Monday, March 10, 2014

Gastrointestinal Neutrality

Yeah Yeah Yeah, I know that “gastro” is a prefix that is neutral, but go ahead and call me old fashioned, I don’t care.  Put gastro in front of any restaurant name and I’m going to think of intestines.  The part of food that most interests me is what happens in my mouth.  So when I made my visits to the Capital City Gastropub it was a bit of an uphill battle.  Not that the name is as bad as, say, Mugs and Jugs, which I was sort of glad to see crash and burn.  And I know that you can’t have a name like Capital City Pub-but-the-food-is-really-good. So there we are. I think the name is problematic.

One of my favorite parts of the CCG experience is the service, which I found to be attentive and polite without being overbearing.  I was greeted promptly and seated quickly and all through the meal I felt like the staff was interested in making the meal a pleasant experience.  The room is what I would call austere industrial, with no soft surfaces, but it’s not so big that the noise becomes overwhelming.  There’s a deep sage green over most of the walls, with a deep brown-gray tile and exposed duct work painted black around most of the ceiling. The kitchen is all open, and I always like that. I think it’s a perfect addition to a neighborhood that has a little concentrated commercial area to serve local college students, medical school students, hospital residents and other young professionals as well as the settled in residents of the New Scotland Ave. area.

They have  Happy Hour, which every pub should do, and each time I’ve gone there have been happy people at the bar, which I enjoy very much. It gives the room a very lively feeling.  There seem to be all the things a pub should have in the way of drinks, with special attention to local offerings.  I ordered cider on my visits.  One time it was because I thought it would be lovely with what I was eating, and the other time because I wanted to try our very own local Nine Pin.  I can see gradually working my way through the beer list and into the cocktails.

The menu is not large, but contains everything a pub menu should contain and more. As soon as I began to run my eyes down the lists I knew it was going to be special.  It is.  Poutine;   Poutine with foie gras; Out of the ordinary salads and appetizers;  Local meat for the burgers and steaks; and all special without being extreme.  This is still very down to earth pub food, it just doesn’t all come out of the fryer.

I had to try the Foie Poutine, the pear and arugula salad, the turnips and almonds and the Club Steak. I was quite happy with most everything, but the critic in me wants to make comments because that’s why I’m here!!!  


The pear and arugula salad is brilliant, and if you’re going to have it before you dive into a bowl of poutine, necessary. I was struck by the especially tart version that I got, which probably is not that tart every time.  The sourness was a bit over the top, and it’s hard to tell if that’s on purpose or whether it was just a bit of heavy handedness on the vinegar that particular night.  The pears were not up to it due to the season and they would probably have mitigated the vinaigrette, so the salad wasn’t balanced but had an overall sour tone. All the sourness disappeared into Foie Poutine which I unabashedly scarfed.  I mean, poutine. You can’t be very pretentious about it, can you?  You can do it well, which is the case at CCG, and it’s just the best comfort food EVAR!!!! The scallions added a wonderful bite to the savory mess of gravy, foie gras, cheese and potatoes. I had the small portion and I still could not manage to plow my way through the entire bowl, so if you’re going out with someone smaller than a very large lumberjack, you might think about sharing. It had the squeaky curds, which I consider essential, and they gracefully melted as I stirred them into the general malaise. 

  The turnips and almonds dish suffered only from being more raw turnips than any human is going to eat in a sitting. It could have used a garnish, but I'm not sure CCG does a lot of garnishes.  Definitely share this one, which I highly recommend, even if you think you don’t like turnips.  The vinaigrette along with the paper-thin slicing takes care of any fear that you may have of unpleasant turnip taste (although I find turnips to be wonderful), and the almonds add a special soft crunchiness and toasty flavor that is a perfect foil.

club steak
a beefsteak cut from the rib end of the short loin, or sometimes a porterhouse or T-bone steak from which the tenderloin has been trimmed.
CCG does a club steak with a root vegetable mash and Bordelaise sauce.  I loved this dish. The steak comes from Tilldale Farm, which specializes in grass fed organic beef.  I don’t enjoy the idea of melt in your mouth steak, and this cut has some tooth, but is quite tender, so to me it was a perfect texture.  I didn’t think to try just cutting it with my fork, but it would likely have been possible.  I could have done with less of the Bordelaise, as it was everywhere on the plate, but it actually wasn’t annoying, even in that amount. I did dunk several bites of the steak into it, and was very pleased.  It’s the vegetables that I want to praise in regard to this dish.  They are really, really good.  You know how you get a great steak and then the vegetables are just a disaster most of the time?  These veggies on the night I had them were potato, carrot, kohlrabi and turnip blended into a heavenly mash that perfectly complemented the meat.  This is my new place to go when I am jonesing for a good steak.
Prices are on the high side for Albany.  The menu is available online so I won’t go down the price of each item, but this is not cheapo cheapo food.  If one chooses well, one can get a very very good dinner for a decent price, and that includes sharing with companions.

I’ll definitely be going back to try more of the drinks and food.  I’m hoping that the menu is seasonal and we’ll see more interesting takes on traditional dishes.

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