Friday, April 18, 2014

DOING DISHES: Tapas Part IV of V - Cella Bistro

Jim, the Garmin Guy, is an idiot. Good thing I have special powers, including an ability to find my way into and out of deepest Schenectady with only a few wrong turns and not onto those one-way roads going the wrong way again.

This week Foodie Friend and I decided to try the tapas served at Cella Bistro. It doesn't look like much on the outside - sort of small and plain, but on the inside it was very special. Maybe they are trying to protect their secret identity, too.

It was early and we were looking forward to settling in at the bar instead of taking a table in the back dining room, having a drink or two, sharing a laugh and of course, a few tapas. We had to find our way through 5 menus - I was feeling a bit lost but FF was already happily wandering her way through all the lists. There was a Tapas Menu, Cocktail List, Wine List, and Today's Menu Selections, as well as a chalkboard with today's specials, including a few additional tapas.

FF ordered a cocktail they called a Raspberry Truffle made from vodka, Kahlua, and Chambord, shaken and served in a martini glass ($8) that she found absolutely delicious. Eventually it made her giggle, but I digress. I took a little more time and tasted the Tamari Malbec Reserve from Argentina ($8) from a list of 10 wines available by the glass before ordering - it was strong and robust and perfect for sipping. The wine list was very nice, with selections from all over the world, running $20 (cheap) to $67 a bottle (still very reasonable). I noted a few Rieslings from New York State, in keeping with Chef Micheal's interest in going local when he can. We started our night out with a bowl of House Marinated Mixed Olives ($4) - a nice selection of both soft, black olives and meaty green ones, spicy, salty, lemony and simple. It was perhaps a bit too many for two of us, but we finished most of them by the end of the evening.

FF was racing ahead, careening around the menus, oohing and ahhing while I was just trying to find my napkin among all the paperwork and glasses and dishes. She was SO excited to be on another adventure, and by the promising choices on our menus!!! So I asked for Bread Service ($2), which was served warm with olive oil laced with black pepper, and an order of the Grilled Baby Artichokes in Caper Aioli ($7) for our next course. Both were fabulous - the bread was very tasty, soft and dense; the artichokes were deeply flavorful with just a touch of char served atop a bed of baby arugula. The caper aioli was out of this world wonderful - enough to slow us down. We loved this small plate - it was the best thing we ordered during our short visit.

FF was still zooming around looking at what we might order, but to be honest I really wanted to slow down and taste and think again what to have next. She was looking at the Starters on the daily selections and considered the Warm Mushroom Salad, Pate Campagne, or Roasted Red and Gold Beets. But we had earlier discussed ordering the Corn and Scallion Pancake, topped with cumin dusted shrimp and rajas, a sauce made with poblanos, onions, and crema. Not able to decide we ordered the White Anchovy Filets with lemon and parsley ($6) to tide us over for a bit.  Wowers, fellow eating-superheroes. This was NOT a dish for the faint of heart. Very fishy and actually served with finely minced chives. It was tasty assuming you are not prone to burping, and we thought tempering it with a piece of rye bread and a bit of cream cheese would have been nice, but it was a daredevil move for any foodie and well worth trying. FYI the lemon, served on the side to be squeezed fresh onto the plate helped cut through the intensity of this plate.

Then we enjoyed the pancake, which was thick like a regular breakfast style buttermilk pancake, fat and sweet, topped with four large shrimps. I lost the taste of the cumin from the grilling (it was a bit dusty), and the shrimps were slightly tough and overcooked, but the overall effect of the dish was rich and divine. It was a generous serving that for most mortals would be a meal in itself.

It was a pleasant crowd, mostly professional (Cella Bistro is near Ellis Hospital and not far from Union College, and there may be some GE folks around here somewhere). There were a lot of couples, too (the place is dark and warm and rich and cozy). It's not a student hangout and even though I felt like I was in a rather peculiar neighborhood for such a nice place to eat I still felt cool and trendy just being there. And we appreciated that tapas was just that: small, simple dishes to enjoy with a drink or two at the bar with a friend on a night out - small servings carefully crafted and meant to be savored with a sip or two.

Our meal, including four tapas and one starter, two drinks, plus tax was $52.70, very reasonable considering the quality of the food, the terrific service, and the ambiance.  The restaurant was very busy by the time we were done and we suspected that to order tapas the way we wanted to, which was As Needed, would have been a problem seeing how busy the staff became as the restaurant filled. But without exception our server at the bar was friendly and gracious. The rush of rush hour was smoothed over by a great meal and a casual, comfortable setting.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

PS: There is parking for about 10 cars in the lot proper but you can go wild parking on the side street.

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