Last night Mr. Hungry and I went out to the new restaurant, Garden Bistro 24 in Colonie. It's located on Central Avenue in the plaza where Super Video used to be, but is a new building, I believe (remember Super Video? I miss it.) Buzz on local food blog, Table Hopping, had been immensely positive, and I was intrigued by the promise of a concise, focused menu and reasonable prices.
We made reservations for 8:00, but when we got there, though it was busy, we could see that we would have gotten a table regardless. Still, if you're planning on going more along prime dinner hours (6:00-7:00 or so around here), you might want to call ahead. The restaurant is decorated in tones of gold and burgundy, with touches here and there that give nods to France - fleur de lis and Eiffel tower sorts of things.
To your right you'll see a large board containing the night's specials, including prices. We were seated almost immediately and handed the regular menu, the wine menu, and the specials menu, including beer specials on the back. Beer-lovers take note: all four (or was it five?) beer specials were local, including Saratoga Ale and Cooperstown's Hennepin. I opted to stick with water last night, but it was nice to see local beers.
As plates piled high with golden frites whizzed by, I knew there was really no thinking to do. I must order something that gives me those frites, I thought to myself. I opted for the Flat Iron Steak Frites ($11) while Mr. Hungry, also feeling beefy, went with the other option, the Hangar Steak Frites ($12). I also ordered a small house salad with their citrus vinaigrette and received a good-sized bowl of mixed greens, ripe tomato (it was red!), cucumber, carrot, regrettably, raw red onion (I'll have to remember to ask for that to be held, next time), and micro greens. The salad was well-dressed, not over-dressed, and the dressing was tart and garlicky. I'd never had micro greens before, that I could recall, and I didn't notice huge flavor, but they looked nice, and I imagine they're pretty good for me, too. Mr. Hungry started with French onion soup ($6) and received the standard, cheese-encrusted crock. I took a little sip of his broth and found it to be rich and flavorful, and pretty much exactly as you'd want a French onion broth to taste.
Our steaks arrived shortly thereafter. I'd gotten mine topped with herb butter while Mr. Hungry was Mr. Greedy and asked for caramelized onions as well as blue cheese. I tasted both steaks and can appreciate both. The hangar steak has a really beefy flavor and meaty chewiness to it that I find really satisfying, but the flat iron is tender and juicier. While the herb butter was good, I think next time I'd have to top my steak with those onions the Mr. had. Deeply tan and meltingly soft, they would make anything taste emminently better. The frites were very thin, almost shoestring style, with skins on and were pretty well-done. I prefer my fries a bit thicker so there's more of a potato flavor, but these were good. They reminded me a bit of the canned Potato Stix snack, but in a good way. My only other small complaint is that I thought both fries and steak could use a touch more salt, but it didn't bother me so much that I felt I needed to ask our waitress for the salt shaker that was strangely missing from our table (present on all the rest).
The serving size was adequate and filling, but it was one meal's worth of food. That is not at all a complaint - I like receiving smaller portions, and this is really not food you want to take home to reheat. So we had dessert! I had a good cup of coffee ($2, and locally roasted, per the menu, though from where, I don't know) and the housemade almond cake ($4), said to be glazed with apricot preserves and topped with toasted almonds. I was presented with a small, round cakelet topped with whipped cream and a blackberry - I wish I'd had my camera as it was really cute. The taste was mouth-fillingly almondy, sweet, and just the slightest bit dry. I enjoyed it immensely. Mr. Hungry went with the pineapple upside-down cake ($4), which is one of his favorites but is rarely seen on menus. It, too, was a small, round cake and was moist and sweet, topped with the classic caramelized pineapple.
After having abysmally slow and negligent service at another restaurant recently, the service at Garden Bistro was a breath of fresh air. They took a team approach, which I nearly always prefer, and they seemed genuinely happy to be working there. The waitresses we spoke with were knowledgeable about the menu and just all around pleasant. We got refills promptly, and save one silly gaffe - our waitress asked if we wanted dessert before we'd eaten our entrees! - I have no complaints. The restaurant was spotlessly clean, including the bathrooms and the glimpse into the kitchen I got on my way to the bathroom, part of which I'm sure is due to being new, but it is still promising to see.
Will we go back? Certainly. There was a delicious sounding crepe special last night, stuffed with spinach, caramelized onions, roast chicken, and chevre ($11) as well as a swordfish special that tempted me ($17). I would also love to go with a mussels lover as the bowls going past, piled with shiny black shellfish, looked and smelled wonderful, but I'm not certain I like mussels, having not eaten them in years and not liking them previously, and while I'm game to try new things, I don't want to order a bowl for my dinner only to hate them. Mr. Hungry doesn't eat any fish or shellfish, so he's no help in that department.
Garden Bistro 24 is exactly the neighborhood kind of place that this area needed. The food was very good, with reasonable portions and prices, and most importantly, we left feeling better - happier, mellower, sated - than we had when we came in, all for under $50, before tip. I don't know if it was the food, service, atmosphere, or combination of the three, but I can't remember the last time I left a restaurant with a greater sense of well-being.