Friday, October 18, 2013

Food Snobs With Jobs

I was in a crummy mood, better known as feeling downright bitchy, and I needed a lift. I've been bored with work, my workouts, and fighting the forces of evil. But I had a Groupon coupon for From the Garden , a relatively new restaurant on Lark Street in downtown Albany, and was taking my Foodie Friend out to celebrate her unbirthday. I was really looking forward to our night out.

Down a few stairs to enter the restaurant. Albany seems big on these lower level dugouts.

From the Garden is the latest in a string of "farm-to-table" restaurants in the Albany area. They have opted to offer a very limited menu, changing it weekly and in tune with the seasons, and also changing around how it is available for table service. This week is their "Harvest Menu" - a five-course tasting menu with wine. Let me restate that. Uh, well, there's a menu online but none in the dining room, not even on a chalkboard or a tent card, and, uh, even the main course online was not what we had for our entree, and, uh, except for a vegetarian entree option there weren't any choices, and again, I didn't notice any PRICES anywhere, and, um, yes it was a "tasting menu" because all but the entree was but a taste, and, ahem, three 1.5 ounce wine pours that weren't offered when we were seated left us immediately ordering another glass of wine each to start. Water poured finally. A bug flying around FF because the door was propped open because it was hot in there because the kitchen is open right into the tiny dining room. Did I mention I was feeling bitchy to begin with???

The seats were hard, no linens, tap water with lemon, weird lady from the street wandering in to check out the "menu". After a pretty long conversation with our owner, manager, host, sommelier and server about the wine offerings (Italian Red, Full Bodied Red, Sweet White and Crisp White was all that was listed on the board) FF and I each chose a wine that we thought we'd like with the main course, bratwurst (not pork roast). I had a glass of crisp white, this night a Spanish Barbadillo , a viura white varietal. Not cold but cooler than room temperature, and tasty but featureless - just like me! That being said our owner, manager, host, sommelier came back to the table with the Full Bodied Red and asked me what I thought of my Crisp White. Apparently if you are a cool European you drink your white wine at RT and it's plain taste is what would make it a good wine with all food. Hmmmmm. But it was lovely. I guess the next time I open a magnum of Cavit Pinot Grigio, which I was told Italians DON'T DRINK, I will not wait to chill it, which I don't anyway because I need a drink NOW, and will just drink it warm. So will my friends so they can also be cool like me.

FF had a red blended wine from Ancient Peaks Winery in California that was also very nice - round, dense, opaque, and slightly tart and spicy (just like her!).

Great wines so far. The first course: butternut squash soup with ginger and pear - tasty, a bit too salty, three slurps.

A flight board with three glasses is presented to each of us and the owner, manager, host, sommelier and server poured our first wine tasting for between courses. This was le Salse, an Italian Verdicchio, a very light white, a Pinot Grigio style varietal but NOT so it was cool. Delicious. Perfect with the second course, a nice salad of delicate greens, sliced pear, cabbage slaw and a vinaigrette with apple cider and garlic. Fresh, tasty, pretty - very delicious also.

Wine #2: a Spanish Rioja, Cinastia Vivanco, a crianza (oaked for 12 months). Tart and a bit peppery. That's what owner, manager, host, sommelier and server said and we agreed. Very tasty.

Course #3: mini waffles with pumpkin, one savory, one sweet. Three bites each. Yummers. I ate with my fingers.

The entrees (Course #4) was a beer braised bratwurst from some dude in Newburgh, NY served with a pear relish and rice, topped with the braising liquid that included onions, caraway, raisins and, uh, potatoes. Very perfumey, the bratwurst was perfectly soft, silken, juicy and greasy and the relish and dab of grainy mustard were a perfect foil. The rice with the potatoes was a bit weird. The plate wasn't very pretty. These were served with a SeaGlass California Riesling that was sweet and cold, a nice foil to the richness of this dish.

Last course: an apple pie sorbet with a slice of red pear. Sweet, heavily spiced, nothing subtle, very tasty.

OK dinner was a bit over-educational for my mood but I learned a bit about wines. I would have been happy to read a tent card if I had wanted all the details, but still interesting. All the wine was great. All the food was really good, maybe not exceptionally creative.

Small plates, three bitty glasses of vino, and a big price tag put an edge on what was otherwise a delightful experience. But trust me I was no longer feeling bitchy. PLUS I caught the bug that had been hovering over our table for over an hour in one swipe. It's still cool being a superpower even if I like my white wine cold.

At the risk of repeating myself, I love to eat and I want to eat good food, but I don't have big bucks to throw around these days. So the main drawback is the high price, especially for Albany area where the lettuce got picked next door. It's like we were paying for the CONCEPT. Hmmm.

Tasting menu with wine for two, two more glasses of wine ($7.00/each) plus tax and tip was $120 (I bought an $80 Groupon - tasting for two with wine, for $40, so that was a break). I think dinner cost way too much, for what we had, for the lack of polish, and for a dingy dining room.

It is apparent that their target audience is Food Snobs with Jobs. Each dish was carefully considered and crafted. Each morsel was delightful, and our experience overall was very relaxing and laid back. We were happy.

I guess I am now officially Zena, Food Snob.

Zena, FS


Daniel B. said...

Thanks for taking one for the team.

I had wanted to try this place before I left. Looking at the food they presented at your dinner, it appears the standards might be slipping.

If this is the case, I have to wonder if it will still be open when I return.

LorreS said...

The food, in my experience, is not slipping at all. The dinner I had with Zena, Goddess of Fire, was excellent in flavor and presentation. Of course, it was a birthday gift, so I'm a bit biased. But if this place closes, it won't be because of bad or mediocre food.