Garden Bistro 24
Getting more than what you paid for:
Scoring an upscale meal on a chain restaurant budget
Overall rating on a scale of 1-10
Service 9 • Food 9 • Ambiance 8 • Price – $$
You know that slightly guilty, yet victorious feeling you get when you know you’ve gotten more than what you paid for? It’s as if you’ve beaten the system, gotten away with something. You’re smart, you’re clever and no one will find you out. You could be an international spy… yeah. Okay, maybe not a spy, but the fact remains that especially in today’s challenging economy getting a bargain has become increasingly rare. So if you can do it, it is truly a “win”.
I’ve been hearing the news about Garden Bistro 24 for some time – a casual restaurant serving classic French bistro-inspired food in a comfortable setting at reasonable prices. But could it be true? There was only one way to find out. On an evening that fell between Christmas and New Year’s, dining companion Peter and I went to see what all the fuss was about. This much I knew already: the restaurant was opened in June 2010 by John Grizzaffi, a Dutchess County native and 2005 Culinary Institute of America graduate who most recently worked as sous chef at Schuyler Meadows Country Club in Loudonville. So far, so good. It was high time to check this place out.
We didn’t make reservations, but we certainly could have. Almost all the tables in this mid-sized strip mall eatery located at 1839 Central Avenue (on the right side heading west, just before Route 155), were full – an encouraging sign. We were seated at a table in between the small bar area where two café tables were situated, and the dining room with about 12 tables. Upon first impression the décor did say “casual”. The lighting was a bit harsh, not at all conducive to a cozy, comfortable French meal, some tablecloths would have classed things up a bit, and tossing the plastic planters would have helped. But these are all things easily corrected. And the most important consideration, the food, was yet to be tried.
But first things first, there was wine to be had. The wine list could have been more extensive; however, what it did feature by the glass was happily not your usual selection. We both opted for reds on this chilly evening – I ordered the Trappolini Cenereto and Peter chose the Bong Bong Shiraz, both at $8 a glass.
The Trappolini Cenereto is a blend of Montepulciano and Sangiovese. I found this everyday red to be on the lighter side, but vibrant with excellent fruit character and a touch of rustic Italian tannins. The Shiraz, from Australia is a medium bodied blend of mostly Shiraz (90%) and some Cabernet Sauvignon (10%). We noticed ripe fruity aromas of raspberry and prune, and overall the wine had soft, rounded flavors that made it go down incredibly easy.
A nice surprise was the menu. It was in true French bistro style – simple and concise, not overwhelming or irrelevant. What else characterizes this style of cuisine? In short, it is a rejection of excessive complication. Instead, it focuses on reduced cooking times for fish, meat and vegetables to preserve the natural flavors, the increased use of fresh herbs, and using less heavy sauces and marinades, and lastly, introducing inventive and new combinations and pairings.
Now – back to the menu. There were soups, including the expected French Onion soup and a Soup Du Jour. The salads, all priced at $8.50, were some of the most creative I’ve come across, including the “Merabec Salad” of crisp lettuce tossed with fresh grapes, dried cherries, toasted walnuts, apples, avocado and crumbled blue cheese. The salad we chose to start our meal with was the “Countryside Salad” of fresh mixed greens, asparagus, sliced radish, green peas, aged cheddar, fresh sprouts and roasted soy beans with my choice of a maple mustard vinaigrette. A very thoughtful waitress actually brought us the salad we asked to share, in two separate bowls. I am more than sure we ended up with a full salad each. This was a good thing, as eating it made me happier than a salad had in ages. I suppose using fresh, seasonal ingredients in an unexpected way allows all the components to shine. Part of the salad’s success was the dressing – perfectly balanced, not too sweet, not too spicy and not overdressed. Another factor was the play between the different textures. The roasted soy beans were toasty, nutty and crunchy, the lettuce was tender and delicate; it all worked wonderfully together.
I didn’t mean to eat the whole salad, I needed to save room for the rest of my meal, but it was too late. All I could do was put it behind me, move on and choose an entrée. The menu featured six entrees: a savory crepe special, a hangar steak, a flat iron steak, fish of the day, chicken frites (roasted chicken with fresh herbs and served with au jus and pomme frites), and perhaps the most popular of all French bistro fare: mussels frites, Prince Edward Island Mussels served with your choice of a white wine shallot sauce or a chunky tomato saffron sauce and pommes frites. Seafood of any kind, but especially shellfish, is a weakness for me so this was a no brainer – I ordered the mussels frites with the White Wine and Shallot sauce ($13). Peter asked if the Savory crepe special, made with beef, could be made vegetarian and again, our extremely accommodating waitress told us we could order a crepe with any combination of fillings they had available. Hooray for customer service! He decided on Swiss cheese, spinach, mushrooms and caramelized onions ($14). All entrees were priced between $12 and $14 except for the fish and the crepe specials which were listed as “Market Price”.
It’s hard not to grin like an idiot when someone places a giant paper cone of hot, crispy, golden brown homemade pommes frites in front of you. But no matter, everyone in the restaurant had the same giddy look that night. What’s even better than biting into one of these gems is dipping it first into the cool, smooth mustard aioli, or the spicy red tomato sauce that accompanies them. However, I am pleased to report that we did not finish the frites, although for this I am sure we deserve some sort of medal. My serving of mussels was not only abundant, but cooked to perfection; the sweet, tender shellfish allowed to shine, while the broth played more of a supporting role. I ate as many as I could, still leaving about half the order in my bowl.
Peter’s savory crepe creation was nothing short of spectacular. The crepe itself was light and fluffy, the fillings were absolute pleasure. There was just enough cheese, so that it didn’t dominate the more mild mushrooms and spinach, the sweet onions would have been good on a plate all by themselves.
To accompany our entrees we also ordered what we assumed to be a “regular” side dish of green beans ($4). But to our delight Chef Grizzaffi once again went above and beyond. The still-crisp beans were lightly sautéed with thinly sliced red peppers in olive oil and garlic. Most certainly this is the most satisfied I have been with a vegetable side dish – what is commonly a throw away menu item at most restaurants. But this dish exemplifies what French bistro style of cooking is: not at all fussy, and focusing on all the best qualities of fresh ingredients. We did manage to eat all of the green beans, but the plate was a modest size, and they were not deep fried like the frites, so I think we’re okay.
Because Garden Bistro boasts in-house made desserts we decided to entertain the idea of eating even more. We noticed a few beautifully made pastries in a case at the front of the restaurant, like a delicate almond cake and something that resembled a linzer cookie. More items were listed on the dessert menu (all between $5 and $6), including crème brulee, chocolate mousse, and dessert crepes filled with seasonal fruit fillings. Being the chocoholic that I am I successfully talked Peter out of the crème brulee (score one point for me) and we shared the chocolate mousse.
Although light and creamy and not too sweet, the mousse lacked the real chocolate punch I was looking for. Maybe we should have gone with the crème brulee after all! But I can’t complain; the entire meal was a joy, at a steal of a price: we paid $66.15 (not including tip) for two glasses of wine, a salad, two entrees, a side dish and a dessert. This would have been reasonable for a mediocre meal, but our Garden Bistro 24 experience was anything but.
I encourage you to do as I did, visit Garden Bistro 24 and experience the euphoria of feeling like you’ve gotten much more than you paid for – it’s a delicious feeling.
Garden Bistro 24 is located in a small shopping plaza at 1839 Central Ave in Colonie. They are open Monday-Saturday 10:30am-10:30pm, serving both lunch and dinner. They can be reached at 456.4566 or www.gardenbistro24.com.
Christina DeMers is an online marketing manager, food blogger and amateur cook who lives in Troy, but eats just about anywhere.