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Albany Restaurant Week 2010, Fall Edition

September 21, 2010

I love restaurant week.  Not necessarily because all of the restaurants are putting their best food forward, as many are not.  And it isn’t because of the great experiences I’ve had eating restaurant week meals, which have been underwhelming.

But I do love the torrent of menus produced for the event.  And I love looking through them to see which establishments are putting up something that is truly special. It would be far too easy and far too mean-spirited to pick out the stinkers (both the restaurants and the dishes).  So instead I’m going to focus on the highlights.

Being the prisoner of hope that I am, I will even likely attempt to visit the more promising restaurants.  After all, it is a great opportunity to try a chef’s food without paying the regular yet surprisingly high prices. Maybe, just maybe, this time will be different.

This time 18 restaurants are participating (down from 21 in the spring), offering a $20.10 three-course meal beginning on October 3 and running through October 11.  As of last night, 16 had their menus registered at the Albany BID’s restaurant week website.  V&R Restaurant and Victory Café are the two holdouts, but given their past efforts, it is unlikely either of these places would be a contender for Top Menu.

Here are the highlights, as I see them.

There are a few menus with at least some promise.  Each of them has some problems, but three of these rise to the top.  Which one you prefer will naturally be based on your own set of priorities.  But I wanted to see fall in the menus, and I wanted to see restaurant-quality food and preparations.

Based on the above, I was enticed by Kelsey’s, The Brown Derby, and Jack’s Oyster House.

Kelsey’s continues to surprise me.  They popped up on my radar in Downtown Albany’s last restaurant week as well, although I am a little concerned to see so many heirloom tomatoes on menus in October.  I know they are still at local farmer’s markets.  But the tomatoes I’ve been getting from the CSA recently are a shadow of the ones from earlier in the season.

But the accompaniments to the Jerk Seasoned Quail entrée (which may or may not have been inspired by local celebrity chef Ric Orlando), cherry compote, pecan wild rice and roasted brussel sprouts, just scream fall to me.  Plus the menu finishes strong with both an apple and a pumpkin dessert.

I’m not sure about the restaurant overall, but $20 even for a potentially forgettable soup or salad with that quail dish and a nice seasonal dessert would seem to be money well spent.

The Brown Derby just reinvented itself, and I was very pleased with their new direction.  There are a couple of items on their restaurant week menu that make me sit up and pay attention.  They too have fresh tomatoes in October, but the Derby pairs theirs with Buffalo Mozzarella.  That’s not mozzarella from western NY, but the good stuff that comes from a mammal that’s not a cow.  That’s special, if not particularly seasonal.  For the fall focused, the restaurant offers a Cinderella Pumpkin Bisque with Sundried Cranberry Port Gastrique. Now, that has my name written all over it.

Of the three entrée selections, one would appear to be farmed Atlantic salmon.  But another is Beef Bourguignon.  One of my favorite things about the chillier weather is the reemergence of long simmered hearty stews.  I’d be curious to try chef Larry’s execution of this classic.  And the chocolate bread pudding would follow this beefy treat nicely.  That would be one helluva $20 meal.

But it is Jack’s Oyster House that has really won my heart in the menu showdown.  I do love classic French food, especially when it has a local and sustainable twist.  Two things stand out.

The first is the local sustainable fish entrée.  It’s Sea Bream, also known as Royal Dorado, which is farmed locally by an outfit known as Local Ocean.  The menu says it is soft broiled with lobster bouillabaisse sauce, accompanied with crouton and safran aioli rouille. Besides being sustainable, that just sounds simple and delicious.  It’s very French, but Jack’s has a very French chef.

Which would also probably explain the Tarte Tatin that comes with ice cream and a history lesson.  The menu itself explains that this dessert was created by the Tatin sisters in Normandy France 1889. Not only is it a favorite of mine, it’s perfectly seasonal.  I’m a bit less excited by the salad at the beginning of the meal with its sweet almonds and strawberry vinaigrette.  But even that has organic greens and a local goat cheese.

So congratulations to Jack’s for winning the day.  Hopefully I’ll be able to get down there for restaurant week and see if their execution lives up to my hype and report back to you when it’s all done.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 21, 2010 3:43 pm

    This actually has me perking up a bit as well, and I usually don’t care much about Restaurant week.

    Since my life is 90% desserts, the mention of chocolate bread pudding thrills my little heart. Ahh! I had a simply delicious one at Bistro Zinc in Lee, MA once that I’ve been trying to replicate (to little sucess). And Tarte Tatin! I’ve yet to have one that wasn’t made at home that was transcendent though, so, you know.

    omgdessert.

  2. October 5, 2010 11:18 pm

    Thanks Daniel,
    I stumbled upon this after receiving your last tweet. As kater above posted, I haven’t cared much for restaurant week as well, but this post inspired me. I’m going with your recommendation and am going to try Jack’s on Friday. I’ll let you know how it fares. Thanks and keep posting!

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