NY craft beers also are featured.

Whatever you’re spending on gas to get there you will more than save on the insanely low pricing. And Aaron, his parents, the servers, the other customers—it’s one big family. We need more families like this. Especially when we’re hungry.

The Table at Fort Plain, 70 Canal Street, Fort Plain, 993-8065, Serving lunch 11:30-3 Wed-Fri, dinner 5-9 Tue-Sat. AE, D, MC, V.

Metroland Magazine, 16 January 2014

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