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Restaurant Weak

April 22, 2010

It has been suggested that I would like to be Steve Barnes. With all due respect, that just isn’t true.  He does his thing, and I do mine.  And he does a great job of tirelessly staying on top of the food happenings in the region.

For example, yesterday he reminded readers about the Spring 2010 Downtown Albany Restaurant Week, which starts on Sunday.

The deal is pretty standard stuff.  The 21 participating restaurants have special event menus, some with more choices than others.  But they all offer three courses for the low low price of $20.10.  In general I love restaurant weeks because they give me the chance to try a bunch of new places where I might not have otherwise dined.  And if they are great, I’ll return.

If it weren’t for Steve, the whole thing would have likely passed me by.  As it is, I may not be able to put enough of my affairs in order to go out as much as I would like.  But that’s not your concern.

What may be your concern are the menus.

Restaurant week is a chance for restaurants to win over the hearts and minds of potential new regular customers.  It is in their interest to show off what they’ve got.  Granted, they need to do this within the constraints of food costs, since $20.10 is much lower than they would normally charge for three courses.

Still, there is no excuse for farmed Atlantic salmon.
(Did you see that coming?  It’s been a while.  But I have limited my salmon rant to two paragraphs.)

There are seven restaurants that have salmon on the menu that either explicitly call it Atlantic or do not specify its origin (which very strongly suggests that it is farmed).  That is a full third of the participants.  Here are the restaurants that saw fit to include it on the menu: Envy Lounge, Café Capriccio, Katrinella’s Bistro, Marché, McGeary’s, Hollywood Brown Derby, and the Victory Café.

While these restaurants should be ashamed for trying to pass off farmed Atlantic salmon as a culinary delight, I’m not going to hold it against them in my overall evaluation of their menu.

I broke the menus into three categories: Very Interesting, Probably Tasty, and Why Bother.

Of the 21 participants I found only three menus that were Very Interesting.  As expected the bulk of the restaurants, thirteen in all, had menus that I thought would probably be tasty, but weren’t terribly special.  A full five fell within Why Bother, almost a quarter of the participating restaurants.

So here is the good news.

At Marché, I would overlook their lapse in standards for sourcing the finest ingredients, and struggle between choosing the beef tartare (sirloin with black currant mustard, quail egg, and petite frisée salad) or the scallop ceviche (fresh lime, cucumbers, and spicy habañero gazpacho) to start my meal.  The roasted chicken breast comes with flageolet bean ragout and house-made andouille sausage.  Naturally it is the sausage that got my attention.  My thought is that the house-made cheesecake trio would be better than the strawberry rhubarb tart at this point of the season.  So the dessert choice would likely be driven by my optimism or pessimism with the quality of ingredients sourced by the restaurant.

Despite the black mark of the farmed Atlantic salmon, Café Capriccio’s menu was in the top three.  I would look forward to their broccoli di rape with white beans, olive oil & garlic and their eggplant with four cheeses, in a light tomato sauce.  Plus this would be a good opportunity to see how their ragu bolognese with fresh-made pasta stacks up to mine.  They also got bonus points for serving desserts from Crisan bakery.

The one menu that stood out above all others was for a place called Kelsey’s.  But that also makes me nervous.  Because I have stayed at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, and Kelsey’s Restaurant seems to be part of Kelsey’s Irish Pub, which serves overpriced bar food during the day, and a hodgepodge of expensive, uninspired dishes in the evening.

But there can be no doubt that above all others, they have stepped it up for restaurant week.  Their regular menu has nothing like this: a salad of baby arugula with lemon verbena goat cheese, crystallized ginger, toasted pine nuts and white balsamic glaze; Seafood-Watch-approved Idaho trout with crayfish stuffing, green and white asparagus and a crayfish sauce; vanilla panna cotta with strawberries in sauce and pistachio biscotti.

Frankly, if I owned a nicer restaurant, and a hotel bar upstaged my Restaurant Week menu, I would be quite embarrassed.  Hopefully the downtown restaurants will do better next time.

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There are only two more days remaining to vote.  Everyone has been very supportive, but we need to share the FUSSYlittleBALLOT with more people if we are going to reach our goals.  Please get out there and help spread the word about what we are trying to achieve.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    April 22, 2010 8:28 am

    In the supermarkets’ fish depts., there seems to be a new trend of obfuscating sourcing. The words “wild,” “farmed,” “line-caught,” as well as the country of origin started disappearing from labels in the last year, at least in my subjective experience. And of course Chilean sea bass is just “sea bass.”

  2. April 24, 2010 3:23 pm

    What about the rest of the rankings? The why bother and probably tasty?

  3. April 25, 2010 1:32 pm

    There were a few places that struck my fancy. Unfortunately I think so many of their offering for restaurant week are usually not indicative of what they normally serve, or or simplified for the masses.

    And don’t get me started on the long wait times. Overcrowded is one way to describe it.

  4. Susanr permalink
    April 29, 2010 3:54 pm

    Gee Mr. Fussy, we thought that Katrinella’s had the best and widest selection for Restaurant Week. My biggest criticism was that the 3 desserts are from Cisco…..but I can hardly complain too much – havign eaten very good shrimp cocktail, and delectable veal.
    These are pretty high-end items for restaurant kitchens.
    I look for fresh fish, shrimp, foie gras,lamb, or certain cuts of beef when I review the Restaurant week menus. I don’t want “fillers” such as all pasta dishes,or a choice of only salad or a simple soup for an appetizer. Now if the soup is lobster bisque and the salad is beet and goat cheese – I might consider the place!

    How was your dinner at 8:15 at Marche?
    Oh,and Dan? You’re better than Steve Barnes! I often disagree with his reviews…finding them much too Unfussy.

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