Peck’s Arcade – Troy, NY
It was recently my birthday, and with turning another year on the dial came seeking a venue to celebrate with my wife (it was also our first night out together alone since Noah was born). A lauded dining experience that has eluded me has been Peck’s Arcade. And the reason it has eluded me is quite simple, I hate cauliflower, and they were so bold as to actually have a dish named “Cauliflower” on the menu until recently. It’s alright, Peck’s. It’s not you; it’s me. [Side note: yes, I will not knowingly go to any restaurant that has an item called “cauliflower” on the menu.]
Cassie made us a reservation for 6:30pm on the Saturday after my birthday, and the rest was history.
Spoiler alert: the experience was all good, but some aspects were more good than others.
When I arrived, I went right for the Mortal Kombat II machine. I kid. I kid. I’m making fun of the fact that the restaurant is named after a department store that was in the same space almost 150 years ago. The definition of an arcade has changed in that time. To be serious, I didn’t really expect arcade cabinets.
To start, I ordered a cocktail off the Tavern Bar menu. I went with the New Brooklyn (Rye Whiskey, Vermouth, Bitters). I can’t say I loved it, but it was a decent kickstart to the meal. The interesting thing about the drink was that it appeared to come from the back alley, not the bar within Peck’s space. As this business connects with Little Pecks, Lucas Confectionery, and the wine shop all co-owned by Vic Christopher and Heather LaVine via a courtyard, it wasn’t a big surprise. But as I came to find out, the bar within Peck’s serves a different purpose.
Being that the menu is set up for sharing, our strategy was to supplement the chef’s choice selection ($60) with a couple of other dishes on the menu and to share everything.
One item that has been highly recommended, despite it’s somewhat significant $5 price tag in a land of complementary bread and butter was the house bread. The bread was outstandingly good aside from one almost fatal flaw. See how the bread is torn? It was warmed that way, leaving the surface of the crumb to get dry. It’s clear that the presentation is meant to match the “breaking bread” so-close-to-communal atmosphere. The bread is a classic brick oven style with a crusty exterior and soft, airy interior (well, aside from the sharp parts) that just begs for some butter. The butter was softened and topped with course sea salt. Taken together, it was as delicious as a bread and butter experience gets. The zucchini served on the side were pickled in a “bread and butter” fashion, driving the point home.
The heirloom tomato dish was a modern play on a caprese salad. The creamy stracciatella assumed the role of the mozzarella (“Stracciatella”, Italian for little rags, is actually the insides of the burrata you’ve probably broken open at other restaurants). I was curious if it was made in house but found out that it’s an R&G product. That’s cool; it doesn’t get much better than R&G. The tomatoes were a mixed bag. Some were sweet, others were bitter. The cuts varied vastly in size; some had to be further cut to make for a reasonably sized bite. The whole basil on top was too concentrated to one area and unnecessary since the sauce spread on the plate had a good amount of basil flavor (if I recall correctly; I forgot to taste this individually. C’mon, man. I’m trying to enjoy my meal, here). The puffed quinoa added a visual distinction to the dish as well as a little texture.
The octopus dish was an example of great flavors coming together with execution errors. The more obvious was that the octopus was tough. More forgivable was the grittiness of the tasty potato terrine, which, if served warm, would have probably been incredible. The homemade aioli was rich and delicious and helped tie everything together along with the herb-y salsa verde. The sprigs of parsley on top were unnecessary.
The grilled hamachi ($23) was one of the dishes we selected outside of the chef’s choice tasting. Believe it or not, there was a square portion of hamachi under all of the adornments. The star of the dish, ironically, was the malt vinegar aioli, which was different from the aioli in the octopus dish. All together, the dish was reminiscent of fish and chips. The fish was cooked perfectly but lacked seasoning on its own; the same was true for the soft potatoes. The aioli fixed the seasoning in a complete bite. The amount of dill with thick stems atop the dish was way too overpowering and distracted from the great flavors from the fish and aioli. This was one of the more substantial dishes (and carries the higher price on the menu).
Although it was one of the items we picked outside of the chef’s choice, the grilled peach dish ($10) divided Cassie and I. I loved it; she didn’t. Truth be told, the piece of peach she had first was extremely tough and lacked flavor; the piece I had was soft, sweet, and had all of the glory of a fresh peach along with all of the goodness that comes with grilling stonefruit. We both thought the lardo was unnecessary, and even caused a coating on the tongue that made the ricotta less enjoyable. The skins on the peaches were a little awkward since they didn’t come with the rest of the peach if you were to pick it up with a fork. This was the only dish that we left an appreciable portion of before asking for the plate to be cleared. The mint was unnecessary and only really added some color.
It was around this point that I noticed the tables seemed to be fashioned out of bowling alley lanes. (If you want to read my terrible joke about that, see what I said about the same phenomenon at Innovo Kitchen.)
The grilled corn was the one dish that didn’t match the experience. The only way to eat this dish is to dig in with your hands, and that’s a little awkward when you’re so close to your neighbor and when everything else is so fancy. Flavor-wise, this dish was a home run and was an excellent rendition of slightly deconstructed Mexican street corn. I particularly loved the contrast of the balls-to-the-wall heat in the mole seasoning coating the corn and the chili aioli to cool it down (but not too much because of the chili in the background). I wouldn’t be a scratched record if I didn’t mention that we didn’t do anything with the sprigs of parsley on top.
The rock shrimp was one of my favorite dishes of the evening. This was the one dish that had a level of flavor that was like a punch in the face. The sauce coating the lentils and shrimp had enormous depth and was augmented by the heat of the dish. That’s clearly the influence of the harissa. The Puy lentils were stewed and were a great textural counterpoint to the soft, perfectly tender shrimp. The smoked tomato lent even more supporting richness to the sauce.
Just when we thought we were done, our server came over and asked for our permission to give us each a complementary small pour of a wine he thought would be perfect with our next course. How could we say no? I’d never be able to rehash the name of the wine, but he said it was in the style of beaujolais nouveau.
The house made tagilatelle was the most memorable dish of the evening for both Cassie and I. The pasta was cooked perfectly and coated with the fatty and rich short rib ragu. The pecorino on top added a little nuttiness and pungency to the dish as well as a little creaminess. We were slowing down at this point, so it was all about small bites with small sips of the wine, which were amazing together.
I was too full for dessert, but Cassie spun my arm since we were there to celebrate my birthday. I agreed to share a dish with her. Given the options of chocolate cake with tahini sauce, buttermilk panna cotta, and something with peaches in it, I would have picked the chocolate cake. Personally, I don’t usually enjoy panna cotta, and I didn’t want to take a risk on the peaches again. The buttermilk spin on the panna cotta made it an easier sell. It was very good, and clearly prepared with minimal amounts of gelatin, allowing for it to be served as quenelles. The taste was sweet and pungent, almost like European yogurt. Along side were some other textural counterpoints.
Some fudgy chocolate cookies arrived with the check, and those were spectacular.
At this point in the night, Vic Christopher had arrived at the restaurant. He stopped by to say hi and chat about how our experience was so far, and I gave him my opinion that Peck’s was what I had hoped for when they opened The Confectionery (don’t get me wrong; I love that place for what it is, but I had always wished for more elaborate eats. Yes, I understand the limitations). He then got set up behind the bar, which turned out to be a DJ station with a Macbook and turntable, and the level of the music went up. He threw in some record scratches, and by that point it was time to pick Noah up.
I did manage to get a selfie with Vic on the way out. I honestly would have been pissed if I didn’t get even a little of the DJ Vic experience while I was there!
Like I said, the experience was all good. The most outstanding part of the experience was the service. Our server was attentive to us despite being constantly busy with other tables. Our water was constantly refilled, and new plates and silverware were brought over before we even realized ours were dirty. The food was excellent; nitpicking aside, the level of technique shown by the kitchen is top notch. The vibe is about as “downtown Brooklyn” as you can get. While the staff clearly takes the experience of the diner seriously, they throw in some casual flair with the DJ booth, which, with a weekly rotation of professional DJs, is meant to be an attraction. “Serious dining, casual vibe” is about the best way I can sum up the experience.