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Nice, Good & Reasonable: Found

August 24, 2015

For years I have been looking for a restaurant in the Capital Region that is nice, good, and reasonable. It’s a fairly simple request, but I was looking for a place that satisfied all three. There have been casual places to get good food at a reasonable price. And there have been nice places to get good food, but they have priced themselves at NYC levels and beyond.

Of course, there are a countless number of nice places which serve unremarkable food for a fairly remarkable sum.

Now before you start flying down to the comments section to share your nice, good and reasonable restaurant recommendations, don’t. We’ve already been there and done that. The thing is that a lot of that input came before I had a chance to fully articulate what I meant by the horribly imprecise words of nice, good, and reasonable.

So the first thing I’m going to do today is share just a little bit from the ancient past.

In Nice, Good & Reasonable: Explained which was written over five years ago, I described what I meant when talking about good food. And I used an example of a pasta dish. Looking back, I can’t believe I didn’t mention house-made pasta. But then again the dish I selected was spaghetti, and even I don’t expect that shape to be made on premise. But I digress. Here’s what I wrote:

Let’s take a simple Italian dish like spaghetti carbonara: pasta with cured pork, eggs, cheese, olive oil, white wine, garlic, and parsley. In my wildest fussy fantasies, the dish would fulfill all the criteria below. But in reality a subset of these things would be sufficient:
– It was listed among a small handful of pasta dishes (menu focus)
– Specified guanciale instead of pancetta or bacon (authenticity)
– Highlighted the source of the meat and eggs (ingredients)
– Pasta is cooked through, but still offers some resistance to the teeth (execution)
– A sensible portion is served (plating)

No, I didn’t find my perfect pasta carbonara. And I haven’t quite found the restaurant of my dreams yet. But Peck’s Arcade comes mighty close.

There is so much that this place gets right, that after one dinner at the kitchen bar last week, I’m inspired to potentially do a week’s worth of posts based on the experience. Fortunately for you, I have some other pressing topics to cover too. But believe me, this isn’t the last you’ll hear of the place on these pages.

Let’s break it down.

The room is handsome. Some might argue the music gets too loud on weekend evenings. That may be true. I went at 6pm on a Wednesday night, and was able to have a quiet conversation with Mrs. Fussy (when I wasn’t distracted by what was happening on the line). Beautiful linen napkins are folded around a set of silverware, and all the design elements of the room work to create a modern mood.

That’s one focused menu. Ten small plates. Three pastas. Four mains. The night we were in there were a couple of special too. But Peck’s entire menu is dwarfed by just the starters menu at New World Bistro Bar which by my count has twenty-six items, not including salads. Shorter menus are a very good thing.

Ingredients play a key role in the food here, and they are used to great effect. Cured egg yolk goes on top of sauteed shishito peppers with smoked salt and tuna conserva. This was probably Mrs. Fussy’s favorite dish, and I can’t blame her. But the menu is full of culinary delights including fregola (the toasted pasta of Sardinia), preserved lemons, ‘Nduja, stracciatella, minus 8 vinegar, and more.

Authenticity was one of my earlier criteria. I’m going to chalk that up to the exuberance of youth, and maybe you will agree that “time intensive preparations” is a worthy substitute. After all, this is one of the things I argued that makes restaurant food different from regular food. And here Peck’s fills the bill too. Not just with handmade pastas, bread made in house, and ice creams spun every day. But those beets that are braised for hours in citrus and chili peppers just blew my mind.

On my visit, the execution was almost flawless. The pasta on the housemade tortellini was a bit too thick and coarse. That was their special of the day, and I can only assume it was the first day of service. This is a dreadful pasta shape to make by hand, and it was beautifully formed. Plus, the flavors were fantastic. For what it’s worth, I wasn’t crazy about the pasta at Chez Panisse either.

The plating and portions were remarkable too. The small plates weren’t terribly small. I thought the 23 layer potato looked bigger in person than the photos I had seen online. But to be brutally honest, it may have been the least impressive dish. Of course, that could be because I was spoiled by a multilayered small plate at Fringale in San Francisco many years ago. I know it’s not fair to compare the two. But my heart yearns for crispiness in every layer, and not just on the top.

That said, an exceeding amount of care is given to each plate, as many components are built on top of each other to produce every finished dish. I would have loved to watch more of the chefs, but Mrs. Fussy demanded my attention. If only one of you is food obsessed, it’s probably not a good idea to have a date at the kitchen bar.

If you haven’t seen this video, it goes a long way to show what I’m talking about.

The whole dinner for me and Mrs. Fussy came in at under $100 including tax and tip for the two of us, with cocktails and splitting a dessert. Is it cheap? Nope. But it’s totally reasonable for the quality of the food, the time intensive preparations, and the experience of eating in such a modern setting.

Do I have some nits? Sure. I always do. I had nits at Postrio. I had nits at The French Laundry. But none of the little things take away from how impressive these places really are. Peck’s Arcade totally impressed me. And I don’t impress easily.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 24, 2015 11:41 am

    As I mentioned when we were at W.T.s, last Thursday,

    I’ve had about 7 dishes at Peck’s now, on two different visits, 8 weeks apart. On one visit it was very busy, and on the other, there was me and just a couple of other customers in the restaurant.

    All but one or two of my dishes were served at less than optimal temperature, i.e. too cold. You know this is a huge pet peeve of mine. But the food is so good, I’m willing to let it slide. And it didn’t detract (much) from my enjoyment of it. The food there is truly excellent.

    Eventually though, I’d love to go to Peck’s and have every (hot) dish, arrive to the table, well, hot. And considering that so much attention is given to preparation, it’s a huge oversight in execution to be sending lukewarm dishes out of the kitchen on a regular basis.

  2. albanylandlord permalink
    August 26, 2015 1:54 am

    Told you you would like it… I win. Now you owe me dinner there as my prize.

  3. Cindy permalink
    August 31, 2015 5:16 am

    Oh man, I am BUMMED that I missed out on this place in the 12 years that I lived in the Capital Region! Why, oh, why couldn’t I have discovered it before I moved? (That’s a rhetorical question; you don’t need to answer it in your next dutiful answers post.) Sigh. On a brighter note, I hope you & Mrs. Fussy can visit Albuquerque sometime – lots of great places here that I think you’d love, and that I’d be happy to take you!

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