By B.A. Nilsson
*Hampton Inn and Suites, 25 Chapel St., Albany, 436-7747. Serving dinner Mon-Sat from 5:30. AE, MC, D, V. *
*Cuisine: continental and Indonesian *
*Entrée price range: $18 (sautéed tofu and vegetables) to $49 (five-course rijsttafel) *
*Ambiance: as elegant as it gets *
Do I need to tell you about Yono’s food? His reputation as one of the area•s finest chefs is well deserved, reinforced by what•s served at his new venue. I’ll get into it toward the end of this piece, but let’s look now at what makes dinner at his restaurant such a completely satisfying, even uplifting experience.
Widjiono Purnomo is a native of Jakarta, and entered the business on board the SS Rotterdam, where he met his wife, Donna. Once in Albany, Yono created the cuisine at the 21 Restaurant before opening the first of his eponymous eateries in Robinson Square, where he combined Indonesian and French approaches to cooking, easing his clientele into a menu we•d now be disappointed not to find.
Following a precipitous parting from Armory Center, he found a home in the new downtown Hampton Inn and Suites, in time for him to create dining rooms to his specifications. Four distinct areas emerged: A bistro area, called DP, with an attractive bar and a menu featuring salads, saté skewers, burgers and under-$20 entrées; a banquet area, sizeable to your event; a room specially appointed for dinner meetings with presentations, and the formal dining room, with a sprinkling of tables and the kind of attention you’d expect at a palace.
Donna has long been a driving force behind the floor at their restaurants, and now she’s joined by her son, Dominick, who oversees the tables with the panache of a well-seasoned veteran freeing his mom to spend needed time on her signature desserts.
It’s a collision of sorts between a family feeling, with its intimations of casualness, and the formal approach that lifts fine dining into one of life’s more pleasant experiences. The result is a floor that operates with the efficiency of a machine and the anticipatory insight of a skilled butler.
Key to this is customer empathy. Dining is typically routined, of course, but it’s challenge enough for some places to even keep up with the routine. At Yono’s, it feels as if you’re at a dinner party at a fancy home with a calm and friendly host. Servers visit the table with frequent inquiries that never prove intrusive. We know you’re doing well, they seem to say, but we’ll still try to enhance that experience.
It’s the kind of floor that anticipates your next course with the proper silverware. You won’t be asked, Who has the chicken? And when you•re served the chicken pistache Alexondra ($21, and named for the Purnomos•daughter), you’ll revel in the combo of cream and prosciutto, mushrooms and pistachios that infuses the sauce with a flavor that doesn’t reveal any boundaries, flowing from one flavor to the next.
Fresh flowers abound, on tables and at key locations around the room. Large mirrors on one wall have journeyed with Yono and Donna from one restaurant to the next. Wall colors were chosen to recall those restaurants, dominated by a soothing blue.
This elegance is reflected in every aspect of the room, from the large Yono’s-emblazoned liners to the handsome coffee cups with which you’ll finish your meal. And the plate presentations, while not fussy, are nicely balanced and add to the appeal.
Indonesian items comprise one of the two large menu pages, continental fare the other. Steaks and seafood are joined by exotica like pan-roasted ostrich medallions ($30) and an appetizer of sautéed alligator in a lemon-caper sauce ($13, and worth a sample, as my adventurous daughter attested). You can understand that, while we were tempted by the latter, it’s a pleasurable duty to explore Yono’s native cuisine.
At the height of which is rijsttafel ($49), a five-course blowout that takes you through a kaleidoscope of flavors and ingredients. Saté you already are familiar with, and the succulent bits of marinated chicken are available separately ($9). As is kepiting goreng ($13), an Asian crabcake served with the just-right combo of a sweet citrus mayonnaise and a spicy chipotle sauce.
Soto makaser is a soup ($8 separately) in which the flavor of lamb dominates, in the broth and thanks to chunks of the meat. It’s billed as a 17th-century pirate soup, and I can believe it, although the flavor of lemongrass leads me to wonder if those buccaneers had it very rough.
Although the component vegetables of the salad called gado gado ($7) are marinated in a light vinaigrette, they remain subtle of flavor, and so the addition of tomato and peanut sauce dressing is restrained so as not to overwhelm the stuff. It’s a great palate cleanser.
The rijsttafel’s entrée portion is itself a platter of many things, among them bakmi goreng ($25 a la carte), a noodle-based dish with chicken and shrimp, and a festival of smaller servings based on rice and shrimp and more.
Nasi rames ($32) is another multi-course feast, replicating much of the rijsttafel but less extravagantly. I sought entrée advice from our server, who insisted that the rack of lamb iga kambing bakar bengkulu ($29) transcends what’s typically served. And he was right. The meat marinates in a Pernod-laced vinaigrette, and is served with a coconut-milk-infused curry sauce. It’s like nothing you’ve ever tasted before.
This doesn’t touch on the appetizer of roasted, venison-like kangaroo ($18) that the hardier members of my party sampled and enjoyed, or the amuses bouches of wild mushroom-stuffed wontons on a tangy sambal, or the gnocchi with crabmeat we were sent to quell any possible hunger as our entrées were cooking but you know enough. You’re equipped with a foretaste of what’s now Albany’s finest fine-dining establishment. Yono’s has landed exactly where it belongs.
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