HALFMOON – Emma Jayne’s restaurant is a perfect fit for this suburban community. It’s a bit upmarket but family-friendly, with a menu of varied favorites that aren’t too expensive.
The one-story gray and white building on Route 9 is surrounded by a parking lot, so the dining areas look inward, with neat custom blinds on the windows.
It is divided into a bar/lounge and two dining rooms, one with spacious high-back cabins, all of which have been reserved. We headed to the back dining room with its assorted sized wooden tables and comfy upholstered chairs.
Carpeting and acoustic tile ceilings go a long way in reducing noise. My friend Amy and I had no trouble hearing each other across the table, despite a humming HVAC system and soft music.
The walls are grey, the decor cozy. We admired a framed photo of Cohoes Falls and several studio portraits of an adorable little girl. “The eponymous Emma Jayne?” Amy suggested.
Emma Jayne’s is owned by Mike Fortin, who bought the old Joe’s Tavern in Cohoes and ran it for 11 years. It was an unpretentious place with great food. He also owns the Max 410 restaurant at the Van Schaick Island Country Club in Cohoes, which is part of our regular rotation. I’ll tell you a lot more, but I really want to keep this to myself.
So we expected good things from Emma given the history of respectable food at Joe’s. Max 410 also gives a little extra in the plating department, resulting in visually stunning dishes.
The Emma Jayne’s menu is extensive – not fancy, but big on what they expect customers to enjoy. Emma’s opens for lunch, so there are burgers, salads, sandwiches and snacks. The dinner menu starts at 4 p.m.
There are Italian starters, with a sort of parm tiercé: eggplant, chicken and veal. Chicken Parmesan, served with penne pasta, is $21. Then a few selections each of surf and grass. In the comfort food section, I like Aunt Renée’s chicken and galettes, a French-Canadian version of chicken and carrot and potato meatballs ($20), though the meatloaf stuffed with macaroni with cheese did not please.
Prices are quite reasonable, with most entrees in the $20 range, topping $30 for seafood specialties and a refined Tuscan filet mignon dish.
Dinners are accompanied by freshly baked bread and compound butter. There is a lively list of small plates for the bar that would be nice to try in the dining room.
It took a while to get a server and water so we think they were understaffed like everyone else. But once we placed our orders, things happened quickly.
We were in a spacious four-top in the middle of the room. Amy commented on the abundance of space between the tables and at the table itself. You could relax, stretch out a bit.
We each picked a white wine from the list, Julia James Chardonnay for Amy ($9), Blanchard & Lurton Sauvignon Blanc ($10) for me. Both were above average sips.
We started with a special black and blue galette ($13), excellent and easy to share. The soft dough board is sturdy enough for you to pick up a piece, but it’s not heavy or fluffy. The marinated steak was quite tender, the blue cheese just melting. It was topped with bitter and savory arugula and drizzled with reduced balsamic vinaigrette.
“It’s a nice combination of flavors,” Amy remarked. Sweet balsamic and bitter greens made a terrific combination. We liked it very much.
Here we noticed some hiccups or growing pains. Our appetizer was not removed until the runner brought our meals; the empty plates were not cleared and the diners came out shortly after the aperitif.
These things will work themselves out. Staff will be hired and everyone will get used to how the kitchen works and how big the crowds are.
Emma’s Chicken Pesto ($22), or rather my chicken, was piping hot, a portion that filled a huge white bowl. I had just pruned some basil that day and was a bit disappointed not to see a leaf, even a shred of the fabric. It was made with fresh pesto, according to the menu, although I thought it lacked a big hit of basil.
The sliced grilled chicken breast laid on top was very good quality tender meat. It almost fell apart, a bonus as it’s hard to use a fork and knife when your meal is in a bowl.
The first smoldering and hesitant mouthfuls of penne made me reach for the salt shaker. Not much was going on, flavor-wise. Had an excellent shaved parmesan that melted beautifully but didn’t add the zip I was looking for.
The dish really came into its own after I cooled it down a bit and I threw some stuff away. The sauce, which resided at the bottom, was now clinging to the pasta, and the garlic, onions and pignolis joined in the fun.
Emma Jayne’s does magic things with little tomatoes, roasting them until they’re puffy, infusing them with flavor. We both commented on how good they were. It was when I had a bite of tender chicken smothered in sauce and crispy prosciutto that the dish hit the nail on the head. Delicious.
Wait for the dish to cool a little, then stir it to get the most out of it.
Or order the shrimp and grits ($26), which Amy says was terrific right off the bat. “Lovely shallot,” she observed, “Everything looks so pretty.”
“There are so many flavors,” Amy said, clearly delighted. “The bacon is perfect, really delicious” and “it’s very filling”. She decided it was one of the best meals she had, perhaps, ever.
She pointed to the five large prawns arranged attractively on top of the dish. “It’s not the kind of thing you eat every day, but it’s wonderful. Really well done.
She took her time, “savoring all the flavor,” she said, and was half-packed to take home.
Amy ordered decaf ($3), hot and fresh, and we shared a piece of homemade turtle cheesecake ($7). The kitchen had fun setting it up, with two kinds of sauce drizzled in different directions and dollops of whipped cream around it, a big slice of cake the center of attention.
It’s good, a New York-style cream cheesecake, unctuous and rich. We enjoyed the flavor of the toasted pecans and caramel with more nuts and caramel in the center.
Emma Jayne’s servers are equipped with portable credit card processors that run your card and get you out fast. The bill for our meal, not including a slice of cheesecake for husband Eric, was $90 before tax and tip.
Emma Jayne, who just turned 2, and her brother, Max, are both thrilled to have restaurants named after them. I hope the neighborhood will notice that the restaurant is owned by a local family.
I think the South Saratoga communities will be very happy that Executive Chef and Owner Mike Fortin has brought his talent and hospitality from across the river.
Caroline Lee is a freelance writer living in Troy. Join her at [email protected].
WHERE: 1475 US 9, Halfmoon; (518) 982-1526; emmajaynesrestaurant.com
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday; closed on Mondays
HOW MUCH: $90, before taxes and tip
MORE INFO: Credit cards: Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover. Children’s menu. ADA compliant. Parking lot.
More from The Daily Gazette:
Categories: Food, Life and Arts