Revisited: Central Steak – Albany, NY

The couple of experiences I had a Central Steak were positive. That includes an amazing burger dinner with my parents last year for my birthday, and a fun slider judging competition for All Over Albany. I figured it would make for a nice venue to enjoy dinner with Cassie on a Friday evening. At the very least, history has proven to me that I should be able to get a nice burger there.

We had a reservation for 7pm, but it wasn’t necessary; half of the tables in the main dining area were vacant. We were seated at the back of the restaurant, in a room where there are plenty of windows.

Like I said, I knew I was ordering a burger, and based on what I learned at the slider event, the spring harvest burger (Fresh ground lamb shoulder, arugula, spring onion pesto, balsamic roasted tomato, “R&G Cheesemakers” goat cheese spread, sesame brioche bun, house cut steak fries – $16) was the burger to get; Chef Devin talked it up when he came out to meet us that night. That’s what I ordered! (Medium rare)

I also had a coupon for a free small plate that was handed to me at the slider event by general manager, Brian. So I was intrigued to try the Eggplant Sorrento Aranchine (Prosciutto, tomato, Pecorino, mozzarella, and parmesan stuffing, vodka sauce, basil – $7).

I was intrigued because it seemed like there were way too many ingredients to make this work. But I do love arancini!

They were so small that it was difficult to imagine everything was in there! The overall portion was reasonably sized, though. The aranccine on their own were saucier than what I’m used to. The flavors were nice, but it was difficult to judge whether all of the components were even there, and, more importantly they were salty as all heck. So was the humongous excess of vodka sauce used as the base, and the grated cheese that was on top. It was salt, on top of salt, on top of salt.

Cassie had their fried calamari appetizer (Soy beans, toasted macadamia nut, cilantro, garlic chips, sweet chili lime sauce – $11). The calamari were also extremely heavy on the salt. I tried multiple bites of this dish with different combinations of the confusing components to see if I could figure out how everything was supposed to come together in a bite. I couldn’t.

My meal came with a trip to their salad bar. I can’t really rave about or knock this. People love the salad bar. The selection is certainly succinct. I will say that I really don’t understand why they use packaged croutons when they have access to Bountiful Bread (both are owned by the same management company, White Management).

Even though we weren’t having the best time with our appetizers, we were making the best of the evening in anticipation that our main courses would be good. Things took a rather unfortunate turn and further a dreadful twist.

Cassie’s dinner, Crispy beer-battered cod, lemon tarragon steak fries, caper tartar sauce, coleslaw ($21) arrived, and it was inedible. The large chunks of cod smelled like bleach. It had to be sent back. This is something I had never heard of before. To me it’s feasible that fish that has sat past its prime could smell like ammonia. Some of the byproducts of degradation of some of the oils and aromas in fish are a class of volatile organic compounds known as amines, which can smell like ammonia (also an amine). The only way I could imagine fish taking on the smell of bleach is by contamination. (I would love to hear other possibilities.)

The waitress did offer to replace her dinner and named something that would be much better. It was the hazelnut salmon (Hazelnut and panko crust, sweet potato mash, charred Brussel Sprouts, truffle sage brown butter – $25).

I took a bite just to see how it was, and it wasn’t bad. Between the bleachy smelling cod debacle and what I was dealing with on my plate, I was quickly losing my appetite.

My spring harvest burger arrived at the same time as Cassie’s cod.

I thought that, aside from the ridiculous fried potato wedges served along side, it looked really nice. I always make it a point to cut across the center of a burger to check the temperature. (And you should too!)

The lamb burger was inexcusably raw and stone cold. The bun was also extremely stale. I didn’t know where to look for the goat cheese, either. I was already fed up over the fish, so I didn’t send it back, but the general manager, Brian, came to check on us and noticed that the meat on my plate was unacceptable. He was extremely apologetic and assured us that he was going to take care of the situation(s). He even offered us a dessert on the house.

The dessert was very good.

Even though most of the food was very bad, I think it’s important to highlight the outstanding service of the front of the house. It’s important that, when the kitchen is making such obvious mistakes, the front of the house keeps the dining experience positive for the diners. In our case, I think Brian did a wonderful job. First, he didn’t make me pay for the mistakes of the kitchen. Both of our main dishes were credited, and we didn’t pay for the delicious dessert. His demeanor was positive the whole time, and he was extremely understanding and attentive. I’ve had other experiences that have almost been this bad where the front of the house person got defensive and where I wound up paying for mistakes because of this. It’s something I commend him for. I even wanted to reassure that he handled the situation well on my way out when I shook his hand and thanked him for his understanding and willingness to admit the mistakes. We never did get an answer about the fish, but we also never asked after it went back.

It is unfortunate that the quality we experienced didn’t match the service. I can’t say I’m in a hurry to go back, but, knowing that a legitimate complaint would be addressed in a positive way is reassuring.

(Damn, that Spring Harvest Burger looks great on paper, though!)


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