“Are we in Latham?” I asked Mary as we walked through the swanky Epicurean restaurant in the Latham Farms shopping center. On the right: an elegant lounge area with low couches and cocktail tables (with copies of wine magazines arranged casually), high tables, sleek clientele.
The black-painted ceiling looms high over the dining room to the left. Heavy draperies divide the dining area and hush unwanted noise. And everything, and I mean everything, including the lighted curios and candelabra, is in such good taste.
We were seated at the back, along the banquette with the candelabra and what looked like Coach upholstery (who knew?), me facing the dining room and Mary the open kitchen, which she carefully supervised throughout the meal. Our server brought the menus and wine list right away. We each chose a glass of the house wine and settled in with the menus.
The Epicurean Bistro
WHERE: 579 Troy-Schenectady Road, Latham Farms Shopping Center. 786-8272, epicurean-ny.com/bistro
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday to Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday.
HOW MUCH: $96.82
MORE INFO: Credit cards: Master Card, Visa, American Express, Discover. Wheelchair accessible. Accommodations made for children’s meals.
Next month marks my 10th anniversary with the Gazette, and I am so grateful they gave an untested, unknown decent home cook with a chemistry degree the chance to be a food writer. I took over from husband Eric, who has been my patient editor. With him, I have been lucky to travel extensively and learn about food in the world’s most sophisticated cities. Neither of these experiences makes me feel quite prepared to review The Epicurean Bistro, however.
At the former Epicurean Cafe in Brunswick, I was wowed by steaming homemade croissants and the Parmesan souffle, which I called, “One of the best things I’ve ever eaten in my life.” The menu was limited to mostly brunch and lunch, with dinners served at the weekend.
The Epicurean has evolved naturally into the kind of restaurant you'd expect the talented staff to assume, given experience and greater resources: full menus for brunch, lunch, and dinner. Fixed-priced menus, wine-paired dinners, seasonal menus featuring different regions of France.
We chose three courses, and had an outstanding meal. Mary started with tender escargot ($8), which came dripping in garlic-saturated butter and topped with tiny puff pastry rounds. My salad folle ($9) was a delightful spinach salad dressed with orange tarragon vinaigrette, served with tiny balls of fresh mozzarella, dried cranberries and pesto, accompanied by generous slices of aromatic prosciutto. Every ingredient in my salad was fresh and perfect.
The French entrees I’d expected to find include PEI mussels, steak tartare, hanger steak with frites. In addition, there is whole trout, grilled pork and beef rib steaks, and boneless chicken breast. We found our choices in the Chef's signature section: duck for me, scallops and shrimp for Mary.
Their fresh bread is crusty outside and soft and moist inside, served with a plate of oil and inky balsamic vinegar.
Mary raved over her plate (duo de coquille St. Jaques et gambons au deux sauces, $28), complimenting the generous serving and the flavors. The large shrimp, curled and pink, and browned sea scallops surrounded a timbale of basmati rice, which separated the thick red and white wine sauces. She liked the sauces very much, especially the mushroom-infused white wine sauce.
I read the description of the duck (magret de canard aux asperges et framboises, $30) but it hadn’t sunk in that it was pan-seared, which meant it would be rare. When it arrived, the thick, beefy breast, sliced and fanned over the dauphinois potatoes, was rare indeed. I nibbled around the edges, where the glazed skin held all the fatty flavor, and wish in retrospect that I had sent it back for more cooking. I enjoyed the wafer-thin potatoes baked in cream, and relished the fresh, salty raspberries in the sweet reduction. Slender asparagus spears rounded out the plate.
Desserts at The Epicurean Bistro are delightful and homemade. Mary finished with the pot au chocolate ($6), not as thick as mousse, she said, scraping the last bit out of the glass. My cherry creme brulee ($8) featured loads of fresh cooked cherries under crisped sugar, in a pink custard thick and rich as cheesecake.
Service was commensurate with the quality of the food, top-notch and understated. The total came to $96.82 including tax and tip but not wine.
Au revoir, as it says on The Epicurean Bistro’s receipt. Go and relax — you don’t have to write about it.