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Chefs Go Marching Five by Five

June 8, 2010

There is little that I feel ambivalent about.  I have an opinion on just about everything.  And I’m generally prepared to take a stand one way or another on any given topic.  Which perhaps is one reason I’m a bit uncomfortable writing about this new dinner series that I learned about through Wendalicious called 5×5.

Last year it was 4×4.  They actually added two of the more renowned chefs of the area.  While the PR materials for the event are careful not to cast aspersions about the one chef from the first series who is not participating this year, from the beginning it was quite clear that “one of these things is not like the other ones.”  Maybe she had the chops, but she didn’t have the venue.

So here is the setup.  Five chefs.  Five dinners.  Five menus.  Five courses.  Five restaurants.

Each chef cooks a course for each meal, and they rotate.  So when a chef is back at his home restaurant, he’ll be responsible for the entrée.  Each meal is fixed at $85, which includes wine pairings.  There is only one seating, at 7pm.

This event fills me with mixed feelings.  But let’s start with the good.

These monthly events start in June and run through October.  And for the most part I can see the foods change with the progression of the season.  For Albany, with its static restaurant menus, that is huge.  Bravo.

These menus are daring and go beyond what I would consider to be the culinary comfort zone of most fine dining patrons in the area.  Kudos.

Given the regular prices of the food at the participating restaurants, this is an incredible bargain.  And I believe it speaks to one of my lessons from restaurant week: that one of the reason good food is so expensive here is the unwieldy size and scope of the restaurants’ menus.

Now, that’s a lot of good.  So don’t let it be said that I never have anything good to say about Albany restaurants.  But here is the not-so-good.

All of these events happen midweek.  There is one Monday, two Wednesdays and two Thursdays.  Certainly I understand that restaurants have no trouble filling seats on the weekend.  But I’m going to have a difficult time sitting down to a $100 (after tax and tip) five-course dinner with matching wines on a weeknight.

They have a saying about too many chefs for a reason.  I enjoy meals that have a flow to them.  Every chef has a style.  Often it’s that style that really pulls the room together.  It is easy to see just by looking at the menu that these meals are more than eclectic, they are disjointed.

I have a bunch of nits about specific dishes on the menus.  Some I know are idiosyncratic to me, such as a deep and creeping suspicion of risotto at even the finest restaurants.  This is where Marcella Hazan has ruined me for all other Italian food.  But there is also the surprisingly redundant hamachi appetizer.  And the Dungeness crab cake that is out of season in July (Dungeness season is November through June with December its height).  I could go on and on.

Perhaps I will dedicate future posts to parsing each of the menus individually to provide my impressions of where they seem to soar and where they appear to fall flat.  

But if I were to choose one of these menus as the most likely winner, I’d probably go with the August event at MezzaNotte although there are certainly arguments to be made for the finale in October at the Hollywood Brown Derby.

It would be nice to have some idea about the wine pairings to help tilt the balance.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. beck permalink
    June 8, 2010 8:51 am

    I didn’t know this was going on in Albany, although neither my budget nor my waistline can currently afford to do this. Another of my favorite blogs, The Food Pornographer, recently enjoyed a similar-style meal in her hometown, Perth, Australia. She called it Largesse dining and did a nice write-up about her experience here.

  2. June 8, 2010 7:16 pm

    I commend the idea – it sounds like a great evening, but like beck, it’s a little pricey for dinner for two on a week night for me.

    But again, as you mention, the opportunity to try 5 of Albany’s wonderful chefs is also a treat. I don’t mind menu incongruities.

    Give and take, enjoy it if you do attend!

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