We went to the WineDown on Union St. in Schenectady last night. This was during restaurant week, so it’s not representative, but they acquitted themselves well enough that I figured a review would not be inappropriate.
Food was excellent, especially given the constraints of restaurant week. We had two soups, a creamy mushroom and a carrot ginger, served in short-stemmed cocktail glasses. Nice presentation and both soups were bursting with flavor. Gnocchi with sundried tomatoes and sausage in a bit of creamy tomato sauce benefited from delicious, pillowy pasta. The other entree, free-range chicken breast filled with roasted garlic, spinach and red peppers, was serviceable, but had some kind of risotto-esque side that (for my taste) was overly salty. Still, that was the only misfire. We added a cheese course to round out the meal. Although we were thrilled to see a cheese course offered, it seems it is normally used as an app - the server had a little trouble understanding that we wanted it before dinner and after the entrees. Cheese was great – about 2 oz. each of an unusual brie de moeux, blue cheese and goat cheese, with some grapes and a couple of thin slices of meat. Our server brought us a sheet of paper detailing the cheeses – I think it was meant for the wait staff (It talked about suggesting a pairing of Merlot w/ it, which I'm not sure I'd agree with) but it worked out well as we had time to peruse the (now-forgotten) descriptions. A bit pricey for $15, but still, we're happy to see it available at all.
By the time our cheese arrived we had been there two hours, so we had them pack up our desserts to take home. We had a chocolate torte with a chili-infused raspberry sauce that was amazing (and I thought it was adorable that someone had garnished our take-home container as they might a plate, with decorative dollops of whipped cream and sauce.) The meyer lemon and vanilla bean cheesecake was actually three tiny cakes (each of which would probably suffice for a dessert at most restaurant week places) with three different clear fruit sauces on top. (I think lemon, raspberry or strawberry and orange?) We saw them coming out on long thin divided plates, but while we didn’t get the glamorous presentation, the dish was still quite good. I appreciate the milder flavor of this next to the torte, and the fact that neither was sicky sweet.
Service was friendly and reasonably good (again, especially considering the difficulties.) If you have a group, they actually have a private dining room off the entrance that looks quite nice. There is a very nice lounge and bar area in the front. In the back is a two level dining room. I'm not crazy for this. The space on top is quite narrow The lower area also has a small stage, which limits space. Also, the lighting, at least on the upper level, is set way too low on the wall (or rather the tables, which are bar tables, are too high.) Either way, one gets blinding light in the eye from the sconces. Jack resorted to slipping a slip of paper inside ours to cut the glare. Décor is also weird - in front they have some lovely antique pieces and deco furniture, and then you have stuff like grapevine stapled around the chair rail in the back. The wine list is not bad - plenty of mass-market drinkable stuff at reasonable prices and a fair number of wines by the glass. But for a wine bar, they didn't offer much for the oenophile.
We would definitely go back, but our thought was that we would try to stick to the lounge area, which is quite lovely, or outside in good weather. I could also see doing the private dining room for a group, if it is not unmanageably large. We were truly impressed with the quality of the food – Jack even saw them making desserts as we walked out, (there is a window into the kitchen in the hallway, great for foodie voyeurs like us) which is a pleasant change from most places.