By WILLIAM M. DOWD, Associate Editor
First published: Sunday, December 07, 2003
ALBANY — People in the restaurant game play fast and loose with terminology.
Gourmet, for example.
Elegant is another one.
Fine dining. Now, there’s a debatable one.
It’s a rarity, indeed, to find any Capital Region restaurant that provides genuine versions of all three when judged by any reasonable culinary yardstick.
Yono’s, the sole purveyor of Indonesian food in these parts, is such an establishment.
When Widjiono (Yono) and Donna Purnomo moved their restaurant from its original downtown townhouse to the second floor of the Armory Center off Central Avenue four years ago, I rated the new place 3 1/2 of a possible 4 stars, noting, “Why not the full four? Well, it is only in the preview stage, after all, and we have to leave a little room for any improvements that are bound to be made.”
In the ensuing years, the Purnomos have gone beyond mere improvements, abetted by son Dominick, a rising young sommelier and matire d’ whose intense efforts have resulted in an excellent 700-selection wine list that has helped Yono’s attain honors status from top industry magazines.
The extensive menu of Indonesian and continental cuisine is served by a team of tuxedoed waitstaff in a bi-level, 66-seat dining room that is a recreated version of the 19th Century townhouse that was home to the original Yono’s.
Such touches as a mahogany-and-marble service bar, tin ceilings, bronzed mirrors, repurposed old woodwork, wall hangings of Indonesian artwork and culinary awards, floral arrangements and a fireplace create a welcoming atmosphere, helped immeasurably by live music on Fridays and Saturdays. Soft table linens, custom china and Reidel glassware complete the picture.
Constant Companion and I visited in a recent busy Saturday, when the kitchen staff also was handling a private banquet in the downstairs Bumper’s Cafe run by the Purnomos. Service didn’t skip a beat.
An amuse bouche … a complementary little treat before dinner … as we perused the menu was a perfect start with our Grey Goose martinis: tender, plump gnocchis with slices of portobello mushroom and prosciutto in a delicate cream sauce.
To accompany our appetizers and main courses, a 1999 Chateau Gruaud-Larose from Bordeaux was a marvelous pick. The French red is a blend of 65 percent cabernet sauvignon, 25 percent merlot, 8 percent cabernet franc and 2 percent petit verdot. The bouquet is overwhelmingly appealing, ripe with dark fruits, cedar and spices, the flavor bold, the finish long.
We began with a venison appetizer, a succulent set of tender medallions that primed the palate nicely, but couldn’t hold a candle to the clever scallops Romanow … plump diver scallops seared in a wok, paired up with shaved black truffles for a seasonally woodsy taste, and served with a maple syrup/parsnip puree and a sauternes sauce.
After an intermezzo of mandarin orange sorbet, we moved on to the main event: salmon Sfara for Companion, the Nasi Rames platter for me.
Both offerings evoke Yono’s native land, the Indonesian republic that encompasses 17,000 islands and the foods of such exotic lands as Java, Bali, Timor, Sulawesi and Sumatra overlaid by Dutch colonial tastes.
The Atlantic salmon had been poached in chardonnay with saffron and lime leaves, finished in a sauce of saffron and tamarind, the latter a staple of Indonesian cooking, derived from a date-like fruit usually made into a paste or thick juice.
The Nasi Rames is a tasting of various dishes, an excellent way to be introduced to Yono’s fare or an even better way to experience as much of it at one time as possible. In this case, the collection included savory chicken sate (spice-marinated white meat, chargrilled and served with a peanut sauce), kepiting goreng (Maryland lump crabmeat cake with Asian noodles, finished with a citrus mayo and chipotle chili sauce), bakmi goreng (an Indonesian noodle dish with chicken and vegetables in a sweet soy sauce), babi rekap(tender pork tenderloin slices in a coating of sweet soy, ginger and orange rind), ayam panggang (a Java version of spice-rubbed, chargrilled chicken), all served with a little mound of acar (julienned daikon, the white Japanese radish, and carrot) and a crunchy krupuk (shrimp chip).
We couldn’t leave without sampling Donna’s pastries, in this case a deceptively light raspberry walnut layer cake and a chocolate rendezvous creation with a feathery ganache. A pair of digestifs seemed in order, and a Cockburn’s 20-year-old port and a Germain Robin Old Havana brandy were perfect finishing touches.
Our bill, before tip and tax, was $151.80 (without wine and drinks, $85.80, but such a meal cries out for such accompaniment).
Such an experience can result in only one conclusion: 4 stars, emphatically.
Dowd’s reviews are archived online at http://timesunion.com/restaurants. His own travel and food site is http://TasteForTravel.com.
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