My husband and I went out to eat at the River Street Café to celebrate our anniversary recently, and it was passably good. I had the cod with an avocado cilantro preparation, my husband had the pasta dish--noodles with vegetables--but I left feeling as I often feel at restaurants: my culinary life has just been made unecessarily complicated.
Simplicity is hard to come by. People think that once they've hit on a good thing, we all want more of it. Restraint is the natural companion of quality, but they are both so often missing in life. The stomach doesn't have to be overwhelmed with quantity nor the taste buds drowned in excess.
The River Street Café is located on 429 River Street, right next to the big parking lot where the summer Troy Farmer's Market takes place. Their telephone is 518-273-2740, and their hours are Tues-Sat. 5:30 until closing, but it's a good idea to call. There were several months this year when it seemed that the restaurant was just closed; perhaps the proprietor was on vacation.
I like the relaxed atmosphere at the River Street Café and its romantic candlelit tables with views of the Hudson River. It's a trustworthy spot, one that many RPI students and professors frequent and take parents and relatives to. Still, I see some room for improvement.
To begin with, there is my fish predicament, which isn't really a criticism of the River Street Café alone, but keeps coming up. Since I'm a vegetarian who eats fish, all the many meat dishes there (the duck, the lamb, the beef) were not options for me. I didn't feel like eating pasta, since I can easily make that at home. That left salmon, Chatham cod, or swordfish, and swordfish I know has high levels of mercury, so that's automatically out. Salmon is everyone's favorite 'safe' fish choice, but unless it's wild Atlantic salmon, chances are you are ingesting PCBs (farmed salmon are fed some fairly vile things, and according to this web site, can be toxic). That left the Chatham cod, and, well, it sounds safe and New England-ey, but it's not much better than salmon. The Oceans Alive guide to fish claims Atlantic Cod is not such a great choice, although this isn't as much because of high chemical levels as because it is not sustainably fished. When I asked the waitress what "Chatham cod" meant, she just said it meant it was from Chatham. Hmmm. Well, it's what I got, but I didn't feel that great about it. These days, restaurateurs need to reassure their patrons about fish. We need all the information we can get.
The food we got was good-- it began with a huge plate of tangy tomato noodles that I remember from other times at the River Street Café (but it was a huge plate, too much really). The cilantro-avocado preparation on my fish was wonderful, and the butter homefried potatoes that came with our main course were divine. But it was *WAY* too much food, which made me feel uncomfortable: after an appetizer (a pita pizza with tomato sauce, cheese, and mushroom), a salad that comes with the meal (delicious 'mock' Ceasar), main dishes, and dessert (a triple layered chocolate and coffee-buttercream confection that was also a bit overpowering), I actually felt kind of disgusted with myself, and with American restaurants.