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Nice, Good & Reasonable: Response

January 19, 2010

Before I move forward with trying to define my ideal intersection of nice, good and reasonable, I need to clear up what seems to be an apparent misunderstanding: that I am dissatisfied with the cheap eats around Albany.

That is not entirely true.

I came to realize this miscommunication after reading the comments thread of Steve Barnes’ post helping me come up with a list of nice, good and reasonable restaurants.

The comments I am referring to are below:

The Original Mike — January 13th, 2010 @ 4:40 pm

I think the places like the Fountain are what this guy is kind of railing against, I mean yeah its inexpensive but its also stuck in time. We do pizza and wings well around here but where is the rest

Comment by Kerosena — January 13th, 2010 @ 5:30 pm

Good point, T.O.M. Although I don’t believe Daniel B. is railing against anything, he did specifically say ‘nice restaurant’ (even though I’m pretty sure he doesn’t care for the word ‘nice’). That probably excludes places that one could show up in a sweatshirt and jeans.

It is easy to see how my past positions may have given The Original Mike the wrong idea.  He’s right, I no longer like the Fountain.  But while I may not care for the Fountain itself, I love places like the Fountain.  Albany’s taverns are indeed inexpensive and stuck in time, and they are honestly a regional treasure that I fear people take for granted.

In the near future, I would like to do a post on Albany’s splendid taverns.  But we’ll just have to see where that goes.

So while Kerosena is right that I’m not railing against our taverns, I am most certainly railing against something.  I am railing against restaurants that charge too much money for the quality of food they serve.  This has everything to do with quality of ingredients, authenticity of preparation, focus of the menu, technical execution and plating.  This has nothing to do with portion size.  In fact, portion size is the enemy of price to quality ratios.

Value can come from more than just getting a lot of food for your money.

Oh, and personally I think people should be able to eat in the nicest of restaurants in a pair of dressed-up jeans.  And by that I do not mean rhinestones.  But I think I wore jeans to the French Laundry.  Yes, things are a lot more casual in wine country.  Still, a sweatshirt would be difficult to pull off.

But there was one other comment that in some ways was incredibly insightful, yet just a wee bit off the mark.

irisira — January 16th, 2010 @ 9:20 am

I agree, these are all good suggestions. However, I think I know what Daniel B is referring to.

If you’re used to living in a (large) city, you’re used to having a variety of cheap eats practically at your doorstep. And, for those naysayers about how Albany has that – yes, they do (as has been pointed out), but it’s not the same. I’m talking $2.50 falafels that are twice the size of the $6 you get a Al Baraki. I’m talking about restaurants that have entrees for under $10 with a BYOB option. In NYC, for example, there are usually multiple options like this on one block. Here, you have to look a lot harder and, depending on where you live, drive to it.

Now, this is, admittedly, an unfair standard for which to judge Albany. However, if you’re used to a certain way of eating, to have that taken away, it’s hard to adjust your expectations. People around here get very touchy about that, probably because they have lived here most of their lives (or, at least, most of their adult lives) and have grown to love this city (perceived) warts and all. We have this knee-jerk, mama-bear defensive instinct to say, “That’s not true!!!” and counter the argument with exceptions that prove the rule.

Are there good, cheap eats to be found in Albany? Absolutely. Is it unfair to judge Albany by a large city’s standards? Of course. Is Albany still lacking compared to other cities of comparable size (i.e., Buffalo) … maybe? Maybe not? I guess it depends what your expectations are.

Certainly irisira is correct that when “you’re used to a certain way of eating, to have that taken away, it’s hard to adjust your expectations.”  I would like to think that my expectations are starting to achieve equilibrium with my surroundings.  But I do not think it is unfair to maintain high standards.

Here’s an example.  I realize that we do not have the ethnic Chinese population to support a bona fide dim sum parlor.  I am not expecting to find one here.  I will just have to find the joys of selecting items from push carts elsewhere.  But dumplings made to order can still be delicious.

I have now tried the har gow at CCK, Emperor’s and Shining Rainbow and they are all sadly disappointing (Shining Rainbow was the best of the bunch).  Har gow is not rocket science – and if they can’t get the simplest of steamed dumpling standards right, it makes me hesitant to try the rest of their dim sum.  Although to be fair, just because they can’t make a good steamed dumpling doesn’t mean they cannot skillfully fry.

As far as cheap eats go, in the past I’ve written about my appreciation for a few of our regional delights: Mini-hot dogs with meat sauce; Fish Fry; Capital Q; Real Deal Diners; Bella Napoli Donuts; and that’s not to mention all the pizza and wings in abundance around the capital district.

Speaking of which, I’m still hoping Ruth Fantasia picks me to guest judge the Times Union wing competition.  Although I would certainly understand if she does not.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 19, 2010 11:03 am

    I was hoping to get a good list of places to go from that TH thread but I ended up feeling more confused than ever. Although, I will take the Katrinella’s rec. I’ve been meaning to try them.

    I agreed with some of what irisira had to say, also being someone who is coming from a place with really good food and having to adjust my expectations. I’ve been here a while so I think that’s done but I still appreciate things being done well and often that is lacking. For example, a couple of weeks ago I tried two new restaurants, the first was Beirut in Troy. I’d heard they had good points but were inconsistent. I saw some of the good points, effusive service, that garlic paste, the hummus but that’s not enough to bring me back when we had 4 pretty bad wraps. And I mean bad, not OK- bad. Dried, flavorless chicken, stale wrap…just really hard to choke down. And I went with an open mind because I wanted to like them.

    That same weekend we tried Salsa Latina, another capital region restaurant that people rave about. I don’t know if we ordered wrong but no one enjoyed their food, adults or kids. Some of the worst salsa I’ve ever had, tamales that were dry and skimpy on filling. The only thing we enjoyed were the empanadas. They were greasy and flavorful with a generous amount of filling. But one item out of 4 entrees ordered? I still don’t get what people were raving about?

  2. Sarah M. permalink
    January 19, 2010 12:13 pm

    Ruth Fantasia eats her wings with a fork, yes?

    Trying to think about how to respond to the ‘nice, good and reasonable’ issue but I’m too hung up on the propensity of even trustworthy Albanians to include New World on every food-related list ever. It’s like the boy who cried nice, good and reasonable. I’m not going to believe you in the future!

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