Friday, April 7, 2017

Update: Changes at Westfall Station Cafe in Averill Park

Main entrance to the restaurant. (photos provided)
Zachary Oliver
UPDATE (4/7/17): Zachary Oliver has come home. The native of Averill Park whose cooking journey has taken him abroad for several posts with Wolfgang Puck's empire and domestically to a variety of venues including some local work with the ubiquitous Mazzone Hospitality, has taken over the kitchen at the fledgling Westfall Station Cafe in his hometown. He succeeds startup chef Art Wise. While Oliver presently is cooking with inherited inventory, he is in the process of developing his own signature menu as well as hiring and retraining staff.

(Originally published 9/25/16)

A friend and I, both reformed restaurant critics, and our long-suffering spouses like to dine out together at newly-discovered places. On Saturday, we had lunch at the new Westfall Station Cafe off Route 43 in the Town of Sand Lake. Score!

It’s part of a 92-acre embryonic in-progress project of mixed-use buildings — townhomes, shops, houses, etc. — called Westfall Station, the sort of complex that is popping up in various sports around the Greater Capital Region, most noticeably in Saratoga County. Its creator is Edward J. Patanian, a home builder and developer since 1985.

The cafe's elegant bar.
According to my friends, whose nearby vintage country house is being rebuilt and expanded by Patanian, Ed always wanted to build and own a restaurant, a place where people with families could go, but with a grown-up feel. In the Westfall Station Cafe, I believe he has succeeded even though it just opened and all restaurants have to go through that breaking-in and tweaking period with its staff, timing and character.

The four of us, veterans of hundreds and hundreds of restaurant reviews, all believe you can get a quick hook on a place by how it handles the basics, so we decided our quartet would try a simple lunch first.

Inside, the restaurant — named for an old Dutch family that once occupied large swaths of local land — is airy and flooded with natural light, dotted with the antiques Ed likes to collect, and shows touches of a custom builder’s craft — dark wood floors, broad moldings, knick-knack shelves for antique bottles and such tucked unobtrusively into walls separating the tavern room from the dining room, framed vintage local posters and paintings, a plumbing pipe footrest and a trio of arched wooden mirror frames behind the long polished-wood bar that is stocked with a good assortment of spirits — curated by bar manager Vic Simeone, who earlier gained a following at the nearby Arlington House that has since been succeeded by a sushi joint. He offers 18 wines by the glass, and a menu of coffee drinks as well as the standards.

One of my pet peeves about restaurants and pubs is that they often have really crummy chairs. Not so here. The comfortable metal framed chairs are made to look like wood that matches the reddish-hued material of the tables and complements the lighter walnut colored wood in the bar area. Except for a slightly cavernous feel in the large main room, it’s a welcoming place.

We limited ourselves to two dishes from startup chef Arthur Wise’s menu— again, looking for the basics of food, service, and value until we get to know the place better as it develops.

Good, crisp calamari and imaginative Carolina egg rolls with pulled pork and cheddar were nice starters. The ex-critics both  were attracted to the Westfall Burger, their minders to the chicken salad sandwiches. Both are served on flaky brioche buns with sides of crisp pomme frites — none of those abominable mushy “steak fries,” thank goodness — with little ramekins of spicy ketchup for dipping. Both spouses liked the nicely-herbed chicken salad and my friend and I concurred that the burgers, made from a mixture of brisket, shorts ribs, and chuck, were among the best we’d had in years — juicy, rich in flavor, cooked precisely medium rare as ordered, one with provolone, the other with cheddar.

We’re going back to fully sample the wares behind the bar and to try out Wise’s dinner menu that offers appetizers such as tuna poké, chicken-fried bacon (yes!),  and dinner entrees such as Argentine surf and turf (a grilled bistro château cut of beef and Littleneck clams and chorizo in a crisp beer chimichurri sauce with pomme frites and topped with charred tomatoes) and a grilled pork tenderloin (marinated in sweet apple cider, rested and sliced over jalapeño and roasted garlic demi-glace, white rice and baby carrots).

It will be interesting to see how this venture develops. Rensselaer County does not have enough such venues outside the City of Troy.

• Go here to visit the Capital Region Brew Trail
• Go here to visit Dowd On Drinks
• Go here to visit Dowd's New York Wines Notebook

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