It’s been a couple of months since Innovo Kitchen opened up in Latham, and being that it’s the closest “nice” restaurant to my house, radially speaking, you know I’ve been there. Actually, I’ve been there a couple of times, but this is the tale of the first visit.
For a restaurant that touts that just about everything is made in house, the menu is massive. Snacks. Starters. Charcuterie. Seafood. Salads. “Sannys.” Macaroni. Entrees. Desserts. It’s an impressive spread and a lot to take in. This night, I decided to span as many of the categories as was humanly possible.
Just as I started to dig into the menu, our waiter presented us with some crackers (not homemade – I know because these specific crackers happen to be my favorite crackers in the universe) with a white bean dip. This was a remarkably similar touch to a previous experience at Maestro’s at the Van Dam in Saratoga which should surprise nobody as one of the owners at Innovo (John LaPosta) was the chef at Maestro’s when I visited years ago. [Side note: I am aware of theft allegations but don’t really care. We’re not going to solve that issue here.] These bites were good; the bean dip lacked salt, but the crackers compensated.
Our server was very talkative and seemed to preempt every question I had about the menu with a smart ass response, but in a totally charming way, a way that I can only respect. For example, I asked what the toppings were on the “i-Dog of the Month” and he said, “the chef comes up with different things every month.” I guess I wasn’t specific enough with my question, but he did have a joke to follow that up and finally did come forth with the information I requested.
Right after we ordered, the waiter hauled a little bag with fresh, homemade breads and a plate of butter with Himalayan salt. This was an unexpected treat. There were 6 slices: 2 of an Italian brick oven loaf dusted with white flour, 2 of a honey oat bread, and 2 small slices of baguette.
I did order the i-Dog, and, for $4, it was much bigger than I had expected. Atop a homemade brioche bun, there was a white bean spread, the hot dog, mayonnaise, and a heap of thin shoestring fries, and on the side, there were a couple of pickles. It was all very good. I can envision ordering one of these and a beer at the bar and being good for a while.
But I was far from done for the night. Not realizing the size of the dog, I had also ordered a starter, the Crispy Confit Chicken Wings (Duck fat fried, roasted jalapeno, scallion, garlic). These were about 75% of the way toward being awesome. What was missing? Salt. The wings fell apart with fatty goodness through every chew, and you could taste all of the accompanying seasonings, but salt would have amplified everything. By the time I finished these, my napkin wasn’t cutting it, so I made a trip to the restroom to clean up…
…and they had the most amazing soap. It smelled amazing and left my hands soft (although that could also be due to a good duck fat treatment from eating those wings).
My main dish was the i-Burger [Innovo special grind, toasted bun, raclette, onion jam, house bacon, bread & butter pickles, crinkle cut fries]. This one is kind of tough to break down because there’s so much going on. The bun was the same as the hot dog. The beef was good, not memorable. The raclette, a melty cheese, was a welcome replacement to the standard American cheese, definitely more interesting by a mile. The onion jam was very sweet, almost too sweet, but the bacon was the star on the plate. It was crunchy, peppery, slightly sweet, fatty, everything you’d ever want from bacon. It had the same pickles, of the sweet bread and butter variety.
The fries were unfortunate. They were clearly homemade in the style of the crinkle fries they serve at Nathans, but were so thick and not crispy at all, and if you’re not going to give me that creepy little three-pronged fork to eat them, just give me some regular fries.
After all that, I did have the unmitigated gall to order dessert, and it was definitely a stretch that night.
Before dessert arrived, our server told us a story about the table we had just eaten off of had balls rolling up and down it (my terminology, not his), as they had refashioned the bowling alleys that used to be in that very spot into dining tables. Very cool.
After watching a massive piece of chocolate cake that I wanted to try be dragged around the restaurant all night, against my better judgement, I opted for a dish called “cannoli chips.” The server sold me on it after I indirectly challenged him to movie trivia in which he immediately stumped me by asking something about a film made in 1948. I dared him to ask me anything about any movie made after 1985, but he balked. Oh well.
So these cannoli chips…When you hear the word “chip” what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? For me, it’s “crunch”. These weren’t crunchy at all. What they were were very tasty soft bits of buttery dough. I’m pretty sure they make a dough not unlike Italian “struffoli” and, instead of making balls, they fry
chips squares. The cannoli cream “dip” was very good. In terms of sweetness, it was a subdued version of what you’ll find at your local bakery. It also had a little more texture, and you can tell they don’t use the ultra-fine “ricotta impastatta” as a base. This was clearly chunky ricotta doctored up with sugar, chocolate, cinnamon, and topped with crumbled pistachios. It was a fun dessert.
And that wasn’t the end. The server came around with a basket of dark chocolate bark, and he made me take some. Peer pressure is a bitch. If this seems like déjà vu, the same thing happened during my faithful trip to Maestros. Lesson: find a formula that works and apply it. I get it.
Our server broke out into a soliloquy about how great it was that things were budding in the immediate vicinity of restaurant. He cited Innovo Kitchen, Garden Bistro 24, Starbucks…I didn’t have the heart to tell him one of those didn’t really fit in, but I got the idea. What used to be a fairly deserted stretch on route 7 now has a good amount of businesses to patronize. This is a very welcome addition to my neighborhood.