Tuesday, May 9, 2017

What's the BEST Restaurant in Albany??? Possibly Peck's...

Soft Serve is sweet, fun, familiar with the area but still new in her return, after many years away, to her Alma Mater city of Albany, where she belongs.

Excited and exploring, Soft Serve asked a bunch of us "What is the best restaurant in Albany?", to which I replied "What do you like?" - but that was not her question, the question was, what is the BEST??? Not your favorite, not your regular spot, not the recommended sushi joint or diner or happy hour specials or cheap eats or brunch joints or romantic or seasonal or perfect burgers or Italian or Greek or Thai or TexMex or BBQ or where you can eat outside with the flies or a pub where you can spill your beer and dance with abandon.

And I answered "Peck's".

Street parking only for Peck's Arcade in downtown Troy
It's not that big, we know that. The open kitchen is small, too. The space is kind of dark and the guts of the ventilation and heating and the structure itself are exposed like an inside-out umbrella, connecting to Lucas Confectionery (wine bar and small bites) and The Grocery, all windy like, and there's even a bar upstairs. I'll call it chic, trendy, divey, and very very cool. I felt cool, even though I'm not, I'm actually a Fire Goddess, not at all cool, especially since I hit 50, but I digress.
Open concept, noisy and it got noisier as it got busier, but very chic
We sat at the Chef's Counter so we could watch - three chefs/cooks, each with their specialties, whipped together small plates and mains with astonishing speed and grace. They made it look easy, but it's not, neither is fighting the forces of evil but we try not to sweat: each dish was graced with home prepared everything, thoughtful and seasonal additions, sauces and sides, all done well in advance of service. Not cheating: brilliant. OK they answered our questions but they had to focus on their cooking, so they didn't actually engage with those sitting close by (but then again, sometimes it's weirdos like me that won't shut up that's the problem).
Chef's Counter - be sure to make a reservation!
We started with the Mustard Green Salad ($10), baby leaves topped with a few thin strips of celery, a sprinkle of whole spicy sweet walnuts, and a few generous shaves of Pecorino Romano all tossed with a delicate egg vinaigrette that pulled everything together nicely, balancing the bitterness of the greens and giving the whole a lovely mouth feel. A generous serving, this was a great plate to share.
Mustard Green Salad was probably my favorite part of the meal - fresh and lively and seasonal
Charred Fava Beans ($8) were offered gratis (something they are known to do) - spicy and oily and salty. I was told that the entire fuzzy pod with the slippery beans inside are edible, so I took a bite.  Woof!!!  The flavorings were so heavy that what you get on your fingers is enough to satisfy as you suck out the beans. OK this dish was messy, both fingers and detritus, but delicious, a great snack. I do NOT recommend this one if it's a hot date. Oh, it's served at room temp, FYI.
Fuzzy, ugly little things can be conquered by sucking out the fava beans inside
Moving on to the Grilled Cauliflower ($14) - heavily charred, also just barely above RT, topped with nuts and seeds and a "salsa verde" of sorts (bitter), on a pile of whipped feta cheese (OMG!) and a large spoonful of heady tomato jam. I loved that jam with bits and bites of everything on the plate - great combos, very creative.
Grilled Cauliflower was pre-cooked then finished on the grill
Yes, Octopus ($17). Large thick pieces like serpents tongues, simply floured, deep fried, salted, these supertender temptations were served up with a thick oily emulsion laced with pickled peppers and paprika, a couple of slices of charred onion, and a few slices of creamy roasted and tender new potato. O is hard to do well - Peck's nailed it.
Large pieces of perfectly tender deep fried octopus 
And what is dinner without bread!??? The House Bread ($5) was light and airy, super crispy crust, a huge half a boule with a side of salted butter and garlic confit (roasted whole garlic cloves and pickled mustard seeds) finished with a sprinkle of rosemary. Were we stuffed by this point? Yes. This Soft Serve has real potential when it comes to eating ME under the table, and we enjoyed every single bite.

The bread was amazing!!!
Oh, yeah!!!  Softee enjoyed a "craft ale" - Alesmith (a California IPA, $5) - cold out of the can and into her glass. The Idlewild Wine "The Flower" rose ($13/glass/Sonoma CA, a bit steep) was bone dry, crisp and light and lovely and simple against those competing flavors of our feast. What??? Of course, I had two. And a free little chocolate chip cookie at the end, courtesy of the kitchen.

Great food, gracious service, chic but still laid back, Peck's Arcade is an adventure in eating. Don't miss it next time you go exploring.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

PS:  They forgot the bread and comped us on this with an apology, quickly I might add. Man, you can't beat that kind of hospitality and service.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Grocery wasn't doing well and is gone. It's Little Pecks now, a sort of limited menu cafe. I think Heather and Vic are still trying to figure out Little Pecks' niche.

And if you enjoy nigiri and the experience of watching a chef at work, go visit Andy and his crew at Unagi in Troy and do the omakase meal. It's the only place in the region that offers it. Probably one of the few that has otoro as well.