As I’ve mentioned in previous “derryX Dines” installments, my patronage of businesses in downtown Albany is sparse. Since I work in Guilderland and live in Latham, I seldom get the urge or feel the need to travel the admittedly short distance to downtown Albany just to eat.
This past weekend, I actually made it a point to check out a place that has been recommended to me numerous times, most recently by Cassie and Daniel Nester, local author and Times Union super-blogger who claims this place is one of the reasons he is still alive. I’m talking about The Wine Bar and Bistro on Lark Street.
Earlier last week, when it was suggested as our Saturday evening dining spot, I made sure I looked at the large plates menu (full menu available in the banner at www.winebaronlark.com), in hopes that I could find something affordable that wouldn’t stray too far from my diet. My eyes landed on the following dish: Grilled Vermont Hereford Rib Eye with Tasso and Gnocchi Hash, Braised Cipollini Onions and Braised Heirloom Carrots with Black Garlic Demi-glace for $26. This is what I had my heart set on days prior to my trip. [Diet update: I’ve been making lots of progress, so I approached this meal as a mini-cheat meal, knowing that it wasn’t going to loaded with gnocchi.]
So this past Saturday, we hopped in the car and drove down to Lark Street. As you make the right turn from Central Avenue onto Lark street, you will see the Wine Bar just on the left. We made the first right on Lark (in front of the restaurant) to try to find a park, and found a street park just past a lot that allows parking for a small fee. After the short walk and short descent into the restaurant, we were greeted by a cozy venue and friendly staff.
My first inclination was to verify that the dish I wanted was still on the menu, and it was. So I looked for a wine to enjoy with my dish. Being a huge fan of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines, there was a 2007 varietal that was $9 per glass; that’s what I ordered.
I was pleasantly pleased with the size of the meal that I ordered. When I asked the waitress approximately how thick the rib eye steak was cut, she gestured approximately 2 inches with her hand; that was very close to what was actually delivered. The steak was appropriately cooked as ordered (medium) and very well seasoned. My biggest complaint is that the knives they provide to cut steak are inadequate and really do the quality of the meat an injustice.
As for the side dishes, everything was great. This was my first experience with tasso ham, and, at first, I thought my gnocchi were slightly over-salted, but they provide a perfect fluffy counterpoint to the lean nuggets of smoky ham. The braised chipollino onion (remember chipollini is plural, kids) was very nice, sweet and slightly starchy. I actually made a joke about this, since I was expecting several much smaller onion-type bites on the plate, I called the one larger “onion” a chipollono, which means large onion. The carrot on the side had a nice flavor, but there was just one (see above description of the dish). The demi-glace was nicely prepared and did not overpower any of the individual components. My wine also accompanied my dish very well. I could not have been more pleased with the quality of my experience.
I made many observations about the place while I was there, but one that I’ll share with you is the awkward seating they have. As the below image illustrates, the booth seats, which I had the pleasure of sitting in, are pitched at a fairly large obtuse angle.
My joke was that they really want to get you to sit back and have a great time. Maybe this is actually true…
Being that it was such a great time, I am a little disappointed that the prices are quite as high as they are. It’s not like I’m crying out and complaining, but this is definitely a place that I wish I had the budget to enjoy more often. Since I’m not a huge wine fan, I can’t speak much to the wine menu, but as far as their beers go, they definitely charge a bit much. For example, a Dogfish Head World Wide Stout for $15 is just a little steep. I was impressed, however, of the beers on their menu, including that one example, and I would have no problem paying that to enjoy the ambiance. And, for the record, I feel that I was reasonably charged for the quality and quantity of the dish that I received. I will be back.
I am also going to give a nod to my loyal readers and say that yes, I did enjoy another place that had “bistro” in the name. Maybe things are turning around and it’s not just people with terrible restaurants who are naming their places “bistro”…