26 Ridge Street
Glens Falls, NY
Reservations: 518 793-2004
Yesterday we went to see a show at the Charles Wood Theater in Glens Falls, which is one of the many great live theater venues in the region. One of the reasons we like to go to the Wood is that it gives us an excuse to have dinner at Bistro Tallulah, which is around the corner on Ridge Street. Actually we don’t need an excuse. If you ask anyone who has been to Bistro Tallulah to name their top regional restaurants, it will invariably be on the list. With very good reason.
The menu at Tallulah is often described as having a Cajun flare, but that is somewhat misleading. Chef – proprietor Shawn Whalen is certainly influenced by his New Orleans experience, but this is not a jambalaya palace. French and Spanish influences are just as evident in the menu offerings as is the Big Easy. I sense a little Italian too. It makes for a wonderful menu, with everything from roast suckling pig to duck confit to buttermilk fried quail. One of the attractions of the restaurant is the availability of almost all of the entree dishes as small or large plates, affording diners the opportunity to mix and match and snatch from your tablemates.
The place has one and only one drawback – the space is crowded. If you poke around on the internet you will see that the (very few) negative comments about Tallulah’s are related to the space, not the food, and certainly not the service. Part of the issue is that the restaurant is busy, rightfully so, and fifty seats don’t go very far on a Saturday night. The space is also cramped, with a banquette running almost the length of the dining room, and a few individual tables up front. Our personal solution is to eat at the bar, which under most circumstances is our preference anyway. If a restaurant has a nice bar – and Tallulah’s has a very nice bar – we will ask for bar seats unless we have a large party. Specifically I will ask for the seats near the service end of the bar, where the dining room staff picks up drinks. At Tallulah’s these seats also give you a birds eye view of the kitchen, which for me just adds to the atmosphere. From here you get to see, and hear, everything that goes on in the restaurant – what’s working, what’s not, which specials are worth considering, the hidden treasure on the wine list that I’ll never find without help. If you want to find out what the restaurant staff likes to eat -and where they like to eat – sit at the bar. If you do sit in the dining room, trust me the food is worth the cramped quarters. Make believe you’re in New York. It’s just as good at half the price.
The regular menu does not list any appetizers but a few are usually available as a special. There is really no need for separate app listing, as small plates of any entree fill that need. Yesterday a crab cake and green salad appetizer was offered, and we were glad we tried it. The dish included a freshly shucked corn relish on a bed of bib lettuce, arugula, and goat cheese, dressed with a lime vinaigrette dressing. I tried the cioppino, a piquant broth spiced with chorizo and saffron, and chock full of seafood – shrimp, scallops, and big chunks of salmon. Nestled under a clutch of mussels I found a scoop of creamy polenta laced with parmesan cheese and surrounded by green peas and artichokes. I quickly used up the warmed chiabatta that comes with the meal, but our new favorite bartender, Bri, brought me replacements for dunking. Wonderful stuff. A half plate for $12 was more than enough for an appetizer, and would have satisfied most appetites as an entree.
We ordered a bottle of Nada Fiorenzo Nebbiolo ($38) from a nice wine list, with a good selection of moderately priced wines including two or three choices each of cabernet, zinfandel, tempranillo, shiraz, and pinot noir. Only three bottles were more than $40.
Another special offered last night was a hanger steak, served with blue cheese mashed potatoes and asparagus. Talullah’s serves a real hanger steak, not the flank or skirt steak substitution that so many restaurants serve instead. Hanger steak is a classic french butcher’s cut, and comes from inside the beef carcass in the diaphragm, along the back bone near the kidneys. Deer hunters will know this cut as the back strap. It’s distinctive flavor comes from its proximity to the kidneys. That is probably more information that you want about your steak, but this is a very special menu item, and Chef Whalen does a great job with it here. On the regular menu you can order this steak with frites – $11 for a small plate, a full entree portion for $21. Another bistro classic that the restaurant does a great job with is the sweetbreads – served with blue cheese mashed Yukon Gold potatoes ($12 / $23). I had the duck two ways ($23), which combines a grilled breast of duck, and hind quarter confit. It upsets me when someone makes a better confit than I do. The kitchen really does a great job with duck.
My personal favorite is the restaurant’s offering of cochon de lait – roast whole suckling pig. A small platter can be had for $10, a full entree portion is $19. The crispy little squealer comes with a red cabbage slaw and a sweet potato puree. This dish alone is worth a trip to Glens Falls.
We finished with a cup of java with a little Sambuca Romano for flavor. Bri talked us into sharing an apple upside down cake with vanilla bean ice ream and caramel sauce. Dinner for two with apps, one desert, a bottle of wine, and two tickets to the Wood Theater’s “Mark Twain Tonight” was under $200 for everything. Such a deal. If you have not yet had an opportunity to visit Bistro Tallulah, you are missing a nice night out, and a great meal. We heartily recommend that you give it a try.