River Street in Troy is now quite the scene: I witnessed a young woman wearing stiletto-style boots there just this evening despite the slush on the ground. It could be the critical mass of pubs, restaurants, and entertainment venues : River Street Café, Brown's Brewing Co., Revolution Hall, Ryan's Wake, and now José Malone's. The young woman in the spiky heeled boots was hanging out with another young woman, whose fashion sense was questionable: low-riding jeans with belly and rear guard hanging out, and she was not one of the ten people in the country who can wear those without looking like a plumber. Okay, so it's not the Scene, yet, but it's a lower-case scene. When you see the fledgling fashionistas flocking, it's like seagulls before a storm: you know it's coming.
Yes, you heard right: I said José Malone's. You thought fusion cuisine was so yesterday. But here in the Capital Region, yesterday is-- er, well-- today.
I used to live in New York City, where Cuban-Chinese restaurants flourished alongside Brazilian, French, Italian, Israeli, Korean, and Ukrainian. So I'm a bit spoiled. In fact, I lived two and a half blocks away from Lombardi's, the city's best (and most authentic, dating back to the early 20th century) pizzeria, hands down. I lived near Céci-Cela, a patisserie. Any kind of order-out was mine, virtually 24-hours a day.
So the Capital District seems a bit behind the times. But it is catching up, and José Malone is leading the charge with its warm, understated decor. We went on a Tuesday night in January-- not a very inspiring evening-- yet several tables of people were there, and candles were lit in wine-colored glasses. The building is one of Troy's great old brick edifices, and José Malone's proprietor had the good sense to highlight the warmth of the brick walls by leaving them alone, refinishing the lovely wood floor, and adding good lighting. The place is pretty big: tall ceilings help, but it's also long, which allowed space to build a bar separated from the main dining room by a partition. They have excellent beer, wine, and alcohol (Margaritas seemed to be a speciality) but they don't shove it in your face. If you are like me, you want good quality alcohol available but not central.
Mostly, José Malone is Mexican, with a few inspired Irish highlights: taquitos with portobellos and cheese with a side of spicy mashed potatoes. Guinness stew. Lamb as the meat in some of the Mexican dishes. The food is terrific: fresh, styled with panache, and plenty of wonderful choices for vegetarian and carnivores here. For appetizer, we had nachos and cheese; the spicy melted cheese was served in a small bowl, and now I must tell you that *every* restaurant should start doing this, because the cheese stayed warm and didn't get our hands messy. Chile rellenos queso was my main dish (although I was tempted to order the vegetable tamale-- next time), and it came with flavorful, fresh carrots prepared with tequila. I couldn't taste the tequila, but I could taste the carrots, which seemed bolder and darker orange than your usual restaurant carrot. (Maybe José is ordering from an actual farm and not a biotech company!) The chile relleno was beautifully served whole with the cute little stem still on top, fried, but not greasy. The sides were black beans with a smidge of queso dusted on the top, and rice, but not just any rice: it was more like a pilaf, with lots of good healthy brown grain in there. Not just any black beans, either: these were obviously cooked from whole dried beans and had a lovely smoke in their flavor.
I highly recommend this restaurant, but there are a couple quibbles: The chile had a spicy tomato sauce that was just a bit too spicy for me, and I usually like things moderately spicy. So you might want to ask if you have preferences for heat one way or the other. Also, they are still developing their menu, and things might change (you, reader, can impact this if you want to go, try it out, and make suggestions!) Also, there was more food than I could eat, but we're not talking disgustingly huge portions here: just generous. In reality, I could have been full on the beans, rice and nachos, without the chile and carrots. But I gave it my best college try, because damn, it was good, and I was excited to find such a unique restaurant in Troy. For an appetizer, one mint tea, and two main courses, it was about $28.
According to this Times Union review, Ray Wall is the proprietor of José Malone's; he used to be involved with El Loco Cafe in Albany, but he also plays Irish music. Hence the fusion.
The great thing about José Malone's is that you can take anyone there: a date, your mom (although I don't think mine likes Mexican, and that's a topic for another post), your buddies. This promises to be a good music place, too; there's plenty of room, and what with the dulcimer-playing owner, it's bound to happen.
I had no room for dessert, but I noticed the words 'key lime' on the menu (I think maybe cheesecake, too?), and that's one of my top 5 desserts (stay tuned for the other 4).
Tomorrow, I have to go to the gym.
Details: 405 River Street in Troy
(It looked like they were open until around 9:30 on weeknights. I will post specifics once I call them. The article I listed above states hours, but I don't believe them, because I swear I saw 9:30, but the TU says they're open until 10. )