Problems and Solutions
Greetings. It seems like there are a lot of new people coming over to the FLB every day thanks to either the Real Actors Read Yelp video or the blurb in the Business Review. If you are new here, welcome, it’s great to have you. Please don’t be shy about introducing yourself to the class in the comment section below. Be anonymous if you must, but real names are always appreciated.
It just so happened that I had planned to dedicate this week to explaining a recent epiphany about the Capital Region dining scene. My current hypothesis will take a few posts to lay out. And at the end you may roll your eyes and say, “Duh, I told you that three years ago,” or maybe you’ll think, “Wow, that’s really interesting. Perhaps he’s onto something.”
Regardless, before I get into the new idea, I think it’s a good idea to reiterate my central criticism and explain some of the past thoughts on this problem. Here it goes:
It’s not that the restaurant food is bad, it’s just too expensive for what it is.
The ultimate goal of this blog is to improve the food of Albany. In some ways I’m an optimist, and think all problems have solutions. The trick, however, is in having a clear understanding of the problem. If I could only figure out how this state of affairs came to be, perhaps I could work towards a solution.
When I first came to town I thought I knew the answer.
The Times Union was to blame. That was my stance. I looked at the historical restaurant reviews by Ruth Fantasia and Bill Dowd and I was beside myself with anger. I read about their experience, what dishes came out well and what fell flat, mostly nodding along. But then they assigned stars and I was flabbergasted. The good news about Miss Fantasia’s tenure was that the Capital Region probably had some of the best calamari in the country. And I put a lot weight on Steve Barnes’ shoulders too.
Now I’m less convinced, as I realize the paper isn’t the cause of the problem, but merely another symptom.
In those early days I was also meeting local Yelpers and making other new friends in the region. And I asked them why the restaurants upstate were more expensive than those in NYC for lesser quality food. And from them I got a similar refrain, “Lobbyists.”
But I don’t buy that now and I didn’t then. There are plenty of other cities where lobbyists operate with equally deep expense accounts, but still have plenty of really delicious, moderately priced restaurants to enjoy. It’s true. So I think it has to be something else.
Recently someone suggested overhead. But I’m still not buying that a restaurant in Albany has similar overhead to a restaurant in New York City.
So fine. Restaurants here can get away with charging in the 20s for entrees that I think should be in the teens. Customers are coming through the door. Maybe the reason why the food isn’t better is because the chefs aren’t interested in searching out better ingredients, changing their menu weekly in order to take advantage of seasonal produce, or challenging their guests with delicious dishes maybe a bit past their comfort zone.
Then I started to make inroads with some local chefs, and I learned that wasn’t really the case either.
Now I’ve got a new answer. And I have a few really solid supporting arguments. But it’s not going to make me any friends. Because it involves one of the most divisive topics in America. One that is so uncomfortable that most people claim that it doesn’t even exist.
Sounds fun, right.