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Monday, February 09, 2015

Rib Tackling

From the Vault Dept.: Yesterday’s post about the Beefsteak extravagance I recently enjoyed put me in mind of another promisingly meat-rich meal that took place 25 years ago at a short-lived restaurant in Schenectady called the Rib and Seafood House. Hotel restaurants in general live a tricky existence; hotel restaurants in Schenectady are fighting immense odds. Here’s my 1990 review.


THE IDEAL RESTAURANT REVIEW should require half a dozen visits, both announced and furtive. The place should be seen under a variety of conditions. Because intangibles are apt to go wrong unexpectedly.

This photo has nothing to do with the piece,
except that it illustrates prime rib and shrimp.
Or the post office may decide to have a party.

That's what the sign in the lobby of Schenectady's Best Western told us. The post office, among others, was partying there. The desk clerk even thought we were attached to some function when we arrived for dinner last Saturday.

When we got seated in what was left of the partitioned dining room of the Rib and Seafood House, we were placed beside a thin folding wall drawn to keep us from seeing the post office people. “This is the non-smoking section,” the hostess explained.

As soon as she left, every other table in the place broke out smokes and ignited them. I started looking for Allen Funt. The stereo at the party kicked in with that molar-loosening bass throb most apartment-dwellers know agonizingly well. I imagined a hundred letter carriers dropping their mailbags and going into a frenzied dance.

Restaurants make good money off of banquets. It could be argued that a restaurant should close itself to other business when a banquet is in progress. But it’s a bad idea to discourage the regulars just to accommodate a party. The unfortunate result is what we were subjected to: a dining area that looks elegant but offers other tortures.

(Ironically, we tried to review this restaurant a couple of Sundays ago, but they’d shut down early – “no business,” the desk clerk said.)

All right: we’re in the non-smoking area of a smoke-filled room. Beside us, the wall is throbbing with “The Locomotion” as the civil servant orgy continues. We’re presented with menus that try to transcend the setting with ambitious pages of varied offerings, paying special attention to the specialties suggested by the restaurant’s name.

Embarking on what seemed like a reasonable tour of inspection. I ordered ribs. My wife ordered seafood. Both were part of the evening’s list of specials: the twelve-ounce prime rib is a regular menu item, but got its price cut by a few bucks to $10 for the special; the stuffed shrimp took care of the seafood side of things.

The place is reasonably priced. A dinner entree starts you off with soup and sends you up to the salad bar. But, as the soups proved, the food is wildly variable.

My Tomato Florentine was excellent. Good flavors, not dependent on salt, lots of spinach in the clear mixture along with macaroni and herbs. Susan’s Corn Chowder was a puzzle. “Corn is cheap,” she said, mystified by the paucity of kernels in each spoonful. What was left was a corn-scented Bechamel sauce, thick and white.

Salad bars are pretty ho-hum operations. This one balances the dullness of a big dish of iceberg with a few unusual items. A bowl of vinegared fava beans. A tomato and onion salad. Pickled red cabbage. Inventive, tasty stuff.

We’ll be celebrating five years of marriage soon, and, while I wouldn’t say we’ve talked ourselves out of subjects, there isn’t that need for constant chatter. Which is good. The music next door kicked into “The Mashed Potato,” and someone shouted “whee!” A body thumped against the wall.

We saw some trays of desserts slip out of the kitchen, borne party-ward. Yipes. Adding a sugar rush to the chaos already at hand could be dangerous.

I try not to be fussy when I order prime rib. During my own cooking days I learned that the best you can hope for is a not-too-rare roast, individual cuts of which can be touched up to suit the medium and well-done eaters (we plunged the cuts into a steaming pot of juices to poach them darker). This was what I tried to explain to the waitress who insisted, when taking my order, on collecting a state of done-ness for the roast.

“However it’s slicing,” I said.

“I have to find out how you like it,” she insisted.

“I’ll leave it to the chef.”

The chef likes it medium rare, leaning to the medium. The cut was free of bone and excess fat, so it was a solid three-quarter-pounder of meat I got, nicely touched with juice.

Again, Susan got the mystery course. Four not-terribly-large shrimp were split open and stuffed with . . . well, we never did figure it out. Lots of breading, of course, and some manner of seafood that could have been meant to be crabmeat but came off just tasting bland and fishy.

Plates were nicely dressed with simple garnishes. Among the many choices of starch and veg we both settled on club potatoes. I had some manner of green beans, but Susan lucked out yet again by asking for cauliflower with cheese sauce and getting cauliflower with some amazingly bitter, orange-yellow topping.

You’ll understand if we didn’t linger over dessert. It was getting even noisier, if that’s possible, next door, and we were frightened lest we should inadvertently see inside the room and learn terrible secrets about government employees. The carrot cake and chocolate mousse we ordered were third-party items, serviceable but not outstanding.

As it says below, your experience will probably differ. Go there some time when you’re pretty sure that mail is being delivered elsewhere.

Dinner for two with tax, tip and dessert was $39.

The Rib and Seafood House, Best Western Hotel, 2788 Hamburg Street, Schenectady. Serving dinners Tuesday-Sunday 4:30-10 PM. All major credit cards.

Metroland Magazine, 10 May 1990

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