Bounty of Options
Water St., Williamstown, Mass., (413) 458-9101. Serving dinner
nightly from 5 PM. AE, D, MC, V.
price range: $15 (grilled chicken) to $24 (lobster
the range of entrées and appetizers and the generous salad
bar, “Hobson’s Choice” would seem to be an inappropriate name
for this restaurant. But the aphorism, commonly taken to mean
a choice between two undesirables, actually dates from 17th-century
England and is equivalent to “Take it or leave it.” I’ll take
Chef-owner Dan Campbell was taken with it—the restaurant,
not the name—when he visited Williamstown for a 20th-anniversary
high school reunion and discovered the place was for sale.
It had been shuttered for a couple of years, but the name
a moniker we were hung with,” he says. “One of my principal
investors really liked the name.”
Which meant that he had to forge new relationships with suppliers
who’d been stiffed by the previous owner. But that was 15
years ago. Campbell, who grew up in Williamstown but pursued
his cooking career in places as far off as Montana, has given
his hometown a restaurant whose popularity has been steady
It’s a warm and comfortable place inside, rustic-looking and
decorated with oddball items like fly-fishing gear. The hot
bread that hits the table makes it feel like an old-fashioned
It’s no insult to note that the menu is hardly innovative.
It’s safe and, based on our brief incursion into its promises,
reliable. A key to assessing a restaurant’s worth is to determine
its intentions. Does it wish to offer high-priced, meticulously
detailed plates of innovative preparations? Then you can adjudge
a place like, say, Charlie Trotter’s as successful. Likewise,
Olive Garden deserves kudos if you determine its intention
is to sell tasteless mock-Italian fare at high enough prices
to fund its high-saturation ad campaigns.
Thus with Hobson’s Choice. Clearly, the intention is to serve
that part of the community seeking not-too-adventurous stuff.
Chicken, for example, is offered five different ways: grilled
or barbecued, blackened or teriyaki-marinated, or sautéed
with green chilis and tomatoes and finished in a cream sauce
(this one is $18; the others are $15 or $16). The last-named
cried out to be sampled, and so it was. In fact, my wife,
undaunted by the prospect of spiciness, opted for the dish.
And was rewarded with a mixture light on heat, rich with buttery
cream. She availed herself of a shrewd and interesting feature
of the place: a half portion ($15.50). “Americans expect such
large portions,” says Campbell, “that we’re happy to wrap
any leftovers for them. But we have a lot of tourists passing
through, and that’s just not feasible for them. So the half
portion lets them pay less for less food.”
Susan’s plate was garnished with an aromatic mound of garlic
mashed potatoes; alongside, crisp snap peas glistened green
with freshness. “A lot of our produce comes from nearby Peace
Valley Farm,” Campbell explains. “I think I buy just about
everything he grows.” It’s the shrewdest move any chef can
make: Buy fresh and buy locally. No amount of fancification
can gussy up mediocre ingredients to a point at all competitive
with what’s fresh.
A list of appealing appetizers covers a page. The ubiquitous
spinach-artichoke dip is replaced here with, of all things,
an artichoke ($6), served with mayo and butter. Grilled Portobello-mushroom
cap ($5.50), potato-crusted sea scallops ($8) and tuna carpaccio
($8.50) are offered, alongside standards like shrimp cocktail
($7.50) and fried calamari ($6.75). We resisted the starter
lure, however, because Hobson’s Choice also provides an old-fashioned
salad bar, $12.50 on its own, free with an entrée.
When you go up to assemble your salad, you’re facing the open
kitchen, and you’ll probably catch a glimpse of Campbell.
He and his staff are looking for you, because they fire your
entrée when you start putting greens on your plate.
Campbell acknowledges that the salad bar is a costly option,
“but we bite the bullet and say, ‘Hey. It’s a bounty.’ And
the salad should be made your way. Still, I see people who
are obviously aware of the price of things loading up on red
peppers and cherry tomatoes.” He also likes the idea of getting
customers out of their seats. “Your next-door neighbors could
be sitting two tables away and you’d never see them if you
didn’t get up. I like the social aspect this provides.”
And he likes it when customers talk to him. “This way, I can
make sure we’re preparing their dinners just as they want
them. Even though you already told the waiter that, say, you
can’t have wheat, it makes the customer feel good to confirm
this with the chef.”
There’s a tank in the kitchen where lobsters swim. The salmon
is wild-caught, not farm-raised. And it’s available steamed
or blackened or grilled ($24), the last of which my daughter
chose as prep style. How nice to have the real flavor issuing
forth, a bounty that seems to be provoked by the grilling.
Beside it was a hillock of colorful rice pilaf and more of
those delicious snap peas.
My plate, an 8-ounce portion of teriyaki-enhanced filet mignon
($23), was expertly finished to my specification and as tasty
in its bright-red middle as on the crunchy skin. It was an
end piece, tricky sometimes to get right, but this obviously
was no problem.
Surf-and-turf combos, prime rib, a center-cut pork chop, lots
more seafood and a page of vegetarian entrées complete the
menu. Our server, who took excellent care of the table, determined
at the start of our dinner that we were theater bound and
got us out of there in plenty of time. And this is where we’ll
return when we’re back for another show.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
fight it—Bastille Day approaches, and, per tradition,
Nicole’s Bistro (Quackenbush House, Clinton
& Broadway, Albany) celebrates on July 14
with a four-course meal and entertainment. Start
with an appetizer of vichyssoise, charcuterie
or PEI mussels (among other selections); entrée
choices include roasted leg of lamb, sautéed trout
meuniere and semi-boneless roasted duckling.
Sonny & Perley provide an evening of jazz
and cabaret. The noninclusive per-person fee is
$50 (465-1111). . . . Speaking of things Gallic,
Provence Restaurant (1475 Western Ave.,
Albany) presents its first summer wine dinner
on July 19 at 7 PM. With the theme “Napoleon’s
Favorites,” the dinner will feature vintages around
the world that Napoleon Bonaparte celebrated in
his memoirs. Food, too, will be Napoleonic—meaning
multilayered. Chef Michael Cunningham thus will
be making towers of such dishes as ahi tuna Nicoise
with heirloom tomatoes, torchon of foie gras,
and sliced breast of duck with leg confit. It’s
$75 per person (689-7777). . . . Several weeks
ago, Gotchya’s Trading Co. and The Yawning Duck
Pasta Co. combined to open the restaurant Gotchya’s
Trattoria at 68 Beekman St., Saratoga Springs.
They will host a Sicilian themed Communal Dinner—a
multicourse event at one large table, featuring
roasted lamb and grilled swordfish—on July 19,
and all courses will be paired with appropriate
wines. Dinners ($75 per person) are limited to
16 and reservations are required (584-5772). .
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very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's
at Ogdens. You review described my dining
experience perfectly. This wasn't the case
with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or
Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree
that a restaurant can have an off night
so I'll give the second unit on Central
Avenue a try.
yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back.
Second, I haven't had a chance to visit
Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading
would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant
- it's not that far away. People traveled
from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam.
From his background, I'm sure the chef's
sauce is excellent and that is the most
important aspect of an Italian restaurant.
Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on
the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm
looking forward to trying this restaurant
- I look forward to Metroland every Thursday
especially for the restaurant review. And
by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam
location and is opening a new bistro on
Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running
in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake
Bistro. It should be great!
comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants
being as "standardized as McDonald's"
shows either that you have eaten at only
a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or
that you have some prejudices to work out.
That the physical appearances are not what
you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing
on the food. And after all, that is what
the main focus of the reviews should be.
Not the physical appearances, which is what
most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on
Central Avenue, may not look the greatest,
but the food is excellent there. And the
menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian,
chicken, and more..