is how I discovered what chef Chris Dangerfield can do with
the seemingly unremarkable. The plate was assembled with such
panache that . . . let me put it this way: There was no need
for him to fashion a carrot purée as garnish. However, the
fact that it lurked as one of several contrasting ingredients
gave the plate an extra fillip of excitement. Alongside the
fish were grilled slices of squash and rings from a roasted
onion. Crabmeat abounded in its own small pile as well as
on top of the cod. Most importantly, the two fat slices of
codfish had a glorious crunch and tenderness, an irresistible
sign of its freshness.
pepper also adorned the plate.
a bunch of different peppers at the farmer’s market,” explained
Thomas, “so we decided to put it on the plate and call it
a mystery pepper. Might be spicy, might not.” Mine, which
looked like a yellow New Mexican pepper, was temperate and
crunchy. I got extra heat by stealing jalapeno slices from
my wife’s entrée.
in six pounds of the cod,” Dangerfield said later. “It was
so good I didn’t have to do much to it.”
earned the right to be simple. As a high-school kid, he worked
at Zwicklebauer’s in Berne. “By the time I graduated, I’d
been at every station there.” A relative persuaded him to
move to California’s Napa Valley, where he soon found work
in the kitchen at Domaine Chandon, a place where the fine
dining standards were so rigorous “that [I was] only in charge
of one or two entrées.” He also worked at the renowned Tra
Vigne, alongside chef Michael Chiarello.
he returned to the Capital Region, he made his way into one
of the best kitchens around, at Ogden’s, where he met Paul
opened 333 Café about 11 years ago and soon brought in Dangerfield,
as well as another Ogden’s chef, Libby Thomas. Just over a
year ago, Hall left to pursue other projects, so his two associates
took over. Thomas moved to the front of the house, although
she still serves as pastry chef, and Dangerfield has been
joined in the kitchen by Liz Bollard.
is a whirlwind on the floor. The dining room is small, seating
just over 40, and the front of the kitchen is separated by
a wall low enough to see the occasional sautée-pan flare-up.
Dining on a Saturday night, table after table were given to
a succession of regular customers, and I watched in awe as
Thomas worked them all, explaining the menu, selling the specials,
taking orders, and talking folks into exploring a tasty dessert.
She had assistants who kept the plates moving and the glasses
filled, cooperating in a clocklike manner to keep each party
free from the dead time that makes diners nervous.
the menu hasn’t changed drastically since Dangerfield and
Thomas took over, there’s a revised sensibility to offer enough
variety to keep regulars intrigued, without unsettling the
faint of palate.
run from a $6 soup of the day to a signature dish of crab
cakes (served with fruit and sauce Louis) for $12. Along the
way are such items as cheese-covered knish, chicken and ginger
wontons, and pesto-stuffed brie ($11 apiece). When we visited,
a special appetizer of three grilled lamb chops with a cumin
demi-glaze was offered for $13. I asked the chef his rationale
for not making it an entrée.
some nice lamb,” he said, “and wanted to do something different
with it. I want to get people to think differently about the
appetizers, and this seemed to be a good way to do that.”
talked me into the chicken gumbo as a starter with its promise
of spiciness; the spice was reasonable, well integrated into
a brew that was obviously built on a dark, classic roux and
excellent homemade stock.
beets are a local bounty, so Dangerfield fashioned them into
an appetizer in which they’re roasted—“That really concentrates
the flavor”—and served cold as a salad, with blue cheese and
a sherry and shallot vinaigrette ($10).
salads arrived without fanfare, but they were the best house
salads I’ve tasted in a long time. Fresh baby greens, toasted
sunflower seeds, colorful vegetable strips and a citrus vinaigrette
rounded out the serving.
include pan-seared veal flank with a lemon-and-caper sauce
($25), seared scallops with a tomato, ginger and tamarind
coulis ($27), prosciutto-and-fontina-stuffed pork loin
($25), jambalaya ($22), and pan-fried chicken livers with
sauce Robert ($17), which Dangerfield calls “a surprisingly
the entrée meat without which my wife wouldn’t be able to
make up her mind, doesn’t sell well. “Add something like shrimp
to it, and it sells,” he said.
what he did. The chicken in the sautéed chicken and shrimp
dish ($22) is cut to a size that matches the shrimp, and it’s
tossed in a key-lime-and-jalapeno sauce that gives some depth
to the otherwise easygoing components. The plate was dressed
with a similar garnish as the cod, and proved to be a formidable
devilish Thomas nevertheless talked us into enjoying a slice
of her homemade chocolate and raspberry truffle cake ($6),
and we left with the comfortable feeling that we’d been coming
to this restaurant for years.