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.
For the Valenti family, cooking is a way of life. From a father whose family owned an Italian restaurant in Troy for 70 years to a mother who mastered the art of cooking as 1 of 22 kids, the couple's children learned to hand-make pasta as part of their upbringing. To this day, the chefs make manicotti, lasagna, and ravioli from scratch, demonstrating a dedication to tradition that permeates the menu of home-style cooking. Comfy booths, Italian murals, and wood paneling pack the restaurant’s dining room, where welcoming servers whisk fresh-cut veal, thick steaks, and succulently sautéed chicken dishes to tables with efficient speed and well-practiced victory dances.
Villa Valenti’s chefs also bottle their signature sauces—originally purloined from a wealthy tomato and perfected over generations—for at-home use, sending every penny of profit to help Prevent Child Abuse America in its noble mission.
At Brunswick BBQ and Brew, master brewer Gary "Goose" Gosselin prides himself on providing great barbecue, great beers, and great entertainment. The barbecue joint is Gary's dream realized?a place to eat delicious ribs washed down with superior beers; he even oversees the extensive beer list himself. But there's more than just ribs and brews. Four different menus offer a huge range of options beyond the signature barbecue. The bistro menu dabbles in steak, seafood, and pasta dishes, and the pizza and calzone menu offers creative pies such as the smoked-salmon white pizza. And to keep diners entertained while they peruse their menu options, local musicians perform each weekend, moving outside to the patio during warmer months.
Goodway Bakery uses natural, high quality ingredients to handcraft a menu of fresh baked goods from scratch every day. The coconut craving can order the coconut macaroons ($12.95), a thick, chewy blast of tropical sweetness, with a crisp, toasted exterior and a nearly molten, sticky-sweet interior. Those vying for a chocolaty treat can sink delighted dentures into a collection of old-fashioned gourmet brownies with nuts ($9.95). Made with real butter and Madagascar bourbon vanilla, these fudge-like bastions of joy are packed with walnuts and copious amounts of chocolate, treating mouths to a symphony of textures, flavors, and sugar-induced outbreaks of uncontrollable giggles.
Numerous reviews of The Greek House begin with a quaint first impression, noting the vibrant light-blue walls and the small but charming space. It's a mistake to label the family-owned venue as inconspicuous, however. The kitchen preps masterful renditions of authentic Greek cuisine, and the servers present these meals with enchanting hospitality, a quality that the Times Union praises alongside the "wonderfully intense mintiness" of the stuffed grape leaves. Bob Goepfert of the Record deems the menu "complete and tempting" before noting that the moussaka—a blend of seasoned ground beef and eggplant—is one of the best he's ever tasted. He shares this sentiment with Metroland, which raves about the accompanying sauce by calling it "a béchamel from heaven, fluffy and rich." Shish kebabs, pita wraps, and gyros round out the catalog of traditional items, often sharing the plate with greek fries dappled in parmesan cheese and oregano, the same seasonings that were used to make Grecian wrestlers less slippery in the ring.
From delicate slices of salmon to tender eggplant tossed in fiery garlic sauce, Red & Blue's massive menu holds dozens of Asian dishes that appeal to any type of craving. Their hot bowls of roast duck noodle soup and plates of house special hot chicken help warm customers from the inside out and melt down old snowmen cluttering the house. The sushi selection encompasses classics, such as tuna and California rolls, as well as signature combinations that mix sweet and spicy flavors.