Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Cella Bistro: If You Lived There, You'd Be Home By Now

Cella Bistro is for me a schlep. I define 'schlep' as anything more than about a 15 minute drive around here, especially if it's winter. Also, I define 'schlep' as anything taking place in the greater Schenectady area-- apologies to Schenectady folks. I'm sure you feel the same way about Troy, so it's even. The word also is appropriate here because, ultimately, I felt that this would be a fine restaurant if we lived nearby, but it isn't something I plan to go out of my way for again. And that's not just because I'm grouchy. If you met me in person, you'd never realize how grouchy I am. For the most part I hide it really well.

For your consideration is this wall of family photos that my husband and I had almost an hour to contemplate as we waited for our appetizers. It didn't make me feel like part of the family. It made me feel like maybe there is some kind of competition, and the people with bigger families win.

I had heard numerous good things about Cella Bistro from acquaintances and also from various reviews. Click here for Steve Barnes' review of them this summer. It's supposed to be a more contemporary Italian place than what we usually expect in the Capital Region, where old school red-sauce joints are King. So we schlepped, and then we further schlepped, because we parked about a block away on a quiet residential street that was full of cars. The parking lot there is small (although to our chagrin once we hoofed it in the cold to the restaurant we discovered there were, in fact, plenty of spaces right in the lot). It's in a building that looks like it was once a house, although it's been nicely redecorated, with warm-toned brown painted walls and new beadboard.

After our initial expenditure of schlep energy in the drive, we further depleted our patience resources by waiting for service that was creepingly slow. At one point, our waiter, who was of the more obsequious and frighteningly cheerful variety, apologized, saying there was a large party of 20 people that was slowing everything down. We were understanding, really we were. And then we realized that we had been sitting there for almost an hour and hadn't even gotten our salads yet. So that was count one against Cella Bistro, although as an experienced restaurant-goer knows, sometimes these things happen. Still, times like this I feel like saying, "Hey, will you just show me the kitchen-- I'll fix the salad!"

The food itself was uneven. The appetizers weren't that good: this spring roll
is an example of nouveau cuisine making too much of itself, with goat cheese and artichoke filling (artichokes should never be used to 'fill' anything. I have too much respect for artichokes). The endive salad we shared was mostly just that-- endive with a too-heavy dressing sitting inside a radicchio leaf. But by that time, we were hungry and grateful.

I had a lovely rosé wine from Provence. I wouldn't mind another right now.

Then dinner: my husband's bolognese was really good, with homemade wide pasta noodles; mine was mahi-mahi with a sauce that was too sweet. There's nothing that turns me off more than too much sweetness. Cloying and saccharine, too much sweetness is always trying to hide something. But the haricots verts were the real thing, which I appreciate because I don't have much luck growing them like that (nice, dark and skinny) in my garden.

The scene was quite the Niskayuna-Schenectady do-gooders scene. People at a table behind us were yukking it up in that way that people who function in society yet like to get drunk do. And our waiter seemed to egg them on by chatting them up. This loud group then moved to the bar area and it was remarkably quieter.

We opted out of dessert. It's probably a good thing because today alone I hate half a large farmer's market chocolate cookie (Placid Baker, I love you!) and a biscotti as well as a bag of Cheetos. 'Tis the season, folks. Happy Thanksgiving.