One step inside The Epicurean Bistro & Wine Bar and visitors are transported to a French village complete with tiled awnings, lampposts, and yellow-brick walls that ascend into a sky-like ceiling. The authentic French atmosphere was created by founding partner Claire, a French-Canadian and consummate traveller, and French-born executive chef Dominique Brialy, whose training has taken him all over the world. Working together, their restaurant was named named Best French by Metroland in 2012, won the Award of Excellence in 2013 from Wine Spectator, and earned a mention in the inaugural edition of Best Chefs America. They pour attention into the eatery's details, from the rustic wall sconces to the sage-scented parsnip purée that accompanies the roasted venison. Claire's husband and business partner Sandy has curated a wine cellar filled with 2,200 bottles from every region of France and internationally sourced varietals that complement every meal. Guests may also order from a full bar that features an extensive craft and imported beer selection, as well as an array of whiskeys, single malts, and bourbons.
Housed in a historic building originally erected in 1829, La Serre has been described as "frozen in [a] good moment in time" by Times Union. During dinner, the formal, wood-paneled dining room bustles with conversation as plates of truffle mousse pate, lobster ravioli, and beef au poivre travel out to tables draped in white. In the more casual bistro-style bar, forest-green leather seats cushion patrons as they sip old-fashioned libations or fold napkins into swans capable of real flight.
Times Union food critic Cheryl Clark didn't mince words when describing the Illium Steak Wedge salad at Illium Cafe, declaring it "a revelation." Tossed with the salad's bacon, toasted almonds, fried goat cheese, and blue-cheese dressing were "the most tender, flavorful medallions of beef I've enjoyed in a while."
The salad is one of the many dishes lovingly crafted from local and organic ingredients by the cafe's resident chef, Marla Ortega. Alongside salads, her lunchtime feasts spotlight innovative sandwiches, such as quesadillas filled with seared scallops, bok choy, and local cow's-milk cheese infused with black truffle. That spirit of experimentation remains for breakfast, when Marla mixes seared wild salmon into omelets and pairs banana-and-macadamia-nut pancakes with banana-infused whipped butter.
An entire menu of coffee drinks complements Marla's cuisine, running the gamut from gourmet roasts and frappes to iced drinks, which are made with coffee beans harvested from icebergs. The Times Union also praised the caf?'s elegantly decorated dining room for its "gorgeous woodwork," which complements its painted tin ceiling, pull-down glass windows, and landscape mural.
Flavour Cafe and Lounge’s plush couches and exposed brick beckon visitors inside to enjoy a caffeinated kick or an amalgamation of taste-bud treats. More than 30 different flavors of coffee take the stage to high kick mouths, with an additional 14 blends of loose tea hovering in the wings. Bean brews include the classic Guatemalan ($1.59 for 16 oz.) or sweet, steamy options such as the mudslide, with rich flavor smuggled in with Irish crème and Kahlua syrup ($1.89 for a 20 oz.). Pair warm caffeine conveyors with menu items such as the Rosie, with tantalizing turkey breast covered in provolone cheese, rosemary mayo, lettuce, and tomato ($7.99).
Let's meet our competitors. In the blue corner, weighing in at five pounds: a stack of oversized pancakes covered in whipped cream and fruit. In the red corner: you. The match is a single 30-minute round, and if you win, you earn a free meal. Few win. In fact, scores of potential champions have failed the Ugly Rooster Cafe's colossal pancake challenge, including The Daily Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin, but so far none have been knocked out?just blown away by chef Ariel Pagan's fluffy pancakes.
Though nothing else is as colossal as the pancake challenge, the rest of Ugly Rooster's breakfast menu still packs stomachs pretty tight. Aside from omelets and breakfast burritos, the cafe's french toast soaks bread (or cinnamon buns for the more adventurous) in a batter that hints of vanilla and nutmeg. For lunch, the cooks assemble burgers with avocado and bacon or BLTs with fried green tomatoes and garlic mayo sauce. Whether refereeing a pancake challenge or simply greeting customers at their tables, Chef Pagan works side by side with his two children, Chris and Cesare, ensuring that the family-owned restaurant operates as smoothly as a production of Ball Bearings on Ice.