MALTA Quintessence, the quirky, urban and hip casual restaurant in an Art Deco silver diner in Albany near the Medical Center has moved out of the city, physically and spiritually. It’s on Route 9 in Malta in another silver diner, this one with a noble pedigree, the home of the former Chez Sophie.
Instead of quirky and hip, and of course urban, the new Quintessence feels like, well, a diner. The menu features breakfast and burgers and hot sandwiches and salads, in addition to the teriyaki dinners that were a staple of the old place.
They continue to have weekend brunch, but they’ve added Italian favorites and a gourmet pizza menu. Prices are reasonable. Chicken parm, with salad, pasta and bread, is $13.99.
The west-facing diner was saturated with late-day sunshine that reflected off the silver walls, revealing tiny details, harsh and in contrast to the flattering soft lighting I remember of the old restaurant. “It looks very clean,” was my sister JoAnn’s comment.
WHERE: 2853 Route 9, Malta. 580-1212, http://quintessenceny.com
HOURS: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Friday; 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
HOW MUCH: $71.47, with tax and tip
MORE INFO: Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover. Children’s menu. Not wheelchair accessible.
The server did double duty at the bar, offering a customer with an azure drink the rest of the pineapple juice. “I’m only going to throw it away,” she said. The other customers were enjoying a massive, crispy-looking pizza. JoAnn got a hot cup of coffee from a freshly made pot, and we made ourselves comfortable.
You can get fried onion rings, mozzarella or mushrooms or calamari or coconut shrimp, but I chose the slightly healthier pot stickers with teriyaki and chive sauce ($8.99) to start. These dumplings were baked, browned and crispy all around. There was enough teriyaki to marinate a steak, and no chives. They were tasty dumplings, with a gingery soft meaty filling, and the sauce was delicious. Now that I think about it, I wish I’d brought it home for that small London broil in the freezer.
JoAnn enjoyed the six scallops with bacon ($10.99), something she likes to make at home. Quintessence didn’t skimp on the quality of the scallops — they were tender, fresh and good, and the bacon was wrapped all around neat as could be, but they left one out. The handsome garnish and the lovely honey mustard sauce didn’t make up for the fact that there were only five.
Soon the server started shifting our plates to make room for the entrees. JoAnn ordered the signature dish, chicken teriyaki ($13.99) and it was just as I remembered. White meat chicken strips marinated in that excellent teriyaki were wrapped around a carrot stick and scallion, then grilled. The al dente spinach fettucini was seasoned with mixed dried herbs, and the fluffy green salad all filled the plate to overflowing.
“It’s good,” JoAnn said, as she worked her way through. I’ve enjoyed that same dish and I was glad she liked it, too.
The shrimp scampi ($15.99) made me happy. It came with all five promised jumbo shrimp, butterflied and cooked just long enough, and topped with a thick garlicky sauce. The seasoned spinach fettucini and salad were a happy trip down memory lane. It was a classic Quintessence meal: what I’d come here for. I wasn’t disappointed.
The server read through the list of desserts — cheesecake, chocolate thing, massive brownie sundae — when I interrupted: Was there anything homemade? Well, there was the fried dough ($4.99), she said. Now that sounded interesting. In less time than you’d think, we were looking at a long plate dusted with cinnamon, laden with four pieces of fried dough each the size and shape of your hand, if you have big hands. Way too much. I tore a small morsel off the closest piece. JoAnn, always more on top of things than me, put a whole one on her plate.
It was delicious. The yeasty dough was soft but not greasy, and there was granulated sugar everywhere. Every time I licked it off my fingers, there was more. Next thing we knew, the stuff was almost gone. “I was trying to keep dinner under 600 calories,” JoAnn said, but not too regretfully. Me, too.
Except for the entrees coming out way too soon, we were happy with the service, which was thoughtful and attentive.
So I miss the Art Deco and the funky location, but I was glad to find the teriyaki dinners persist and that they’re doing crazy things with dough. Quintessence has kept some urban roots, and is learning a few new tricks.