Cassie had the idea to check out a place in Schenectady during their 2013 restaurant week. From February 18-24, about 20 restaurants offered a special prix fixe menu of three courses for $20.13. Every local region here does this type of thing, and it’s usually a mixed bag as far as quality goes. I would hope the intent is to offer an affordable taste of a new place at a very reasonable price. Many times, the restaurants just phone it in with scant and unrepresentative portions of varying quality.
When perusing the list of restaurants participating and checking out the menus, it occurred to me that I haven’t eaten at Cornell’s in a really long time.
Years ago, on an episode of Rachael Ray’s “30 Minute Meals,” she talked about a dish that she loved at Cornell’s called “Chicken in the Oven.” The fact that she mentioned it really stood out to me because real world locations seldom were mentioned on cooking shows back then. With the help of my buddy Rory and a bunch of others, we checked it out about 10 years ago. That was, of course, before my days of blogging, well, before this blog, anyway.
Cornell’s restaurant week menu looked strong enough as far as classic Italian American meals go, plus it included four courses instead of three counting the salad. So we made a reservation and went.
I noticed that the decor was exactly what I remember from about ten years ago. It’s very quaint but sort of dated looking. The upkeep on the place is impeccable, and, even though the overall ambiance isn’t modern at all, it’s not dingy.
I browsed the menu and was really happy that “Chicken in the oven” is still there. It is described as “Fresh baked chicken with potatoes, olive oil, chicken broth, grated cheese, white wine, rosemary and one hot red cherry pepper for flavor. Takes 45 minutes to prepare, but well worth the wait.” I was so close to changing my plan because I’ve had that dish before, and it’s great. Next time, I guess.
I stuck with the restaurant week menu.
As the first course, I chose the porcini mushroom risotto.
The course arrived very shortly after ordering, and the rice was not fully cooked. I’m not talking aldente as it should be; it was a little raw. Aside from that, it was very enjoyable. There were plenty of porcini mushrooms dispersed through the risotto, and the broth that cooked the risotto was rich in porcini flavor. The risotto was finished with a hefty amount of butter and grated cheese, and it was served on a warm dish.
Salads were served next.
As far as house salads go, the base was fairly standard, greens, some cherry tomatoes, some olives, cucumbers and onions. The dressing I chose, blue cheese, was outstanding. I can’t say it was homemade, but I’ve never had a store-bought blue cheese dressing that was as assertive in blue cheese flavor in as delightful a way.
My third course was pappardelle carbonara. The description, smoked bacon and chopped tomatoes tossed with eggs and cream, sounded good enough, even though carbonara really shouldn’t contain cream.
The pasta dish was cooked and executed very nicely. It was served to me perfectly aldente and dressed. There may have been a little extra cream sauce on the plate, but that’s what the Perreca’s bread on the table was for. I didn’t care for the tomatoes in the sauce, but they were easy to pick around.
My main course was veal and three cheeses (Tender veal medallions sautéed with roasted peppers and mushrooms, finished with a Marsala wine sauce, topped with asiago, gorgonzola and provolone cheeses).
This was the weakest of the courses, but it wasn’t horrible by any means. It was essentially veal marsala topped with roasted peppers, jarred mushrooms and the three cheeses. The sauce was nice and rich, but the veal was a tad on the overcooked side, and there was too much flour coating it. The cheeses were a nice touch, but the asiago and provolone got lost in the gorgonzola.
The meal was well portioned for the price. We opted for dessert. It was weird that our server didn’t mention at least half of the desserts that we had heard other servers describe to their tables. The peanut butter pie sounded fine
but was most likely something that was factory made and bought in (Update 2/27/13: according to an exchange on facebook, all desserts are homemade). It was tasty.
For under $30, I think I had a good enough sampling of their technique to guide my way through my next visit. But I can pretty much guarantee I’ll be getting that chicken in the oven next time.