Carmine and I go way back.
Virtually, I guess.
I was introduced to Carmine’s cuisine via a Sunday morning TV show on a local affiliate (WNYT, I believe) back in the early 2000s. The things he was cooking up on his show looked interesting, so it prompted me to try his restaurant in the Westgate part of Albany. Even though it was more or less an Italian American restaurant, I enjoyed eating there a lot. There was a pasta dish made with chicken in an amaretto cream sauce that was spectacular.
Things changed in the mid 2000s when Carmine had another show on Fox23. This show ran every day and showed the ins and outs of running his restaurant. It was more of a reality show, and we got to meet his staff through the show. One of the big things he did was introduce a new chef, Chef Tony, who overhauled the food. For what reason, I had no idea. I took my parents to Carmines after the menu change for either Easter or Mother’s Day (I can’t remember, but I’m almost positive it was Easter), and it was an absolute disaster. The amaretto chicken had changed for the worse, and a rack of lamb my father ordered came with so much connective tissue and silver skin that it was inedible. Despite sending it back to the kitchen, our feedback fell on a defensive chef which always ruins an experience. I sent an email to Carmine making him aware of the experience and all of the positive things I had loved about the restaurant in the past, but it went unanswered. Carmine’s restaurant didn’t last much longer in that location.
Back in 2009, there was some news that Carmine was hired in the kitchen at Vin Santo in Latham, and I had really wanted to see what he could bring to that tapas style wine bar. It turns out, I did get to try a few things on an evening in October. October 1, 2009 to be exact. It’s notable to me because it was the night I met Cassie at one of the Albany Tweetups. Ironically, according to news reports the following day, it was the only night Carmine worked a dinner service.
I recently read on Table Hopping and All Over Albany that Carmine was making a comeback and opening Albany’s first churrascaria, or Brazilian Steakhouse. This is a style cuisine that I have heard a lot about through friends and family, but have never had the opportunity to experience.
Having heard about it, it sounded like the perfect opportunity to gather a bunch of food-minded individuals to come with me. So, I reached out over the social media. Many were interested in coming, and the list started out huge. After all was said and done, there were eleven hungry carnivores, and the gathering was reminiscent of the original Albany Tweetups.
We began the meal around 6pm. There is a starter bar that has a number of items to get you going before the meat fest. Everybody seemed to enjoy most of the items on the starter bar.
I made sure to keep my plate relatively scant because I was really more interested in the meat.
I tried the roasted potato and asparagus, cold roast beef, soft goat cheese, spiced forbidden rice (my favorite of what I tried), a wedge salad with blue cheese, bocconcini Capresi salad, and fried yucca chips (the most disappointing of the bunch due to no seasoning whatsoever).
Our server brought over some cute, popover style rolls to start on as well, and then gave us the rundown of how it works. Basically, as long as “The Button” is green, a brigade of Gauchos (Brazilian cowboys – side note: none of them looked Brazilian, and none of them looked like cowboys; I’m pretty sure one of the guys was a paisan), will come around and slice meat off of a sword onto your plate.
Here’s a list of what I remember came around as well as some pictures:
- Chicken osso bucco
- Maple bacon wrapped turkey
- Leg of Lamb
- Parmesan dijon crusted pork loin
- Chorizo Sausage
- Espresso rubbed culotte steak
- Filet Mignon
- Sirloin steak
- Harissa shrimp
- Mustard rubbed pork tenderloin
- Lemon rosemary chicken breast
I didn’t get a chance to snap any pictures of the other stuff, because it was a fast-paced service. These gauchos were coming at a rate of two or three at once to our table, so it was almost impossible to keep up with everything that was coming around. I know I probably missed one or two things due to being distracted by gauchos and conversations. It’s ok because they keep coming around as long as “The Button” is green.
Ohh, and in addition to forks and knives, they provide each diner with a pair of tongs to make it easy for you to grab food from the gauchos.
As they kept coming around, our waiter brought two sides to the table: white rice and fried bananas.
For the life in me, I could swear that the fried bananas were actually plantains. Although they were small like bananas, they were firm and had a starchy interior. They were either plantains or terrible bananas. (Another anecdotal piece of evidence is that they serve a fried plantain dessert; I’m pretty sure they mixed them up.) I tried the white rice; it was pretty forgettable.
After a round or two of the meats, it was clear which we wanted to keep coming back. The pork dishes were all dry but nicely flavored. The beef dishes were very good, many people kept looking for the gauchos yielding those. I particularly liked what they were calling “filet mignon.” It was marinated in something sweet which caramelized nicely in the relatively short grilling time. The chicken was alright. I thought that the “Chicken Osso Bucco,” which is a fancy name for a chicken leg with the tip of the bone lopped off, was, by far, the worst thing we had, and this was echoed throughout our table. The pineapple was kind of a joke, and, by the time it came to the table, it was just a hunk of regular pineapple that was on a plate at room temperature; it wasn’t bad; it was just pineapple. The leg of lamb was absolutely incredible, and was the one thing I kept looking for throughout the night. I even joked with our server, “do you know where the dude with the lamb is; I think his name’s ‘Gaucho’?”
After a good hour and a half of continuous eating, all of our buttons were flipped to red. I swear though that I didn’t turn mine over, but I guess it had to end some time. Even though we had just eaten an obscene amount of food, we still had the unmitigated gall to listen to the dessert list, and I even ordered dessert (to split with Cassie, of course). The dessert we had to have, the first one named, in my opinion, the only one on the list worth even listening to, was an ice cream sandwich with banana ice cream and peanut butter cookies dipped in fudge and drizzled with a chocolate sauce.
This was pretty good, but I would have preferred the cookies not served frozen. I understand they make them ahead, etc, etc, but it doesn’t look like something that would be too difficult to make a la minute.
The regular dinner is $32; having just the starter bar (which is the only way you’ll sell this place to a vegetarian) is $24. It is well worth the price. In all honesty, even after experiencing it, this is a style of dining that I would only think to partake in with a large group. In light of this, the space seems kind of limiting. The area where we were seated could have fit five more people, and there was another area that could probably do maybe six to eight people and a few four tops, but the majority of tables looked like they were two tops.
In speaking with the rest of my party, the experience was overall a resounding positive one. This was the first real “derryX Dines WITH YOU” event, and I think it was a raging success. Everyone who was there seemed to have an open mind on the restaurant and the experience and looked to be taking it all in, just like I do. Someone even drew my attention to the music, which was typical (boring) lounge style for a while; as the place got busier, the music became more lively, which is what you would expect from such a high energy dining experience.
There will be more Carmine’s Brazilian Grill in my future, and there will be more “derryX Dines WITH YOU” opportunities coming up!