Garden Bistro 24 is a case where we're pretty much the last people on the bandwagon -- its reputation among Albany foodies is very strong. Since we met friends in Schenectady to see the playoff game between Union and RPI and were looking for a dinner spot on the western edge of Albany County, it seemed like it was time to try it. We will definitely concur with the consensus.
The first thing worth mentioning is the service. We didn't arrive until after 10, and given that the only remaining patrons were two women sharing a drink at the bar, I couldn't have blamed a small restaurant for turning us away. But we were seated without hesitation, and the service was very friendly and efficient without being rushed.
Good service doesn't mean much without quality food, but in this case it was more than a match. Ms. Garlic, one of our companions and me wanted a salad as an appetizer, and the entree-size salad was more than sufficient for the three of us:
The countryside salad, consisting of mixed greens, apple, New York cheddar, green peas, aged cheddar, fresh sprouts, and roasted soy beans was a most pleasant surprise. It was terrific -- the vegetables fresh and carefully selected, the cheese nicely sharp, and the roasted garlic vinaigrette (which if my palate is to be trusted also contained a hint of mustard) wonderfully flavorful. One reason we haven't visited yet is that the regular entrees all come with fries, which I love but try to avoid for obvious reasons. But the salad was so satisfying that I can imagine visiting Garden Bistro for a soup-and-salad dinner. If this one is any indication, the salad isn't the mediocre afterthought it is at so many restaurants.
But this being my birthday weekend and with a friend visiting from Rhode Island surely justified a little lack of virtue. So for the main course I had the flat iron steak frites with herbed butter:
One friend had that steak with the blue cheese butter, and another tried the hanger steak with carmelized onions. All three were excellent. My steak was very good and a terrific value given that it was less than $20 -- tender and flavorful, without a hint of gristle. The frites, portioned generously enough that I couldn't finish, were nicely crisp and accompanied by a very nice mustard aioli. My only minor quibbles are that 1)the butter was laid on a little thick, although since much of it was still solid scraping off the excess was easy enough, and 2)while requested rare, my steak was more between medium rare and medium. This also wasn't a major issue; I order steaks rare in part because medium rare is fine, but a medium rare steak will sometimes come out too well done. The steak was nicely pink and juicy; it was definitely not a situation where a restaurant refuses to cook a steak properly.
Ms. Garlic had the Beef Stroganoff special:
This was also a pleasant surprise.
Ms. Garlic says:
This stroganoff was great. I think that when something is fresh you can taste the separate flavors all coming together nicely instead of a mush of things like in a cream of mushroom soup (and all things in the Midwest made from cream of mushroom soup like casseroles served over egg noodles). The meat was definitely good quality. Also there were peas! And I am a huge fan of unconventional serving vessels like the lamb I had at Bouchon over the summer served in a cast iron pan - keeps things interesting. I'd also like to add that I was a big fan of the salad - roasted garlic dressing, radishes, peas, great cheddar cheese- it was a winner! Would definitely go back.
Scott Lemieux continues:
Another nice touch was the beer selection -- only four on top, but all first-rate New York brews represented a variety of styles. Unfortunately, they were out of Hennepin, so both beer drinkers enjoyed a pint of Keegan's Mother's Milk, a beautifully rich and creamy stout. Ms. Garlic chose from a broad selection of herbal teas.
Dessert, given both the late hour and the ample portions, was not even a consideration. But certainly nobody left hungry. In short, based on this visit the foodie consensus is right: Garden Bistro is a gem. The food is fresh and satisfying, the service beyond reproach, and it's an outstanding value.